Will Smith slapped Chris Rock in the face on stage at the Oscars after the comic made a joke about the actor’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith.
“Jada, can’t wait for GI Jane 2,” he said, in an apparent reference to her shaved hairdo – which is a result of the hair loss condition alopecia.
Smith walked on stage and struck Rock before returning to his seat and shouting: “Keep my wife’s name out of your [expletive] mouth.”
He later apologised on stage.
“I want to apologise to the Academy. I want to apologise to my all my fellow nominees,” he said during a tearful acceptance speech for best actor.
The star picked up the first Oscar of his career for playing the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard.
“Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.”
Rock’s joke referred to 1997 film GI Jane, in which Demi Moore played the title role with a severe buzzcut.
The comedian looked stunned in the immediate aftermath of the incident, but told the audience: “That was the greatest night in the history of television.”
The Los Angeles Police Department later told Variety that Rock had “declined to file a police report” following the event.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organises the Oscars, tweeted that it “does not condone violence of any form”.
Pinkett Smith first talked about her hair loss struggle in an episode of her Facebook chat show, Red Table Talk, back in 2018.
She said: “I’ve been having issues with hair loss. And it was terrifying when it first started.”
The Girls Trip star said she first suspected she had alopecia after “handfuls of hair” came loose in the shower.
“I was just like, ‘Oh my God, am I going bald?’ It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking with fear,” she explained. “That’s why I cut my hair and continue to cut it.”
After the incident, Rock handed over the best documentary prize, which was the reason he was on stage.
According to The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg, a tearful Smith needed to be “pulled aside and comforted” by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry during an advert break.
Presenting the next section, Sean “Diddy” Combs said: “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve that like family. Right now we’re moving on with love.”
It was not the first time Rock has made a joke about Pinkett Smith at the Academy Awards. He hosted the 2016 event, when she was among the stars who boycotted the ceremony due to a lack of diversity in the nominations.
That year, he said: “Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties – I wasn’t invited!”
Other winners at Sunday’s ceremony included Jessica Chastain, who picked up best actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye; Jane Campion, who won best director for The Power of the Dog; and Apple TV film Coda, which was named best picture.
Best supporting actress went to Ariana DeBose for West Side Story, while Troy Kotsur won best supporting actor for Coda, which also picked up best adapted screenplay.
Sci-fi epic Dune won six awards in total including technical categories including best visual effects and best cinematography.