The untold truth of Wesley Snipes

Wesley Snipes is that rare Hollywood actor who can do everything from serious (Jungle Fever), to comedic (Major League) to badass action hero (Blade). But he's also got an off-camera reputation as, uhh, let's just say a "quirky" dude, and sometimes that reputation overshadows his real on-screen accomplishments.

When you hear the name "Wesley Snipes," you probably don't just think larger-than-life superhero vampire killer, you think "tax evader" and probably also "prima donna." When a person decides to become an actor, that's not really the reputation he tends to envision for himself, and yet, the stories about Snipes and his antics just keep coming.

If we're being honest, Snipes has kind of made his own bed as far as his reputation is concerned. No one doubts his talent, but some people doubt his sanity. So let's have a look at some of Wesley Snipes' untold truths, and then we'll let you be the judge.

The real reason Wesley Snipes didn't pay his taxes

Let's just say it up-front: Wesley Snipes is a tax cheat. In 2010, he received a three-year sentence for tax evasion. But why? How could someone just suddenly stop paying taxes after years of paying taxes? It's not like he thought he legally didn't have to, right? Well, actually…

Someone did convince Snipes that he didn't have to pay taxes, and that someone was tax "adviser" Eddie Ray Kahn, who offered up some sage advice: Don't pay your taxes. According to the Pappas Group, he basically advised Snipes and literally 4,000 other suckers to set up nonprofit religious corporations, name themselves as "overseers," channel all their earnings into their fake nonprofits, and poof! Livin' the tax-free life. But wait, there's more. Kahn also printed "bills of exchange" for his clients, which were documents that looked like checks but weren't actually checks. Kahn would send the bills of exchange to the IRS in lieu of payment because for some reason he thought the IRS would be all, "Okay, cool. It's not money but hey, it looks like money so we'll just let it slide."

Anyway, Snipes set up his fake religious nonprofit and then sent the IRS an amended return in which he claimed a $7.4 million refund on his 1997 taxes. Now, there are those who say Snipes was just a victim of really, really bad advice, but come on. It doesn't take a mathematician to know that you can't cheat the IRS.

Wesley Snipes has a degree in fine arts

Wesley Snipes was born in Orlando, Florida, but he grew up in the Bronx, where he discovered his love of acting. According to GQ, Snipes was accepted to the School of Performing Arts in New York at the age of 13, but was only there for a couple of years before his mother announced that they were moving back to Florida. So that was sucky, but then things got even suckier when Snipes got a phone call from a well-known New York theater producer, inviting him to take part in an upcoming musical — on his last day in New York, as his stuff was literally being loaded into the U-Haul. And then things got super-extra sucky when he got back to Florida and learned that the movie Fame was being shot at the School of Performing Arts, and a lot of his former classmates were in it.

A lot of kids would have given up in despair at that point, but not Snipes. After he was voted "Most Talented" by his high school graduating class in 1980, he went on to the State University of New York, where he obtained a Fine Arts degree. It wasn't until 1986, though, that he finally got his big break — a casting agent helped him get a role in the football movie Wildcats, which you've probably never heard of. It's okay, though, no one else has heard of it either.

He's a legit karate master, but he still can't beat Mike Tyson

There are a lot of action stars that are really good at pretending to be badass street fighters or soldiers or vampire hunters. That's all down to great choreography and lots of practice. But some action stars really are bona-fide fighters (and some action stars are terrible fighters), and Wesley Snipes is solidly one of the former. In fact if you lined up all of Hollywood's action heroes based on actual, real, action hero skills, Snipes would be somewhere near the front of the line.

Snipes started his martial arts training when he was 12, and he didn't just stick with the same style, either. He studied several Asian martial arts systems as well as Egyptian, Brazilian, Indonesian, and African styles. According to Bleacher Report, he has a fifth-degree black belt in Shotokan Karate, so that's super-impressive except it's evidently still not enough to take down Mike Tyson.

It would take a great fighter to sign on for a boxing match against heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, but it takes a pretty arrogant dude to sign on for a clandestine affair with heavyweight champion Mike Tyson's girlfriend, black belt or no. According to this often-repeated story, Snipes wasn't even especially sneaky about it, either. Tyson caught the pair at a soul food restaurant in Los Angeles, ordered Snipes to the restroom, and then knocked him out cold. Allegedly.

