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Will Smith's powerful new memoir Will is excerpted exclusively in this week's issue of PEOPLE
The story of Will Smith is more complicated than anyone ever knew.
In this week's issue, PEOPLE has an exclusive excerpt from the 53-year-old star's revealing new memoir Will, out Nov. 9. In it, Smith lays bare painful family secrets, including a traumatic childhood incident involving his late father, Will Sr., that he says scarred him for years to come.
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Early in the book, Smith sets up the complicated relationship he had with his father William Carroll Smith Sr., who with his mother Caroline Bright, raised Smith and his three siblings in Philadelphia.
"My father was violent, but he was also at every game, play, and recital. He was an alcoholic, but he was sober at every premiere of every one of my movies," he writes. "He listened to every record. He visited every studio. The same intense perfectionism that terrorized his family put food on the table every night of my life."
Smith writes that a terrifying act of violence he witnessed his father carry out against his mother changed his life forever.
"When I was nine years old, I watched my father punch my mother in the side of the head so hard that she collapsed. I saw her spit blood. That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am."
For the actor, the trauma of that moment would impact his entire life and career. He explains, "Within everything that I have done since then — the awards and accolades, the spotlights and attention, the characters and the laughs — there has been a subtle string of apologies to my mother for my inaction that day. For failing her in the moment. For failing to stand up to my father. For being a coward."
He continues, "What you have come to understand as "Will Smith," the alien-annihilating MC, the bigger-than-life movie star, is largely a construction – a carefully crafted and honed character – designed to protect myself. To hide myself from the world. To hide the coward."
Smith's parents separated when he was a teen and divorced in 2000. Despite maintaining a close relationship with his father, the actor writes that his anger stemming from that childhood incident surfaced again decades later, while he cared for Will Sr., who had cancer.
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"One night, as I delicately wheeled him from his bedroom toward the bathroom, a darkness arose within me. The path between the two rooms goes past the top of the stairs. As a child I'd always told myself that I would one day avenge my mother. That when I was big enough, when I was strong enough, when I was no longer a coward, I would slay him."
In that moment, Smith recalls entertaining the thought of killing his father. "I paused at the top of the stairs. I could shove him down, and easily get away with it," he writes. "As the decades of pain, anger, and resentment coursed then receded, I shook my head and proceeded to wheel Daddio to the bathroom."
After Will Sr. died in 2016, Smith reflected on their turbulent relationship and what it taught him about finding true fulfillment.
"There is nothing that you can receive from the material world that will create inner peace or fulfillment," he writes. "In the end, it will not matter one single bit how well [people] loved you — you will only gain 'the Smile' based on how well you loved them."
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