The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Chris Rock

Chris Rock is easily considered one of the best comics in history. Besides his onstage talent and iconic delivery that established his fame, Rock's career boasts a myriad of accomplishments that would make any non-comic Hollywood star envious. He's won four Emmys and three Grammys, he's hosted the Academy Awards twice, and is responsible for the popular sitcom "Everybody Hates Chris," per Biography. That's not to mention his successful foray into drama, like "Top Five" and "Fargo."

Considering his accomplishments and his household name, it's hard to imagine there was a time when Rock was afraid for his career. After leaving "SNL" and after his follow-up sketch comedy "In Living Color" was canceled, Rock labored away to make a name for himself. One incident during this time was particularly harrowing for Rock, a moment he considers to be the low-point in his career: While headlining a show, the audience went nuts for another comedian, the opening act. It was rising star Martin Lawrence (via Vulture).

And while he recovered and eventually became a star through his historic HBO special "Bring the Pain" (per Britannica), Rock has journeyed on a rocky road throughout his career, in both his professional and personal lives. Here's the tragic real-life story of Chris Rock. 

Chris Rock was bullied as a child

Chris Rock dealt with bullying as a kid growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Attending an all-white school, Rock's bullying experience began in second grade and lasted until high school, where he eventually dropped out during 10th grade, he said during an interview with Oprah. In an appearance on The Howard Stern Show, he called those years "a horrible existence" and related them to Tim Robbins' experience in "The Shawshank Redemption." He was regularly called the N-word and had to endure beatings. He also hinted at sexual assault but didn't go so far as to label it "rape."

Rock said that he discovered one of his former bullies working as a security guard on his movie set — a bully who used to shake Rock upside-down to steal his money. Rock said the bully appeared ashamed and acknowledged him politely, aware that the man's embarrassment — along with having to watch Rock enjoy his stardom — was punishment enough (per The Howard Stern Show).

During an appearance on "Inside the Actors Studio," Rock claimed that those years were formative for him and credited his bullies' abuse to his drive for success and his wit, (via WebMD). In his standup special, "Tambourine," Rock decried coddling in modern parenting and believed that most people who are successful have dealt with bullying at some point, since adversity prepares them for adulthood. After reading Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs," Rock was convinced that the founder of Apple was once bullied himself (per WebMD).

He lost his dad in 1989

Chris Rock's father passed away in 1989 when Rock was 23 years old. When Rock dropped out of high school in 10th grade, his plans were to get his trucking license, just like his father, he told Gayle King during a CBS interview. Although his father didn't witness the height of his success, he was able to introduce him to Eddie Murphy at the start of his career, per Rolling Stone. In an interview with CBS, Rock said his dad was funny and dependable, and his philosophy in life could be summed up to "There's no such thing as 'early.' There's just 'on-time' and 'late.'"

Rock said that losing his father hardened him in other emotional situations. Referencing a scene in "Annie Hall" where a nihilistic Woody Allen questions the meaning of the universe, Rock said his father's death made him question worrying about mundane things (via Rolling Stone). "When your dad dies, you know you're alone," he said. Speaking to Oprah, Rock said his father's death made him realize he was taking things too seriously: "Everything except death works itself out."

Rock finds himself modeling his parenting methods after his father's when it comes to punctuality, along with other small details. However, he admits his father's methods are mostly inapplicable toward his daughters, since his father was mostly preoccupied with keeping Rock from getting inadvertently arrested in their Brooklyn neighborhood, per CBS.

His time on SNL was rocky

Chris Rock received a breakthrough into comedy when he was invited onto the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 1990. His cast mates included "SNL" titans and lifelong friends Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and David Spade. However, Rock was the only Black cast member on the show in four years, the last being Danitra Vance who left in 1986, according to Showbiz Cheatsheet. With his unique position, Rock was constantly pigeonholed as legendary comedian Eddie Murphy's successor. But the two comics had completely different styles, and Rock felt the sketch-comedy show never played to his strengths.

Additionally, his ideas were sidelined, and the roles he was given were stereotypical. He was asked to play a Ubangi tribesman, which Rock said felt racist since he was the only Black actor, according to his interview with the podcast WTF with Marc Maron (via Uproxx). The newer sketch comedy show "In Living Color" provided Rock with the opportunity to broadcast his comedic style. Compared to "SNL," "In Living Color" was "blacker," and he wanted to be in a place where he no longer had to "translate the comedy [he] wanted to do." 

When Rock made his plans to join "In Living Color" known to "SNL" producers, he was formally fired, ending a three-season career.

