Samuel Jackson is the undisputed king of the box office, which is especially incredible when you consider everything he’s endured in his personal life. From a complicated childhood to struggles with addiction, this is the tragic real-life story of Sam Jackson.
Jackson was raised by his maternal aunt and grandparents in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His mother relocated to Washington, D.C. for work, though she made regular trips home to see her son. His father, however, wasn’t in the picture.
He left when his son was still in diapers, but Jackson’s never been one to complain about it. In 2012 he told The Telegraph, “It was fine. One of the things that disturb people about me is that I don’t have separation anxiety.”
Jackson only ever saw his father on two occasions, once when he was a child and then later when his daughter Zoe was six months old. The actor happened to be in a show that was playing at a theater near his paternal grandmother’s home and decided that he wanted to meet her.
When he arrived at her house, his father was also there. In 2009, he told The Guardian, “There was no way I thought of him as my father. We had a conversation and he said something like, ‘You can’t talk to me that way, I’m your father,’ and I said, ‘No, you’re not, we’re just two people talking.'”
Learning How To Fight
Jackson’s grandparents both worked when he was growing up, so he often went to work with his Aunt Edna, an elementary school teacher who had a huge impact on him.
“She forced me to do a lot of things that I didn’t want to do when I was a kid, but one of the things she made me do was read, so I was reading by the time I was, like, two.” Edna’s influence helped Jackson stand apart from his peers at a young age, but being the clever one didn’t exactly make him popular with the other kids.
He was so advanced for his age that he often got himself into trouble by outsmarting the older students from the back of his aunt’s classroom, which would lead to fights during lunchtime. “So I was a good fighter and a smart kid.”
Aunt Edna was also the one who sparked Jackson’s interest in acting. In fact, she could claim to be the one who cast him in his very first role. As Jackson told The Guardian in 2009, “She was a performing arts teacher and never had enough boys for the parts so she would get me to perform.”
Growing Up During Segregation
In a 2017 interview with The Mercury News, Jackson opened up about what life was really like while growing up in the ’50s in segregated Tennessee. As he recalled, “For me, everything was very separate. Even the movie theaters I was going to were all-black theaters…My whole existence was black.” Despite that, the vast majority of faces up on the big screen were white.
There were only a few actors of color for Jackson to look up to at the time, and they never seemed to make it to the end of the film. As he explained, “When I did see Sidney Poitier or Harry Belafonte, I often questioned my mama about why he died all the time.
Then when I started getting cast in something, I’d flip through the script and see what page I died on. I got it, at that point.” According to Samuel Jackson, he only crossed paths with white people in person when he went to downtown Chattanooga.
Black people were expected to act a certain way when visiting this part of town. They weren’t supposed to look people in the eye, although Jackson regularly flouted this rule because he didn’t know any better. “I learned a lot of lessons that, you know, most people don’t have to learn today, or shouldn’t have to learn.”
Going To Rehab
During his college years, Samuel Jackson dabbled with a hallucinogenic. As he wrote in The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, “I was a hippie, you know? I was taking acid and listening to Jimi Hendrix.” Jackson’s drug use escalated in the late 70s when he joined the New York theater group Negro Ensemble Company.
He developed a cocaine habit that quickly spiraled out of control. He told The Guardian in 2016, “I was a f—ing drug addict and I was out of my mind a lot of the time, but I had a good reputation. Showed up on time, knew my lines, hit my marks.”
Jackson would even routinely rehearse and perform while on drugs. He told The Telegraph, “It was the life. I was in the theater, the revolution. I fancied myself as Oliver Reed. Part of it is hereditary: my father died of alcoholism. I took it a step further, I drank and I used drugs.”
The actor eventually realized that he had to change his ways when his wife and daughter found him completely passed out on the kitchen floor, which led to him checking into rehab.
In Good Times And Bad
Jackson met his future wife, actress LaTanya Richardson when he was a student at Morehouse College and she was attending nearby Spelman College. The couple has been married since 1980, but not all of their years together have been happy ones.
Jackson’s drug-fueled New York theater days were a real low point in their marriage. As he told The Telegraph in 2012, “I was not affectionate, I was not associative, and I was kind of crazy in a way that I regret.” Despite the struggles, Jackson and Richardson were determined to make things work for the sake of their daughter Zoe.
As Samuel Jackson told The Telegraph, “One of the reasons LaTanya and I stayed together was that we felt that Zoe deserved two parents in the same place because my wife was also the product of a broken home.”
In 2018, Richardson spoke with Essence about her secrets for a long-lasting marriage, as she revealed: “You have to have a big heart and the Lord. You’re going to have to turn to somebody, something, because men, they are different. They’re cut from a different cloth.” “Do you think LaTanya saved your life?” “Yeah. Yeah, no doubt.”
Radicalized By Family Tragedy
Jackson wasn’t really clued into politics when he was growing up, but all that changed when he got to Morehouse. When he enrolled in 1966, the number of United States troops in Vietnam had reached 400,000.
