The untold truth of Wesley Snipes

Wesley Snipes is a rarity in Hollywood. He's shown range from a serious actor (Jungle Fever), to a comedic one (Major League) to a badass action hero (Blade). You'd think with a CV like that he'd be in demand perpetually, but Snipes is better known for his off-camera incidents. The real-life telling of Wesley Snipes is a complicated one, with more than a few ups and downs along the way.

The real reason he didn't pay his taxes

Let's not bury the lede: Wesley Snipes is a tax cheat. Snipes received a three-year sentence for not paying taxes on his millions of dollars of earnings. But why? How could someone just suddenly stop paying taxes after years of paying taxes? It's not like he suddenly thought he legally didn't have to, right? Well …

Snipes ran into tax "adviser" Eddie Ray Kahn, who offered simple advice: Don't pay your taxes. (Hey, we said "simple," not "smart".) Kahn's con is a bit complicated, but it basically plays out like this: set up a non-profit company and become that non-profit's overseer. Then, direct all your earnings into that non-profit and, just like that, you're tax free! It's like having your own church, without all the guilt or chastity. And if you did have to send in some money to the IRS, Kahn would provide you with a bill of exchange. This is exactly what it sounds like: pure bunk. It's the real-world equivalent of the Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence: a bunch of words that mean nothing.

Using the non-profit as a front, Snipes claimed a $7 million+ return on his 1997 taxes. That's the kind of thing that catches the eye of the IRS, not to mention the judge responsible for throwing you in the pokey. Snipes certainly made a huge mistake — he completely bought into terrible, super-shady advice from a supposed tax expert. Basically, Wesley got sniped.

His degree is in acting

Wesley Snipes was born in Orlando, Florida, but grew up in the Bronx. It was during his New York days that Snipes found his love for acting. At 13, Snipes attended the School for the Performing Arts in New York. Just when he found what he liked, his mother announced they were moving back to Florida. Things was, he received an offer for a play literally right as his family was getting ready to head south. Needless to say, he wasn't thrilled with the move.

But his bitterness left as soon as he got to sunny F-L-A. HA! Not really. See, the movie Fame began shooting at his old school, and most of his classmates were in the film, while he, the New Kid, was stuck doing High School theatre. After graduating from Jones High in 1980, where his classmates voted him Most Talented (good call, Jones class of 1980), he headed back north to attend State University of New York Purchase. He graduated with a Fine Arts degree in 1985, which led to Snipes' first acting role, in the football movie Wildcats, with Goldie Hawn. What you haven't of it? It's great! Goldie Hawn's in it! LL Cool J raps the theme! You … got nothing?

His last name origins are unknown

Wesley Snipes isn't the first Wesley Snipes — his father and grandfather were both Wesley Snipes, too. Grandpa Wes was born in 1890, in South Carolina. Being that it's the South, and Snipes' ethnic background is what it is, you can clearly see where this is going.

Wesley Snipes' great-grandfather Joe was born into slavery, in 1853 in South Carolina. Obviously his, great-great grandfather was also a slave. Born in 1810, Joe Snipes (same name as his son) lived the majority of his life without a last name. We first see Joe Snipes in the above Freedman's Bureau Labor Contract from 1866. If you're not an expert in reading 1860's-era handwriting, it says Joe Snipes with an "X" between the Joe and Snipes — the words "his mark" surround the X. See, the freedmen Joe Snipes couldn't write or read — all he could do was scribble a shaky "X".

Just finding this contract was something of a rarity, as research into freed slaves often hits what is known as the 1870's Brick Wall — prior to that, censuses might not have listed slaves by name, and certainly wouldn't have a last name associated with them. In Lowcountry South Carolina, only 20% of freedmen took the last name of their slavemasters. Basically, without finding a document that states implicitly that Joe Snipes, a freedman, was enslaved at a specific plantation in South Carolina, the trail runs cold after an 1866 document that shows Joe Snipes finally free.

We don't even know how the Snipes last name came about. In 1860 in Richland County, there were no slaveholding families with the last name Snipes. It could well have been something the newly-freed Joe came up with on the fly.

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

There's a lot of action stars that can't walk the walk when it comes to fighting. Highly respected websites (like ours!) actually list who can scrap and who fakes it. Wesley Snipes is not a faker. In fact, if you line up all the action heroes in Hollywood based on skill, Snipes is way up toward the top.

Wesley began his training at the tender age of 12. He's studied many different martial arts and has a fifth-degree black belt in Shotokan Karate, which is nothing to sneeze at. Skills like that come in handy, unless you're up against Mike Tyson, of course.

As the story goes, a girlfriend of Tyson was seeing Snipes on the side. When Iron Mike got wind, he confronted his girl while she was literally seeing Snipes at the famed Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles in LA. Tyson ordered Snipes into the restroom to sort things out. With Tyson's bodyguard (like he needs one) blocking the door, the two discussed the situation. By discussed, we mean the bodyguard heard a thud, and opened the door to see Snipes knocked out. Allegedly.

His alleged violent relationship with Halle Berry

Maybe it's the martial arts background that contributes to a persistent rumor following him. In a 1996 interview, Halle Berry admitted that an ex-boyfriend hit her so hard, it caused permanent damage to her ear, to the point where she's basically half-deaf.

A number of ex's have come forward to say "not I," but the suspicion keeps coming back to Snipes. Berry never said who did it, but one person who did was former boyfriend Christopher Williams. The R&B singer vehemently denied being the striker, and instead threw it on Snipes. Two of Berry's other exes, Eric Benet and David Justice, also pointed toward Snipes. Justice, in particular, tweeted "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." (all that terrible grammar is Justice's, not ours.)

