When Will Smith swung at and connected with Chris Rock's face at the Academy Award show 2022, people in the wrestling business wasted no time comparing the shocking incident to WWE Hall of Famer Jerry "The King" Lawler smacking quirky entertainer Andy Kaufman and sending him tumbling on his chair, spilling him sideways to the floor on the David Letterman Show in 1982.
I saw it happen up-close-and-personal. I was just a few feet away, behind the TV cameras, snapping photos along with fellow Pro Wrestling Illustrated editor Craig Peters. We never had a clue what would transpire during that TV show taping.
Letterman and his entire crew were also totally in the dark and shocked by the actions of Lawler and the hatred he would spew physically onto Andy. Similar to what Kaufman did, dropping the f-bomb several times, it was just one of those from Smith that made the live crowd and millions watching on TV highly uncomfortable and angry.
With Kaufman, people in the audience and television viewers were laughing at his verbal tirade and cursing and hoping Lawler would end Andy's so-called wrestling career.
It was me, Bill Apter, who put Jerry and Andy together a short time before their feud took place (for the full story, kindly read my book titled "Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn't Know It Was Broken!" on sale on Amazon).
Yes, I introduced them to each other, and what they put together was nothing short of magic and genius, from their in-ring feud to the Letterman incident. It made television history and is listed in many historical books about TV history as one of the most memorable moments of that medium.
Back then, there was no internet. People learned what happened on Letterman the day after as it received coverage in every major newspaper worldwide. It was the photos that Craig and I shot that spelled it out, and it went viral as everyone was talking about it. Had the internet been around back then, it would have made it explode! That is how explosively hot this was back then.
Hours after Letterman took place, Craig and I found out it was partially pre-planned. We went back to Jerry's hotel room, and Andy was with him. Along with Craig, I maintained we knew this was going to happen. Lawler did confide in us that what happened was not scheduled to occur.
"They wanted us to hug and do a song and make friends towards the end of our segment. We didn't want to do that so we kind of improvised and it took everyone by surprise and made TV history. People in the wrestling business have been trying to duplicate what we did but it's never worked. What we did felt natural to both of us. We just let it happen!" Lawler said.
The difference here is enormous. Other than the slap by Lawler, the Will Smith-Chris Rock incident, in my opinion, was real -- a shoot. There is a history of unpleasant social media barbs between the two of them, and Smith's wife has been the subject at times. Smith was supposedly fed up with all the banter throughout the years and eventually exploded at the Oscars.
What Will Smith did was wrong. Accepting the highest award for Best Actor in a movie after the slap incident and cursing at Chris Rock in front of millions of people was not orchestrated.
Unfortunately, it may wind up on some of the most memorable TV moments lists like that of Lawler and Kaufman. However, I would insist it be listed in the category at the very top of "TV's most shameful moments of all time."
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