Fallout continues from last Sunday’s Oscars, where Will Smith exchanged words with – then slapped – host Chris Rock just moments before winning the Academy’s Best Actor award. At issue was a joke told by Rock that appeared to make light of Jada Pinkett Smith’s medically diagnosed alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere. As debate literally rages over whether Smith was justified in his actions or not, tabloids are taking advantage of the controversy by unearthing a 30-year-old story to paint the King Richard actor as violent, unstable, and “gangsta,” a problematic term with racial overtones.
In 1989, Smith’s then-personal assistant Charles “Charlie Mack” Alston attacked record producer William Hendricks, allegedly at the urging of the actor. While it’s not clear what led to the incident, Smith spent the night in jail. Subsequently, all charges were dropped after Smith agreed to cover Hendricks’ medical bills. While Alston and Smith have not denied some version of that happened, it was completely out of character for the Will Smith we know now.
“Will has always been a class act and has always conducted himself as a gentleman under any circumstance,” says Wayne Ketaily, who worked as a bodyguard for the entire Smith family in the mid-2000s. “What you see on TV and in the movies is what you get in real life, a genuine man, a nice man, a kind man.”
A former police officer who worked in SWAT and on the regional major crimes undercover task force in California, Ketaily had over 200 hours of formal executive protection training conducted by former FBI and Secret Service agents. He became Smith’s bodyguard while running a private executive protection business called World Wide Protective Services. He’s still loyal to the Smiths and says they treated him like family.
He doesn’t know Alston, but he knows the type if the online accounts of the 1989 incident are to be believed.
“Some in this line of work rely on an intimidation factor, but big doesn’t mean you’re smart,” he advises. “If you have to react to something head-on, you’ve done something wrong.”
Ketaily, who specializes in neutralizing online bullying and threats today, doesn’t believe Alston followed best practices for an effective bodyguard. “Stay ten steps ahead of any potential situation; violence is only a last resort, otherwise you have to move the client away from the situation.”
Alston, thought by many today to be a Philly folk hero, is said to have been once affiliated with the dominant drug gang in West Philly in the 1980s and was likely a bad influence on the then 20-year-old Smith. The 1989 incident may have been a defining moment in his life. In fact, Alston could have been the inspiration for the lyrics to the theme song of Smith’s 1990 sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
When asked about Will’s actions at the Academy Awards ceremony, Ketaily was quick to say he doesn’t condone it but warned we can’t know what he’s going through.
“Something sparked him, we don’t know if there is a backstory with Chris,” he says. “He is and always has been very protective of his family, and the people he loves, and I think he did what he thought was necessary at the time.”
According to the Associated Press, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on Wednesday said that Smith was asked to leave Sunday’s Oscar ceremony but refused to do so. They also admit they “could have handled the situation differently.” However, The Hollywood Reporter says Oscars producer Will Packer told Smith to stay. (UPDATE: In what’s become an almost daily change in their narrative, the Academy and Packer now say they had police in building to remove Smith.)
On Wednesday, the board of governors of the academy initiated disciplinary action against Smith for violating the group’s standards of conduct. He could be suspended, expelled, or hit with other disciplinary measures, according to the academy. Regardless, Ketaily contends he was triggered.
“Every man has his limit, and that was his… before career, reputation, Oscar, above all else for Will, it’s family first.”
I give Will credit for having the good sense to recognize he needed a real professional bodyguard with a law enforcement background as opposed to a brawler who often lacks the skill to defuse a situation before it begins.