The King Richard star recalled the experience to David Letterman in a new episode of his Netflix show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, which was taped before Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage during the 94th Academy Awards telecast in March.
Smith told the longtime talk show host that he began to notice a “subtle sickness” involving an “addiction” to “material success” around the time I Am Legend was released in 2007. He sought to remedy himself by taking a break from work and not speaking for two weeks. Smith said the experience taught him “to live with the reality that any moment, anything can be gone in one second.”
Still, the Oscar-winner continued looking inward, telling Letterman he took 14 “journeys” on ayahuasca in Peru over a two-year period. Smith called it “the individual most hellish psychological experience” of his life.
“I started seeing all of my money flying away, and my house is flying away, and my career is going away, and I’m trying to grab for my money, and my career and my whole life is getting destroyed. This is my fear, and I’m in there, but I’m wanting to vomit,” he recalled. “I hear a voice saying, ‘This is what the f— it is, this is what the f— life is.’ And I’m going, ‘Oh, s—, and I hear Willow screaming, ‘Daddy, help me, daddy, how come you won’t help me?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t see you, baby.'”
Smith continued, “I stopped caring about my house, I stopped caring about my career, and I get to the point where I settled down, and the voice is still at 100 percent; I still hear Willow screaming, my money is still flying away, but I’m… totally calm, even though there’s hell going on in my mind.”
Through the experience, the actor said, “I realized that anything that happens in my life, I can handle it. I can handle any person I lose, I can handle anything that goes wrong in my life, I can handle anything in my marriage, I can handle anything that this life has to offer. That’s part of the psychological training that happens in ayahuasca.”
The main takeaway for Smith was that “99 percent of the s— you worry about never happens. Ninety-nine percent of your pain and your misery is all self-generated; it’s not real.” He added, “I developed a trust and a love for me that I never had. I trust me to be okay, no matter what happens.”
Smith had to grapple with that elusive one-percent threat to his career earlier this year, as he weathered public outrage for slapping Rock at the Oscars after the comedian made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
Following the incident, Smith issued an apology and resigned his Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences membership. He was then banned from attending Academy-affiliated events — including the Oscars — for the next decade.
Pinkett Smith later opened season 5 of her Facebook Watch series Red Table Talk with a title card that said her family was undergoing “deep healing” amid the backlash.