Justice later ominously added "(WS)" to his follow-up tweets. Gee, we wonder what "WS" means …

Who's bad? He's bad

After landing a major role in a Hollywood film right out of the gate, Snipes landed what could arguably be a more lucrative spot on the small screen. He wasn't on a TV show, but rather a music video, but not just any video — he landed a spot in Michael Jackson's epic video for "Bad," directed by Martin Scorsese. Snipes played the antagonist to MJ's character, who insisted that he was "bad," in a tough way. Because when you think rough-and-tumble hardass, you think Michael Jackson.

But Snipes had another job on set — he says that he acted as a bodyguard of sorts to Jackson during the Harlem shoot. At one point, Michael asked Wesley if he was scared, given the location of the shoot was in a rather seedy part of Harlem. As he explained, "I was like, 'Yo, Mike, what are you talking about?' … this is Harlem, baby! This is where we grew up. They love you. Really, you're scared?' He was like, 'A little.'"

Michael Jackson's original plan wasn't for an actor to play his antagonist in the video. Jackson intended "Bad" to be a duet with Prince, with a viral marketing campaign featuring the two hurling insults at each other in the media until the release of the song and video, with Prince playing Snipes' "King" character. Prince declined the King of Pop's request, because if there's one thing Prince was better at than making music, it was poo-pooing ideas that weren't his own.

He was a Muslim

Snipes was raised Christian. However, during his time at the School of Performing Arts, he looked around and suddenly realized most people didn't look like him. He was one of only four black students at the school, and found himself searching for acceptance and similarity. "I felt like mold on white bread." Snipes quipped.

He soon happened upon a documentary on Malcolm X, and it changed his life. He devoured as much information on Malcolm X as he could — including "stealing" his autobiography from the library for a 48-hour non-stop read. Just get a library card next time, Wes! In Islam, he found acceptance and familiarity, and remained a Muslim for about 10 years. In 1988, he left Islam, explaining, "when you're drowning, you grab onto a log to keep afloat. But don't hold onto the log when the boat comes by. 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.

His friendship with Woody Harrelson is real and adorable

White Men Can't Jump. Those four words bring to mind the unlikely buddy-buddy film where Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes scammed their way through pickup basketball games. Woody and Wesley have starred in three films together (a fourth features a Wesley Snipes cameo in Woody's Play It To The Bone). Woody and Wesley first teamed up in Wildcats (did we mention Goldie Hawn? LL Cool J raps the theme? Still nothing?) before White Men Can't Jump and Money Train. The two formed a bond filming together, and Harrelson went to bat when Snipes needed someone.

During the sentencing portion of his tax evasion trial, Harrelson wrote a character reference letter supporting Snipes. In it, Harrelson wrote of how Wesley helped him on the set of Wildcats — Woody was one of the only white football players on the set, and experienced harassment and prejudice from Nation of Islam members. Snipes deflated a tense racial incident, according to Harrelson, who called Wesley "A true citizen of the world."

He also said in an interview that, if he was truly in a Hunger Games situation — Woody starred in that series, naturally — he'd choose Snipes as his killing partner. True, his only choices were Snipes and his other White Men Can't Jump star, Rosie Perez, but still — that's a ringing endorsement. Oh, and to settle the burning question on your mind: Woody Harrelson was a better basketball player than Snipes, though Wesley was the better all-around athlete. White men can jump.

He lost his apartment on 9/11

Like many Hollywood actors, Wesley Snipes spends time on both coasts. In September 2001, his wife Nikki was expecting. The couple welcomed Jua-T Snipes in early September, and Snipes credits her with saving his life.

How so? Well, normally, Snipes and family would be in their New York apartment in the fall, but Jua-T's birth occurred in California, so the family remained there. Over in New York, the tragedy of 9/11 occurred — had the Snipes been there, as normal, they would have been in deep trouble, because the attacks destroyed his apartment. As he recalled, "I turned to my daugher and just started kissing her. 'That's why you came, babygirl … you're a lifesaver.'"

He's a bit of a diva

Wesley Snipes has a bit of a reputation for being, well, difficult. There isn't a better illustration of that than Patton Oswalt's first-hand account of what Snipes was like on the set of Blade: Trinity. According to Oswalt, Snipes was "Crazy in a hilarious way." He apparently smoked marijuana all day, and fabricated racial incidents that weren't there, like accusing the production crew of making a black actor wear a shirt that said "Garbage." In reality, that shirt already belonged to the actor, and he chose to wear it. Oopsie.

It gets weirder. After Snipes tried to strangle director David Goyer for … something, the director got his revenge. He apparently bribed a biker gang he met at a bar to show up at the set and pretend to be his security. When Snipes suggested Goyer quit, the director fired back with, "Why don't you quit? We have all your closeups." Even Snipes wasn't about to karate against a whole biker gang, so he apparently backed off after that.

Snipes also stayed in character the whole production, introducing himself as Blade and signing post-it notes "From Blade." Snipes was also a non-participant a lot of the time — he non-participated so much, in fact, it inadvertently led to Ryan Reynolds getting all the funny lines Snipes was supposed to say. It's not a stretch to say that Snipes going full diva helped Reynolds' career — the hunky Canadian (that's Reynolds) even credits the film with paving the way for Deadpool.

Blade made Snipes a bit of a cult hero. He was always known for his acting, but the Marvel character made him a legend in Geekdom. It's probably his ticket to comeback as a Hollywood star, too. In fact, Snipes took to Twitter to implore Marvel to make another Blade. He's only made not done much of note since Trinity, so he could use a career resurrection. Now that comic everything is hot hot hot, a new Blade seems like the safest bet.