Entertainment Celebrity memoirs: Unusually candid portraits of the real person … or ‘ghostwritten fluff’?

Celebrity memoirs: Unusually candid portraits of the real person … or ‘ghostwritten fluff’?

Will Smith memoir to be released November 9
Will Smith will release the story of his life via a memoir later this year. Photo: Getty
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American actor and rapper Will Smith is the latest celebrity to announce his long-awaited memoir, with the promise that he will tell “the story in full” of his high-stakes rollercoaster life.

Smith, 52, nominated for multiple Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmys across his varied career, spent two years working on the book, unpacking his transformation from “fearful child in a tense West Philadelphia home” to one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history.

It will detail his early days as a rapper, through to some of those stand-out acting performances: playing heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali in Ali; as a protector against alien scum in the entertainingly comedic Men in Black trilogy; as a scientist working alone on a vaccine in a post-apocalyptic New York in I am Legend.

“Oops.” And let’s not forget his role as the delightful cigar-smoking fighter pilot Captain Steven Hiller in Independence Day alongside Jeff Goldblum.

Smith’s memoir will stand among other notables’ life tomes, waxing lyrical about their triumphs and failures (but only failures that later turned into triumphs).

As Vogue recently put it: “At their best, celebrity memoirs provide unusually candid portraits of the ‘real person’ behind the public persona – and don’t skimp on the dirty details.

“At worst, they can be ghostwritten fluff.”

Will Smith memoir reveal

Married to Jada Koren Pinkett since 1997, the Hollywood powerhouse duo have two children Jaden, 23 and Willow, 21.

Smith, pulling in 54 million Instagram followers, says this book shouldn’t just be a decoration on a coffee table, but a “must read”.

“[Smith] … opens up fully about his life, tracing his learning curve to a place where outer success, inner happiness, and human connection are aligned,” Penguin Press wrote about the autobiography.

The publisher also described the memoir, written with the help of Mark Manson (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck) as “the product of a profound journey of self-knowledge, a reckoning with all that your will can get you and all that it can leave behind”.

But will we get to know the real Will Smith?

Will we see him spilling secrets or unpacking the dark side of celebrity, Hollywood and the good and bad connections who rode with him along his journey?

The book drops on shelves on November 9, so we’ll know then.

The celebrity memoir boom

Bookshops are crowded with celebrity memoirs and a quick walk down the aisles gives you options galore: From the thick and thin to the compelling and the urrrgh.

They’re made for reading on holidays, snuggling up on the couch on days off … or quarantining.

Here’s our pick of the bunch.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir received critical acclaim.

Hello! Magazine describes the memoir of her life growing up in Chicago, through university and as First Lady “inspirational”.

However, does it tell all? It sits somewhere between an Oprah-style full-on confessional and goes further than Beyonce’s “guarded intimacy”, according to The Washington Post review.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Unfinished

Insider magazine describes Priyanka’s 2021 memoir as “shocking and surprising”.

She grew up in India, won beauty pageants, is best known for her celebrity red-carpet life and friendship with Meghan Markle (she was invited to her 2018 wedding in the UK).

Tina Brown, The Vanity Fair Diaries

As former editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, Brown’s memoir documents her life arriving in New York, to be consumed by the maelstrom that was celebrity society in the 1980s in Hollywood.

Vogue senior editor Chloe Schama writes: “Brown kept meticulous notes when she occupied this role, and it shows; this is a book in which the delicious dirt is in the details.”

Prince, The Beautiful Ones

Senior editor of Read It Forward Abbe Wright says: “The musical genius and creativity of Prince were cut short all too soon, but I’ve enjoyed celebrating his life by reading the memoir he began before his death. Part one takes us through his childhood into his storied career in his own words, and the rest of the book is a biography framed by editor Dan Piepenbring, who collaborated with Prince in his final months. The result is an incredible tribute to an icon.”

Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights

McConaughey has sold more than two million copies of this widely acclaimed insightful and unconventional memoir.

A recent New York Times review said it is filled with “raucous stories, outlaw wisdom, and lessons learned the hard way about living with greater satisfaction”.