His next job ended quickly

Unfortunately for Chris Rock, his plans to project his true comedic voice on a competing sketch-comedy show were short-lived. He only appeared in six episodes when "In Living Color” was suddenly canceled, according to Showbiz Cheatsheet. During Adam Sandler's monologue on "SNL" in 2019, Rock joked about his abrupt post-"SNL" failure, singing, "I was fired by NBC. Then I went on 'In Living Color.' Three weeks later they took it off TV."

After that failed stint, Rock entered a transition period of sorts until he would ultimately find stardom. He first wrote and starred in the comedy film "CB4" in 1993 about wannabe rappers. The film received lukewarm reviews from The New York Times — which alleges the film "promises sharper satire than it actually delivers" — and The Los Angeles Times, which accused "CB4" of being formulaic. He then covered the 1996 presidential campaign for Comedy Central's "Politically Incorrect,"  per Britannica. In 1994, he made an HBO special called "Big Ass Jokes." None of these made the sort of impact he was perhaps hoping for. Afterward, he went on tour at small venues in order to bolster his career and hone his craft, leading to his big break — the HBO special "Bring the Pain."

Chris Rock lost a friend

Chris Rock knew the night he spent at Chris Farley's Chicago apartment would be their last time together. In an "Explain This" video for Esquire, Rock recalls leaving Farley's apartment after being given a tour and catching a glimpse of his friend from his window. He thought to himself, "'That's probably the last time I'm going to see him." He said they tried to meet later, but due to Farley's addiction, those plans never came through.

Farley died of a cocaine and morphine overdose on December 18, 1997. Rock and Farley, along with Adam Sandler and David Spade, were known as "The Bad Boys of SNL," creating a legendary era for the historic sketch comedy show. The office they shared together was fondly nicknamed "the dorm."

Friends for life, all three castmates were present for Farley's Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony in August 2005, where he was honored posthumously with a star. Referencing Farley's tendency to use his physical size for comedic advantage, Rock said, "I think every fat comedian owes him 80 bucks that's working today," per Today.

He lost his marriage

Chris Rock filed for divorce in December 2014, ending his 18-year marriage to Malaak Compton, per US Weekly. The divorce took nearly two years to get finalized and included a custody battle for their two daughters.

According to Rolling Stone, Rock admits that he wasn't a good husband at times. He had extramarital affairs with several women, believing he was sanctioned for bad behavior due to his wealth and fame. Rock said his now-former wife wanted 52% of custody of their children, and he cried during the custody battle. However, he said that a divorce provided the opportunity to start over in his career, saying "It's not a breakdown, but something in your life broke down." He later bought a house in New Jersey close to his ex-wife in order to be near his daughters.

Shortly after, Rock started doing bits during his shows concerning the separation — which included faulting himself for his relationship's failure and observing how much his ex-wife hated him — but eventually stopped talking about his marriage noting, "It's not fair. I have a mic, she doesn't."

In his Netflix special, "Tambourine," Rock detailed the circumstances that led to the divorce, including a porn addiction. He said watching a lot of porn numbed him toward sexuality, which led to poor social communication, which he called "sexual autism" (via IndieWire).

He's experienced discrimination

In 2014, Chris Rock skipped ahead of the cultural zeitgeist when it came to race relations in Hollywood — months before the #OscarsSoWhite campaign gripped the industry — and wrote an essay in The Hollywood Reporter about being Black in the entertainment industry. The magazine described his chosen topic as "Hollywood's third rail," but it feels prescient in hindsight.

Rock labels Hollywood "a white industry" and accuses them of hiring the same Black actors consistently while not giving others a way in. He bemoans the lack of Black men hired for management roles, alleging that these opportunities are usually given to Black women with Ivy League backgrounds. He also says that Black-led films are scrutinized to a degree that white-majority films aren't, and Black actors are always hired deliberately and never on a "short-list" with white actors.

In the essay, Rock relates a time when he wanted a role in the 2004 film "Starsky & Hutch" but was only offered the opportunity to play Huggy Bear, despite the fact that the story was fiction and could've easily incorporated non-white actors in other leads. At the BET Awards in 2019, he made a joke at Jussie Smollett's expense, saying Smollett was "a waste of light skin." Joking that if he had Smollett's skin color, Rock would have taken over Hollywood by now (per IndieWire).

He's dealt with trauma

Chris Rock began therapy after testing himself for Asperger's, according to an interview in The Telegraph. Instead, he was diagnosed with non-verbal learning disorder, which affects one's ability to understand non-verbal communication and notice visual patterns, per The Child Mind Institute. His diagnoses made him realize that the disorder affected his behavior in relationships. In the past, whenever he received personal criticism, he just figured it was because he was a celebrity and assumed people misunderstood who he truly was. He now realizes that he's responsible for how others view him.

