King Richard: Who is Richard Williams? Tennis coach’s film-inspiring career and statement on Will Smith slap

Richard Williams has released a statement following actor Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Academy Awards Ceremony, in response to an alopecia joke aimed at his wife.

Sunday night’s Oscars event saw Will Smith spark a media frenzy, after slapping comedian Chris Rock.

The 94th Academy Awards ceremony celebrated some of the most critically acclaimed from the past year, including King Richard - a biographical sports drama based on the life of Richard Williams, Serena and Venus Williams’ father, portrayed by Will Smith.

All within a 20 minute period during the ceremony, The 53-year-old slapped Chris Rock and then won the esteemed Best Actor award for his performance in the biopic.

Both the Williams sisters were in attendance at the event to support the film portraying their early years in the tennis world.

So who is Richard Williams and why did Will Smith slap Chris Rock?

Who is Richard Williams?

Richard Williams was born in 1942 in Shreveport, Louisiana as the oldest of five children. Williams took tennis lessons from a man known as ‘Old Whiskey’, before writing up an 85-page plan for his own daughters after watching Virignia Ruzici playing on television.

In 1995, Williams withdrew his daughters from a tennis academy and started coaching them himself.

Serena’s first Grand Slam win came at the US Open in 1999 while Venus won Wimbledon in 2000.

Williams has been married three times and has eight children. Serena and Venus are his two children from the second marriage with Oracene ‘Brandy’ Price, whom he married in 1980.

The couple later divorced in 2002.

What is the film ‘King Richard’ about?

King Richard portrays the story of Williams’ drive and determination to see his daughters become not just professional tennis players, but the best tennis players in the world.

The film starts in Compton, Los Angeles where Williams worked as a security guard and his wife worked as a nurse. Williams continued to work tirelessly to find professional coaching for his daughters.

Serena, left, and Venus have 30 Grand Slams between themSerena, left, and Venus have 30 Grand Slams between them
Serena, left, and Venus have 30 Grand Slams between them

The girls were taken to see Paul Cohen who eventually agreed to train Venus.

At one of Venus’ tournaments, Serena also signed up to play, unbeknown to her father. The family were treated like outsiders on the tennis circuit, which is predominantly made up of the white, upper-classes.

The coach Rick Macci travelled to California to watch the girls play, and after agreeing to take the girls on, the family relocated to Florida to use Macci’s facility.

Richard insisted that the girls will not play juniors but will continue training and attending school like normal children.

Eventually Venus told her trainer that she wished to become a professional. This decision strained her relationship with her father, but she was ultimately allowed to play in the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland.

After victory in her first professional match but defeat in the second, Venus receives sponsorship offers from multiple major shoe companies.

An epilogue revealsed that nine months later, at the age of 15, Venus signed a contract with Reebok for $12 million (having previously rejected an offer from Nike for $3million) and would go on to become the first African American woman to be ranked number one in the world in the Open Era.

Venus Williams won Wimbledon five times, and Serena, who became professional two years after Venus, would go on to be considered one of the greatest ever tennis players.

Why did Will Smith slap Chris Rock and what was the response?

Rock made a joke on stage referring to Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, who suffers from the condition alopecia, which causes hair loss.

Rock referred to the 1997 film GI Jane, in which the female protagonist has a short-clipped, military-style haircut, and while Smith initially appeared to find humour in it, he subsequently went on up on stage to slap the host.

Smith has since taken to Instagram to apologise for his actions:

“Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.

“I would like to publicly apologise to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be.

Will Smith and his Wife at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party Will Smith and his Wife at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party
Will Smith and his Wife at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party

“There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”

Smith also went on to apologise to the Williams family: “I would like to apologise to the Williams Family and my King Richard family, I deeply regret that my behaviour has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us.”

What did Richard Williams say?

Richard Williams’ son and spokesman Chavoita LeSane told NBC News: “We don’t know all the details of what happened, but we don’t condone anyone hitting anyone else unless it’s in self-defence.”

He declined to go beyond his initial statement and offer a viewpoint on Smith’s subsequent award acceptance speech.

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