US comedian and actor Kevin Hart on new autobiography
Multimillionaire actor and comedian Kevin Hart opens up on having a drug-addicted father, his sometimes violent relationship with his first wife and his attitude to fatherhood
COMEDIAN, actor and self-confessed workaholic Kevin Hart may be just 5ft 4in but he is a towering figure in the entertainment world, thanks to his sell-out stand-up tours and box office success with films such as Central Intelligence and Get Hard.
The 37-year-old star earned $87.5m last year alone – the first comedian to make more than Jerry Seinfeld – according to Forbes magazine. And he is still hot property.
With two films coming out this year, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, which opens on July 28, and Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, in December (which co-stars his pal Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) followed by his first drama, Untouchable, co-starring Bryan Cranston and Nicole Kidman, due out in 2018, Hart's career seems on an ever upwards spiral.
Make no mistake though, success hasn't come easily. He has slogged his way to the top, from his early days of stand-up in dingy clubs to the gruelling tours he does today, shoehorning hectic film schedules and TV projects along the way.
His life on and off the stage is charted in his memoir I Can't Make This Up: Life Lessons.
There's been plenty of drama, both professionally and privately, from his tough childhood and early days on the comedy circuit and his violent first marriage, to the much happier place he is in now.
His world today – living in the lap of luxury in Los Angeles, employing a team of bodyguards, travelling in fast cars and private jets – is a far cry from his childhood growing up in a tough neighbourhood in north Philadelphia, the son of an alcoholic, drug-addict father Henry Witherspoon, who was in and out of jail for most of Hart's childhood.
He dedicates the book to his mother Nancy, a computer analyst at the University of Pennsylvania, who brought him and his older brother Kenneth up single-handedly.
A strict disciplinarian, she was determined to keep her children on the straight and narrow. Hart has never done drugs and always knew the value of hard work.
"I'm the man I am today because of my mom," he says. She died from cancer in 2007 but he's convinced she is now his angel, watching over him.
His father, however, was a much different figure – lying, cheating, stealing, and with a serious cocaine habit.
Hart recalls his father bringing home a Labrador, which he'd stolen, giving it to him and his brother, before the owners appeared at the door to claim it back.
On another occasion he nonchalantly announced he was leaving Nancy.
But Hart says he got over his father's departure quickly and didn't hold on to any negative emotions.
"For as long as I can remember, I've had the ability to shoulder-shrug things – to just accept them, say 'OK', and get on with my life," he writes.
"The opposite of shoulder-shrugging would be to get depressed or angry and to hold on to those emotions for the rest of my life."
In fact, he says his father's behaviour had a positive effect on him.
"When you have somebody who's done a lot of wrongs, you have a prime example in front of you of what not to do and what path not to follow. I think it affected me in a good way because I was able to use logic and common sense."
Today, he says his relationship with his father is good, that he's off drugs and sober. "He's living his life and enjoying it."
In difficult family times, laughter was always a release, he recalls. Inspired by Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor, his early days on the circuit were spent in grotty clubs doing poorly paid gigs up and down the country.
"Comedy was always an outlet. It was always something that I thought, 'Wow', I'm putting myself in a position to find positives out of negatives with laughter. Laughter ultimately heals our wounds."
Yet the ability to offset anger and emotion in his early life didn't always filter into his sometimes violent first marriage to Torrei, with whom he has two children, Heaven, 12, and Hendrix, nine.
It was, by his own admission, a torrid relationship. He was living a fast-paced lifestyle on the comedy circuit while Torrei was at home.
The arguments – and there were plenty of them – were usually alcohol-fuelled and ended in screaming matches and occasional violent outbursts in which the police were called, by both parties.
They'd break up, have flings with other people and then get back together.
Somehow, though, Kevin started working these dramatic incidents into his shows, using comic exaggeration of scenes such as him blubbering to the police to save him from his girlfriend.
And that's when he made his breakthrough, choosing situations he found himself in and his responses to them.
The marriage, however, didn't last and they divorced in 2011. It's a period he doesn't relish, one he does not want to dwell on.
"I don't look back. You should never look back in life, you should only look forward. Those things happen for a reason. You learn from them and you move on.
"There's nothing I want to rewrite or change. Any bumps you take down the road make you smarter and wiser. I welcome those things."
He says his relationship with Torrei is now cordial.
"She's the mother of my kids, so we cannot not be friends. We are raising kids. Of course it took time to get over the break-up. It's not just going to happen overnight – you're human.
"But you have to be smart and put kids first. They have nothing to do with your problems."
Last year he married Eniko Parrish. They are expecting their first child, a boy, and he says his two children are excited about having a baby brother.
"I'm pumped up, man. My wife is ecstatic, which makes me ecstatic. I'm glad I'm having a boy, so the name Hart lives on."
As for fatherhood, he says he wouldn't do anything differently this time around.
"If things ain't broke, don't fix 'em," he says. "I'm present, I'm around and I'm very much in my kids' life. That's all you can really ask for and that you give them as much time as possible. Time is the most important thing."
With more films coming out and another stand-up tour scheduled for 2018, Hart shows no signs of running out of steam. His career ambitions know no bounds.
"I want to become a mogul. To do that you've got to continue to grow, rise to the occasion. I want to do so much more – producing, directing, writing, acting, dramas, comedies, investing, starting my own network."
:: I Can't Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart with Neil Strauss is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £16.99. Available now