Best actor winner Will Smith smacked presenter Chris Rock in the face and shouted a vulgarity at the comedian for making a joke about his wife’s hairstyle in a shocking moment overshadowing the Oscars ceremony on Sunday (March 27).
About 45 minutes later, when accepting his first Oscar for best actor for his role in “King Richard,” Smith apologized to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and his fellow nominees in a tear-filled speech, but not to Rock.
“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith said during his acceptance speech.
The episode upstaged the rest of the 3-1/2 hour show, and was sure to become one of the most memorable moments in 94 years of Academy Awards.
It may cost Smith his sterling reputation in Hollywood, but not a criminal charge, at least for now, as Los Angeles police said Rock declined to file a police report.
The incident began when Rock was roasting some of the nominees and made fun of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
“Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane II,’ can’t wait to see it,” he said, referencing the 1997 film “G.I. Jane” in which actress Demi Moore shaved her head.
It was unclear whether Rock, a comedian and actor, was aware that Smith’s wife suffers from a disease that causes hair loss.
But Smith quickly stood up and marched toward the stage to confront the comedian.
Rock had his hands behind his back when Smith threw an open hand at his face that produced an audible smack, and in a form befitting an action movie star. Rock somehow stayed on his feet.
“Oh, wow! Wow! Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me,” Rock said as the audience laughed, thinking it was a skit.
Smith then made what may become one of the most repeated phrases of Oscar history when he shouted, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
Stunned by what had just happened, Rock told Smith it was only a joke, but Smith shouted his phrase a second time, louder and more deliberately.
At that point, many stars in the audience audibly gasped or fell silent. Spectators in the mezzanine stood up and craned their necks to try to catch a glimpse.
Rock struggled to rescue the situation and get the show back on track. “That was the greatest night in the history of television,” he said to a smattering of applause and whistles.
The audio from the show, broadcast on a time-delay of a few seconds in the United States, appeared to have been cut from the live transmission for many viewers because of the language. But it was audible in some broadcasts, for example in Japan and Australia.
Jada Pinkett Smith told Billboard in December she has been battling the autoimmune disorder alopecia, which can cause hair loss and balding.