The real reason Will Smith and Sheree Zampino divorced

It’s almost impossible to think about Will Smith without also thinking about Jada Pinkett Smith. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star has been with the occasionally otherwise “entangled” actress for more than twenty years. The Girls Trip leading lady is actually Will’s second wife; he was previously married, albeit briefly, to actress-turned-reality-star Sheree Zampino. The two were together from 1992 to 1995 and are still friends, as of this writing. Will even went as far as to wish Sheree a happy birthday on Instagram in 2018, using the hashtag #BestBabyMamaEver. This was, of course, approved by Jada, who sent her own birthday wishes over in a since-deleted Instagram (via E!), stating Sheree was “a gift” and that she was “wishing [her] the world.”

Exes getting along is not a foreign concept, but what is slightly out of the ordinary is your wife getting along with your ex-wife, essentially building a connection completely removed of you. But like Chris Rock told Will in the comments section of his post, “Wow. You have a very understanding wife.”

If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that this is a family dynamic that is definitely hard to understand. If we go back to the beginning, maybe we can make some sense of the complex relationship between Will Smith and his first wife, Sheree Zampino.

A Different World led to a different… girl

Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Sheree Zampino’s worlds seemed to have always been intertwined, even if they weren’t always aware of it. They were so connected that Will’s introduction to Sheree began with his infatuation with Jada. He saw Jada on an episode of the late 80s sitcom A Different World, and he just had to meet her, so he arranged for a set visit through his Fresh Prince co-star Alfonso Ribiero. But that’s when things got twist-turned upside down.

Will ended up getting onto the set the same day Sheree just happened to be there visiting her friend and show writer Orlando Jones, who ironically was supposed to introduce Will to Jada. But, Sheree told Hollywood Unlocked that Will ended up getting her number from a different acquaintance of Jones, named Billy Sly, and the two began dating. They eventually married and had their first child, Trey, with whom she got pregnant with the same year the pair tied the knot.

In an episode of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk, Will even admits that he “went to A Different World to meet Jada,” but that he and “met Sheree and ended up marrying Sheree and having Trey with Sheree” instead, adding, “I didn’t meet Jada that day. … We had all these near misses.” 

Jada Pinkett Smith was always Will Smith's first pick

Jada Pinkett was always the apple of Will Smith’s eye, so much so that Will fell for Jada while he was still married to Sheree Zampino. Will and Jada finally met on the set of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but Will claimed he was incapable of divorce. The two even started dating while he was still in wedlock, something the Set It Off star says she regrets doing. In a 2018 interview with Access, Jada says, “He was ‘div’, the ‘orced’ hadn’t happened yet.”

As he later revealed on Red Table Talk, Will, unable to act on his attraction, “broke down in tears” in a restaurant bathroom while at dinner with Sheree one night. He stated he had a revelation that he was supposed to be with Jada and not Sheree. This was definitely a situation that was getting really messy really fast.

Although Will didn’t believe in divorce, Sheree didn’t share the same sentiment. She decided to do what Will felt he could not, and filed on Valentine’s Day in 1995, telling Will she no longer loved him. Sheree finally added that “orced” for Will before the end of that year. Years later, Sheree opened up further in a 2016 Facebook video, stating, “Our marriage ended because we were so young. … It’s just a lot of responsibility. Marriage is not easy. Especially at that age.” They were both in their early 20s when they got married.

Will Smith's star was on the rise

During Will Smith’s 1992 to 1995 marriage to Sheree Zampino, his schedule was undoubtedly booking up. Already the star of a wildly popular sitcom, Smith’s film career also started to take off. 1993’s Six Degrees of Separation wasn’t so much a blockbuster as it was a vehicle that showcased Smith’s range. Then came Bad Boys, the 1995 smash that solidified Smith as an action star, and kicked off a stunning run of hits, including Men In Black, Independence Day, and Enemy of the State. If Will Smith wasn’t a household name at the start of his marriage to Sheree, he definitely was by the end of it. In fact, by the late 2000s, he was declared “Hollywood’s most bankable star” by Forbes (via Reuters). 

This was clearly getting to Sheree, who felt she would eventually become an afterthought to Will’s stardom. She later explained the dynamic in a 2016 Facebook video, saying, “Will was becoming bigger and bigger with his career. I’m becoming smaller and smaller and smaller and … we didn’t have the tools to make it work.” She elaborated in an interview with Hollywood Unlocked, “I think at that point in time with Will’s career taking off — to start now making movies, of course he had the TV show, the rapping — he didn’t have the capacity to give me what I needed. … I didn’t feel like a team.”

No, Will Smith did not cheat on Sheree Zampino

One thing Sheree Zampino wanted to make clear was that there was no infidelity on her or Will Smith’s part. This claim was contradicted by the late actress Alexis Arquette in a 2016 Facebook post (via Page Six), in which she claimed Zampino was paid to keep quiet after catching Smith in the act, so-to-speak, with his then-manager Benny Medina. Arquette further alleged that Smith “threw a fit on the set of [Six Degrees of Separation]” over a kissing scene with another male actor, instead “persuad[ing] the director to shoot the back of his head in frame,” making it appear as though they locked lips without having to actually do so. This was all seemingly Arquette’s way of verifying alleged homophobia that plagued Smith early in his career.

