The broadcast began with an image of Pinkett Smith’s husband Will Smith hitting Chris Rock during the 2022 Oscars and Pinkett Smith voicing her disbelief in that moment with “I looked at Will and I said, ‘You hit Chris’,” with her physically appearing on the screen while speaking the words “like you actually hit Chris’ and he’s like ‘yeah’.”
More images of the slap heard around the world played before teasing the previously shared bombshells that she and Smith have lived separate lives since 2016 and that Chris Rock asked her out. When the special finally kicks off, Kotb is with Pinkett Smith at her old high school, Baltimore School for the Arts. But it’s not long before another famous man in her life, iconic rapper Tupac Shakur, whom she met while both were students there, becomes the center of attention.
Describing Shakur as “charismatic” with a “beautiful smile” and “little peanut head,” Pinkett Smith beamed over their instantaneous connection but also downplayed any romantic connection. She even shared that she dared him to kiss her when they were in high school and when they did, she insisted that they both agreed that “it was not for either one of us.”
Her memoir Worthy, coming out Oct. 17, is the catalyst for the interview. Although the slap, as it’s come to be known, is the main draw for this NBC spotlight, the book helped center the interview on Pinkett Smith at least early on, allowing her to speak about her suicidal thoughts as well as surprise Kotb and others not privy to her 2017 interview with Sway Calloway for his SiriusXM show Sway in the Morning where she first publicly shared that she was a teen drug dealer. But she did reveal to Kotb that it was crack and even discussed a passage in her book about her door being kicked in and having two guns held to her head, as she was being robbed of her drugs and other valuables. Eventually her mother, then a drug addict, set her straight.
After leaving college, she headed to Los Angeles to pursue acting and got a boost from Keenen Ivory Wayans, who helped her secure an agent and then from Debbie Allen who created the character of Lena James, a series regular, for her on the now classic television show, A Different World, when she was just 19 years old. Her success also allowed the special to bring Shakur, who also appeared with her on the hit show, back into the picture.
From there, her life with Smith, whom she initially met while auditioning for his classic sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, is centered more. When the two became friendly three years later, Smith was married with a son. When her mother disapproved of her interacting with a married man, Pinkett Smith cut all ties until a year later when Smith called her as he was in the process of a divorce and declared to her, “You’re seeing me now.”
During their courtship, their careers flourished, with her starring in Set It Off and Nutty Professor 2 and Smith in Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men In Black. They married before their son, actor-musician Jaden Smith, was born, followed by Willow Smith. As glamorous and happy as it all seemed, the Girls Trip star spoke candidly about her depression, sharing that she had even planned on staging her suicide as a car accident on Hollywood’s notoriously winding Mullholland Drive. A plant-based psychedelic largely illegal in the U.S. freed her, she disclosed.
As the conversation continued, Smith denied rumors that she and Smith are each gay, insisting to Kotb that “none of [those rumors are] true.” What was true was her “entanglement” with singer August Alsina. Pinkett Smith publicly addressed the scandal, which broke in 2020, on her successful Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk, with Smith by her side at his insistence, she shared. That move, Kotb noted, “looks like this guy is being humiliated on national television.” Pinkett Smith chimed in that it created a backlash against her, as she was perceived as “the adulterous wife who forced him to go to the Table and sit there.” It got worse after the slap.
Pinkett Smith addressed being physically separated from Smith since 2016, with NBC playing a clip of Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen a year later, intimating that they were together after more than 20 years of marriage. In response, Kotb said, “I feel like you’re a straight talker,” with Pinkett Smith sharing, “I am,” and Kotb interjecting, “Except you’re not sometimes.” Pinkett Smith followed with the reasons why she and Smith had not disclosed their separation until now.
“I made a promise that there will never be a reason for us to get a divorce. We will work through whatever and I just haven’t been able to break that promise,” she offered.
The separation reveal further complicates the events of last year’s infamous Oscar night. Noting that the couple appeared romantically-linked, Kotb asked about the people who feel like “Jada and Will betrayed us. … They’ve been putting on a phony show for years,” with Pinkett Smith responding that “there’s deep love between us.”
Before the Oscars got into full swing, Pinkett Smith, NBC reported, was already concerned about Rock and their rocky 2016 Oscars where he made her a bit of his banter for her deciding to boycott the show after that year’s all-white acting nominees. Still, when she rolled her eyes at the G.I. Jane 2 swipe at her nearly bald head, the result of her battle with alopecia, she insisted that she had no idea that Smith had actually hit Rock.
When Smith insisted that Rock keep his “wife’s name” out of his mouth, Pinkett Smith said she was taken aback by his use of the word “wife.” She also shared that he became even more enraged as Rock attempted to apologize to her during the commercial breaks, presumably even more angered by the comedian speaking to her. She explained it as “some old shit” between them but still did not realize Smith had struck Rock until his publicist told her, “Chris has left the building and he’s not going to press charges,” which, by her facial expressions, still shocks her.
No one, however, asked Smith to leave before winning his first Oscar for his starring role as Venus and Serena Williams’ father in King Richard. The public heat she took for his actions that night circled back to “the false narrative that I helped to create on the Red Table” as the “adulterous wife,” she explained. “Now look at what she’s done: she has the power with an eye roll to make him go up there and slap somebody,” she smiled with disbelief.
Still, with all the longtime and recent drama in their relationship, she told Kotb that they don’t “amicably divorce” because “we don’t want to” … “because we love our family, and we love each other.” When pressed about how they addressed dating other people, Pinkett Smith shared that “right now, what we’re focused on, which has been so beautiful, is deep healing.”
Asked about the possibility of a full reconciliation, Pinkett Smith joked, “He’s getting old, who’s gon’ to be there for him, Hoda? It’s gon’ be me. It’s gon’ be me.”
Closing out, Pinkett Smith insisted that she does indeed feel “worthy” of love and other good things at this point in her life.