The source of Denzel Washington's advice to Will Smith

‘Fame is a monster …’

“At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.”

These wise words were spoken by Hollywood legend Denzel Washington to fellow actor Will Smith, after Smith’s “brain snap” at yesterday’s Academy Awards.

Social feeds now echo with Washington’s words, along with replays of Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock for insensitive comments made about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith.

While debate rages around whether Smith was justified in defending his wife – who has the autoimmune condition alopecia, which causes hair loss – or whether his reaction was too violent, Smith today posted the following apology.


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Whether or not Washington’s words played a role in Smith’s remorse is, of course, open to speculation. But Washington’s advice certainly seemed to stick. When later that night, 53-year-old Smith received his first-ever Oscar, for best actor for his role in King Richard, he publicly acknowledged Washington’s words to him in his acceptance speech, saying, “Denzel said to me a few minutes ago, ‘At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.'”

Washington’s warnings about the dangers of fame come from personal experience.

Although raised in a Christian home with his church pastor father, Washington says he spent 40 years of his life in Hollywood “struggling for my own soul”.

“It [the Bible] says in the last days we’ll become lovers of ourselves. The number one photograph now is a selfie. So we all want to lead. We’re willing to do anything — ladies and young men — to be influential …” said Washington.

“Fame is a monster and we all have these ladders and battles, roads we have to walk in our given lives. Be you famous or whoever’s out there listening, we all have our individual challenges. It’s cliché [but] money don’t make it better. It doesn’t. Fame just magnifies the problems and the opportunities,” he continued.

“I’m going to make a conscious effort to get up and speak about what God has done for me.” – Denzel Washington

Washington is now committed to being a Christian mentor to others.

“At 66, getting ready to be 67, having just buried my mother, I made a promise to her and to God, not just to do good the right way, but to honour my mother and my father by the way I live my life, the rest of my days on this Earth. I’m here to serve, to help, to provide,” Washington shared, when speaking at a Christian men’s conference at a Baptist church in Florida last year.

He continued: “In every prayer, all I hear is: ‘Feed my sheep.’ That’s what God wants me to do.”

In another interview, Washington echoed this commitment: “Through my work I have spoken to millions of people. In 2015, I said I’m no longer just going to speak through my work. I’m going to make a conscious effort to get up and speak about what God has done for me.”

“This is spiritual warfare.” – Denzel Washington

But it’s not just Hollywood actors who are susceptible to the dangers of a self-centred culture, according to Washington.

In a speech he gave when accepting the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award, he warned against the dangers of social media.

“The Bible says in the last days – I don’t know if it’s the last days, it’s not my place to know – but it says we’ll be lovers of ourselves,” he said. “The number one photograph today is a selfie, ‘Oh, me at the protest.’ ‘Me with the fire.’ ‘Follow me.’ ‘Listen to me.’

“We’re living in a time where people are willing to do anything to get followed. What is the long or short-term effect of too much information? It’s going fast and it can be manipulated obviously in a myriad of ways. And people are led like sheep to slaughter,” he said.

Washington – who describes himself as a “God-fearing man” – says the temptation towards fame and self-centredness is a spiritual battle.

“This is spiritual warfare. So, I’m not looking at it from an earthly perspective,” he told the New York Times. “If you don’t have a spiritual anchor you’ll be easily blown by the wind and you’ll be led to depression.”

While Washington’s faith now seems rock-solid, he’s quick to admit that “one always needs to leave ‘room to learn‘”. No doubt Washington is proud of Smith for admitting that he – like the rest of us – is a “work in progress”.