In an attempt to put these issues to bed, Zampino addressed Arquette directly in her 2016 Facebook video, starting with “I don’t know you and you don’t know me,” before explaining that if she would’ve walked in on Smith with anyone — man or woman — there would’ve been no hope for reconciliation in the future. She goes on to bluntly state, “Will was straight in 1992 and he’s straight in 2016.” As far why the marriage ended? “I left because I was unhappy; it’s really that simple.”

For the record, both Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have also confirmed that there was no affair while he was still married.

Will Smith's divorce from Sheree Zampino was his 'ultimate failure'

In June 2020, Will Smith sat down to talk with Jada Pinkett Smith about his time with Sheree Zampino in a special Father’s Day episode of Red Table Talk. In the emotional chat, Will admitted that getting divorced from his first wife represented “ultimate failure” to him at the time. “I’ve been hurt a lot in my adult life, but I don’t think anything touches the failure of getting divorced from my two-year-old son’s mother,” Will told Jada.

The effects of this “failure” were also felt in his relationship with his son Trey Smith, with whom Will says he struggled for years to build a solid foundation. In a November 2018 Instagram post of Will and Trey smiling and enjoying each other’s company, Will captions, “It has not always been like this between Trey & I. We STRUGGLED FOR YEARS after my divorce from his mother. He felt betrayed & abandoned. It is a wild blessing to recover & restore a loving relationship with my beautiful son.” Will’s goal (aside from securing Jada Pinkett as his wife) was to always ensure his family felt tight-knit and loved, and repairing his relationship with his son was a step in the right direction. 

Sheree Zampino and Jada Pinkett Smith had a rocky start

One of the more fascinating aspects of the Smith household is how they have managed to work in a co-parenting arrangement with Sheree Zampino; Trey Smith even refers to Jada as his “bonus mom.” Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith’s children, Jaden and Willow Smith, also have a close relationship with “Ree-Ree,” having spent a lot of time with her throughout their lives. The blended family even travels and spends birthdays and holidays together. Of course, this wasn’t always the case.

When Sheree was Jada’s first Red Table Talk guest, the girls reminisced about when things weren’t so friendly. Jada addressed the awkwardness first, asking Sheree if she recalled a phone conversation full of “fighting words.” Sheree had called looking to talk to her then three-year-old son Trey, but Jada answered and proceeded to tell Sheree she didn’t like her “tone” and “hung up” on her. This prompted Sheree to call right back — and this is where the exchange really heated up. Sheree told Jada, “I happened to say, ‘B***h, you living in the house I picked out,’ and you said, ‘It’s my house now.'” Things got so heated between the two that Will had to step in. Jada explained, “Will Smith let me have it! His take was, ‘That is Trey’s mother and that’s just not your place.'”

Yikes. That sounds pretty bad, right? Well hang on, because it wasn’t bad for long…

Mutual appreciation led to a beautiful blended family

At the start of their Red Table Talk chat, Jada Pinkett Smith confessed to Sheree Zampino, “Here’s the one thing I will say in hindsight: Because I didn’t understand marriage, I didn’t understand divorce. I will say that I probably should’ve fell back. … When I think back about where I was, some of my insensitivity, some of my inconsideration just in regards to you guys unwinding a marriage, and then me, trying to get in there.” Zampino was clearly happy to hear that Jada recognized her part in that dynamic, and admitted that it was Jada who offered the olive branch after their initial butting of heads. Sheree even said that Jada was always willing “to apologize” and “own it” when her stubbornness caused issues. The two later broke down in tears when Sheree admitted the hardest part of their relationship was when Will first introduced Trey to Jada, something she was initially against. “I’ll tell you, on this side of things, my son could not have a better bonus mom,” Sheree said, adding, “Thank you for loving my baby.” Jada replied, “You’re a great mother.”

The two even got reconnected for an episode of Ask Jada LIVE: Blended Families, to give tips on how to address co-parenting issues. One of the more important tips came from Sheree: “You have to be secured and settled in the fact that no one can replace you as a mom — your position is solid.”

Will Smith and Sheree Zampino still go on trips without Jada

As of this writing, the blended family couldn’t be happier, setting new standards for co-parenting and family dynamics. In an interview on Sway’s Universe, Jada Pinkett Smith revealed that she is not always present during vacations Will Smith takes with Sheree Zampino and their son Trey Smith (they’ve traveled as far as Jordan and Israel). She explains that it is important for Trey to see positive interactions between his parents, so that “he can feel that parental connection.” She continues by saying, “If I’m going to love Trey, there’s an aspect of Sheree that I have to embrace and have to love as well — consider and respect.”

The Matrix Reloaded star also states they are all family: “All that ‘relationship’ and ‘what people think ideas of a husband and a partner and all that,’ man, whatever… That’s a man [Will] that can rely on me for the rest of his life, period.” Jada further elaborated on TODAY, revealing, “Through my journey, I learned to love [Will] in the most pure way and love everything that comes with that, and he’s learning to do the same.”

For most marriages, divorce is the end — but it looks like divorce was the very beginning in a life of highs and lows for Will Smith and Sheree Zampino. We’re all watching to see how the next chapter in their extremely complicated relationship unfolds.

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