Wesley Snipes may have been abusive toward Halle Berry

Wesley Snipes' reputation as a tough guy (excluding the Mike Tyson knockout punch in a public restroom) has probably contributed to a persistent rumor about his relationship with actress Halle Berry. In a 1996 interview with People Magazine, Berry said a boyfriend once hit her hard enough to puncture her left eardrum, resulting in an 80% hearing loss in that ear. She didn't name any names, but we do know she was involved with Snipes at one time. In fact, according to people who knew her at the time, their breakup caused her a lot of personal distress.

There's no real proof it was Snipes who hit Berry, though, and she's never come right out and said it was, either. But her former boyfriend, the R&B singer Christopher Williams, pointed the finger at Wesley Snipes (after vehemently denying that he himself was responsible), and two of her other exes were similarly accusatory. Former MLB star David Justice even went so far as to publicly deny that he was the abuser in a Tweet that mostly just proved he doesn't understand capitalization: "Reading the latest Halle Berry Reports, it wasn't me who hit Halle causing the ear damage. Halle has never said that I hit her." And then in follow-up tweets Justice added the initials "WS," because maybe he was afraid spelling the whole name out would cause the revenge-seeking ghost of Wesley Snipes to appear in a mirror or something.

Who's bad? He's bad

Not long after that first role in a movie no one has ever heard of, Snipes got a lucrative part in a music video, but not just any music video — it was a starring role in Michael Jackson's epic video for "Bad," which was directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. Also, he stole the part from Prince — at least, that's what he told Conan in 2017. "I blew Prince out of the water," he said. "Michael had told Prince that he had the role, and then he met me … and kicked Prince to the curb." So that's not egotistical or anything, and it's also not the way Prince said it happened, but whatever. Everyone besides Wesley Snipes who can confirm or deny is no longer with us, so there you go.

Anyway, the version you'll see Snipes in is the 18-minute short film, in which he plays the antagonist. But that wasn't his only job on set — according to Rolling Stone, he was also Jackson's bodyguard while they were filming in Harlem. Jackson was evidently feeling less-than-comfortable in that environment, and at one point he turned to Snipes and said, "Are you scared?"

"I was like, 'Yo, Mike, what are you talking about?,'" Snipes later recalled. "…this is Harlem, baby! This is where we grew up. They love you. Really, you're scared?' He was like, 'A little.'" So guess which one of the two was really "bad"? Wesley Snipes seems pretty sure it was himself.

Wesley Snipes once led police on a high-speed chase

So yeah, we don't want to say that Wesley Snipes has an ego or anything, but he kind of has an ego. And if you need more evidence, there was that time he led police on a 120 mph chase down Florida's Turnpike in 1994. Here's how it unfolded: According to the Palm Beach Post, a dispatcher informed the Martin County Sheriff's Office that there was a motorcyclist "going 120, 130" on the turnpike. Officers responded, and the motorcyclist led them on a 30-mile, three-county chase that ended when he crashed into a grassy area on a turnpike exit. An officer ordered the fallen cyclist to stay on the ground, and the cyclist replied, "Don't you want to know who I am?"

"I don't care who you are," the trooper said. "Get on the ground."

It was Wesley Snipes, of course, and officers also say that during the chase he tossed something "about the size of a baseball" off the side of the road. Police later found three ounces of marijuana wrapped in tape, though they couldn't conclusively prove it belonged to Snipes. Snipes was briefly handcuffed and charged with reckless driving. His defense: He didn't know he was being chased and the crash at the exit was just the normal, ordinary sort of crashing one might expect to happen when exiting the turnpike at 130 mph.

Snipes got a $7,150 bill for court costs and was sentenced to 80 hours of community service.

Wesley Snipes had a complicated relationship with religion

Wesley Snipes was raised Christian, but at a young age he started to have some doubts. According to Ebony Magazine, he was one of just four black students in the theater arts department at his university, a fact that he said made him feel "like mold on white bread." Then he found out about Malcolm X, and everything changed.

"When I saw [a Malcolm X] documentary," he said, "it changed my whole life — everything. … I went straight to the library and literally stole the [Autobiography of Malcolm X], and for two days I just read." Because maybe he couldn't get a library card? Anyway, he read his stolen book and it changed his life. He found himself drawn to Islam and its emphasis on black pride, and for a while he was a Muslim.

His new religion didn't stick, though, and today he no longer calls himself a Muslim. Why? "When you're drowning, you grab onto a log to keep afloat. But don't hold onto the log when the boat comes by. Get on the boat and bring your butt on back home. So Islam to me was the log to make me more conscious of what African people have accomplished, of my self-worth, to give me some self-dignity." The boat, in this analogy, is presumably Snipes' now-confident inner self. Maybe? We're not really good with weird boat analogies.