In July of that year, American bombers began air raids on cities in the north of the country for the first time. But Jackson and his friends only started to pay attention to what was happening in Asia after a family tragedy.
As Jackson wrote in The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, “We were like, ‘What war?’ And then my cousin, who was my age, got killed in 1967. I came to a realization that we were being groomed to be something that I didn’t necessarily want to be.”
After his cousin’s death, Samuel Jackson became staunchly anti-war and radicalized against the establishment. “I’m gonna show the man that I mean business!” Although he never went to Vietnam as a soldier, Jackson would later visit the country during his acting career, as the 2017 movie Kong: Skull Island was filmed along Vietnam’s rugged northern coastline.
He enjoyed his time there, as he told Southeast Asia Globe, “It’s a very interesting place, a very cool place, a very mysterious place…It’s a fascinating place to be, very spiritual. Even if you don’t believe in certain things, you feel things when you’re there. You kind of see them, and you watch the people.”
Laying Dr. King To Rest
The year after Jackson’s cousin was killed in Vietnam, another sudden death rocked his world. He was a sophomore when Morehouse alum Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on a Memphis balcony on April 4, 1968.
Jackson revealed to The Hollywood Reporter, “When I first heard, I was actually in the liquor store buying a quart of beer, because it was campus movie night. The cashier said, ‘Dr. King got shot.’ I said, ‘Is he dead?’ And he said, ‘No, not yet.'” Jackson went to the movie night, but the film was cut short when King’s death was confirmed.
A few days later Samuel Jackson was on a plane headed for Memphis to march with the striking sanitation workers that King had been in town to support. As Jackson recalled, “There was a lot of anger on the plane. We didn’t know what to expect when we got to Memphis.
We all thought it was probably going to be something physical, even though the National Guard was there.” When Jackson returned to Atlanta, he was asked to serve as an usher at King’s funeral, which began at Ebenezer Baptist Church and ended on the Morehouse campus.
He later joined a college protest that involved locking Morehouse board members inside the school, which got him expelled for two years.
Samuel Jackson was charged with a second-degree felony for his part in the Morehouse hostage situation, but he was already known to the authorities before that incident. It’s been reported that in his youth, he was a member of the Black Panthers, the radical group that sought to arm and educate African Americans in the late 60s.
However, he denied that this was true during a 2018 interview with Vogue, though he did admit that he and his peers were stockpiling weapons in anticipation of an armed rebellion in the United States. Jackson had already proven that he wasn’t afraid to go up against the authorities, but he just couldn’t say no to his mother.
As he revealed to The Hollywood Reporter, “That summer of ’69, somebody from the FBI came to my mom’s house in Tennessee and told her she needed to get me out of Atlanta before I got killed. She showed up and said she was going to take me to lunch.
I got in the car and she drove me to the airport and said, ‘Get on this plane, do not get off. I’ll talk to you when you get to your aunt’s in L.A.'” Jackson still lives in California to this day, as he and his wife reside in Beverly Hills.
Saved By Golf
Samuel Jackson’s life improved dramatically when he gave up drugs. He acted in the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever just weeks after finishing rehab. Ironically, he played a crack addict, but it was nonetheless a breakout film for the freshly sober actor.
He’s managed to stay on the straight and narrow ever since, and he thanks golf for that. He got hooked on the game when he got clean, and playing regularly has helped him stay that way. In 2004, he told The Independent, “It is something I can do that occupies time I would otherwise have spent doing very destructive things. It’s definitely filled a space in my life.
When I had to start dealing with my problems, I was worried I wouldn’t find something satisfying, beyond work and family, to keep me going. Thankfully, golf came into my life.” Golf is so important to Jackson that he has a clause written into his movie contracts that allows him time off to play twice a week.
He also even used to take his lightsaber onto the course while filming Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones. As he told Golf Digest in 2007, “I had to practice whenever I could because there were 109 movements to learn…One of those moves is similar to a golf swing, used to block an overhand blow.”
Alzheimer’s Runs In The Family
Being the most bankable star in Hollywood doesn’t make you or your loved ones’ immune to illness, as Samuel Jackson knows all too well. His family has been hard-hit by Alzheimer’s disease over the years. He was heartbroken when his grandfather didn’t recognize him while struggling with the illness.
The same happened with Jackson’s mother soon after she was diagnosed. In 2019, he told Evening Standard, “Her mother had it, her brother had it, her sister had it, and so did my aunt on my father’s side. It is so cruel having someone who has nurtured you and taken care of you reach a point where they can’t even recall your name.”
In 2019, Jackson became the new face of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s #ShareTheOrange campaign, which aims to debunk the idea that dementia is simply a normal part of growing old. “Dementia strikes at humanity’s most valuable resource: the cells of the human brain.” This isn’t the only health-based charity Jackson is involved with.
He’s the chairman of the male cancer charity, one for the Boys, and he’s also supported more than two dozen charities and foundations in his time. For more such content, keep visiting WittyScoop.com