The diagnosis also led him to seeking therapy, which involved sessions seven hours a week. It allowed him to confront childhood trauma that had long remained dormant. During an appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Rock said he suffered from "big ego, low self-esteem." His self-worth stems from his work as a comedian; off the stage, however, Rock struggles with the idea of deserving attention or affection.

In an interview with Gayle King on CBS, Rock said that he's forgiven his bullies and assumes his bullies have learned from those mistakes to be good people.

His mom was diagnosed with cancer

Chris Rock's mother, Rose, was once diagnosed with cancer. To make matters worse, it coincided with his divorce negotiations. She received treatment at Sloan Kettering in New York, which was on the same street as his divorce lawyer. "I thought that was the most evil street in the world," he told Rolling Stone. His mother stayed with him in the same New Jersey home he bought after his divorce while he took care of her. He said he prayed that his daughters were at their mother's in case their grandmother died. Thankfully, she recovered.

Rose Rock published a book with Harper Collins, titled "Mama Rock Rules: Ten Secrets for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children. In an interview with The New York Daily News, Rose said her son's sense of humor began as a defense mechanism. His small stature made him vulnerable to teasing, so he used comedy to gain an upper hand. She once believed he'd become a writer, noting that he used to load papers for the Daily News while his father served as a driver.

Some of his projects haven't been produced

In an interview with The New York Times, Chris Rock laments the collapse of a Bob Altman project, "Hands on a Hard Body." He was keen on shooting and was excited for his part, but the plans were halted by Altman's untimely death. The same happened to his role as Jimmy Olsen in Tim Burton's ill-fated 1998 "Superman Lives" project, which would have starred Nic Cage as the titular character. Rock had even done a costume fitting and was shown models for the set by Burton himself, who Rock admired.

Some projects never saw the light of day. Rock once pitched a talk show starring Wendy Williams to HBO, but it wasn't greenlit. Williams went on to have her talk show on FOX, which lasted for 13 seasons, per Deadline. Rock also made a cameo in Eric Andre's "Bad Trip" in which he was involved in a prank scene. It was cut since Rock's fame made him too noticeable by strangers and made the premise unsatisfying, per Comic Book. But since Rock was only available for a day, the missed opportunity mostly belonged to Andre, not Rock.

Those fallen projects left Rock cautiously optimistic when it came to his role on the fourth season of "Fargo" after it was halted by the pandemic, he told The New York Times. Luckily for him, those plans came through.

Chris Rock contracted COVID

On September 19, 2021, Chris Rock alerted the world of his COVID-19 infection through his Twitter account, tweeting: "Hey guys I just found out I have COVID, trust me you don't want this. Get vaccinated." Rock was immunized at the time, as he received the vaccine in May 2021, according to CNN. When he was on The Tonight Show, he joked about using his fame to get a vaccine quickly, comparing himself to Billy Zane's character in "Titanic." He noted that he received the Johnson & Johnson vaccination.

During an appearance at New York City's Blue Note Jazz Club, Rock said that he may have contracted the illness while on a movie set and that his experience with it was difficult, per Page Six

In an interview with Gayle King in January 2021, Rock said he was enthusiastic to receive the vaccine. In reference to vaccine hesitancy among the Black community, Rock compared taking the shot to taking Tylenol: "I don't know what's in Tylenol ... I just know my headache's gone" (via CBS Sunday Morning).

He's at odds with the Smith family

During Oscars Night 2022, Chris Rock became the target of "The Slap Heard 'Round the World." The incident was shocking to a lot of viewers but perhaps not to those few who were aware of long-standing tension between Rock and Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock's jokes at Pinkett Smith's expense date back to 1997, when Rock had a talk show on HBO. He made fun of Pinkett Smith's speech at the Million Women March, garnering boos from his audience, per The Daily Beast.

It seems as if Rock has a penchant for teasing Pinkett Smith about her activism. He made another joke about her when he hosted the 2016 Oscars. Pinkett Smith was boycotting the ceremony due to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Rock made fun of her boycott, implying that Pinkett Smith hadn't been invited anyway. What's surprising is that Rock and Pinkett Smith were co-stars when they voiced characters in the popular and lucrative "Madagascar" franchise. However, they haven't worked together since 2012, per Showbiz Cheatsheet.

Rock also has a history with her husband, Will. Rock appeared on an episode of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," playing a female character who Will must take out on a date, per Today. During an appearance on the The Late Show with David Letterman, Rock joked about having to compete for roles with Will Smith, saying to the camera: "Will Smith, don't you have enough?"