Wesley Snipes' friendship with Woody Harrelson is real and adorable

White Men Can't Jump was the unlikely buddy film where Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes scammed their way through pickup basketball games. Snipes and Harrelson have actually starred in three films together (unless you count Play it to the Bone, the Woody Harrelson film that includes a Wesley Snipes cameo and would bring the total number to four). Harrelson and Snipes first teamed up in Wildcats, that one movie no one can recall, before going on to star together in White Men Can't Jump and Money Train. Over the years the two have formed an obvious bond — some might even say bromance — to the point where Harrelson once went out of his way to stick up for his friend.

According to the Smoking Gun, Harrelson wrote a character reference letter to help Snipes during the sentencing phase of his tax evasion trial. In the letter, Harrelson called Snipes "a true citizen of the world" and assured the judge that he "strives for rightness in all his relations." Except for his taxes, but whatever. In an interview with BET, Harrelson also said that he would choose Wesley Snipes as his Hunger Games killing partner, you know, because of all the rightness in all his relations and citizen of the world stuff because that will give you an advantage against people with longbows and beehives and stuff. Bromance.

Wesley Snipes' baby daughter saved his life on 9/11

Like many Hollywood actors, Wesley Snipes spends time on both coasts. In 2001 he had an apartment in Manhattan, and that's where he and his wife, Nikki, planned to be during September of that year. But plans changed when Nikki gave birth to their daughter, Iset Jua-T Snipes. And a good thing, too, because the September 11 attacks destroyed the Snipes' apartment, and might have also killed them if they had been home at the time.

"My daughter was born at the same time [as the attacks]," Snipes told the Guide. "We were taking care of her in Los Angeles, because there's a tradition that you don't travel with a newborn. So, literally, we were lying in bed, and my sister called me and said, 'Turn on the TV.' Our daughter's lying there between us, and I looked over at my lady and said, 'Baby, our place is gone!' I just turned to my daughter and started kissing her. 'That's why you came, my girl. You saved our lives … you're a lifesaver!'"

He's a bit of a diva

Wesley Snipes has a reputation for being, well, difficult. There's no better illustration of that than Patton Oswalt's first-hand account of what he was like on the set of Blade: Trinity. "Wesley was just f*cking crazy in a hilarious way," Oswalt told the AV Club. "He wouldn't come out of his trailer, and he would smoke weed all day." In fact he was often high on set or just not there at all, and Oswalt says everyone had to compensate for his, shall we say, absent performance. "A lot of the lines that Ryan Reynolds has were just a result of Wesley not being there," said Oswalt. "We would all just think of things for him to say and then cut to Wesley's face not doing anything because that's all we could get from him."

Snipes was also a bit of a hothead — Oswalt said he tried to strangle director David Goyer over another actor's attire, and the day after Goyer jokingly tried to hire a bunch of bikers to pretend to be his security, Snipes sat down with him and said, "I think you need to quit. You're detrimental to this movie." Unfazed, Goyer replied, "Why don't you quit? We've got all your close-ups, and we could shoot the rest with your stand-in."

Ever the tough guy, Snipes backed down and then for the rest of the production refused to communicate with Goyer except via sticky notes, which he would sign "From Blade."

He was going to make a Black Panther movie, but then he didn't

Black Panther was one of the first movies to feature a black superhero supported by a mostly black cast. And it was a long time coming — longer than you think, even, because in the 1990s none other than Wesley Snipes had plans to bring the franchise to the big screen. Snipes even told the Hollywood Reporter that the legendary Stan Lee was totally on board with the project.

So what happened? Evidently, one of the major roadblocks was the fact that Snipes had trouble explaining the difference between the comic book Black Panther and the 1960s civil rights revolutionaries Black Panthers. "They think you want to come out with a black beret and clothing and then there's a movie," he recalled.

Finally, though, there was forward progress, and three scripts later they were ready to sign a director, but when he discussed the project with potential director John Singleton, Singleton insisted that they put the Black Panther character in the civil rights movement, so there was that problem again.

Ultimately, the project stalled out because Snipes couldn't find the right director/script combination and also because he didn't feel he could do justice to the high-tech world of Wakanda given the special effects limitations of the time. But it wasn't all for naught — Snipes went on from there to do Blade, and we got an extra-awesome version of Black Panther a couple decades later.