Hail to the ‘King.’ Ahead of Will Smith’s portrayal of Richard Williams in the new biopic, learn all about Venus and Serena Williams’ father and the man who trained these tennis icons.
“A rare sighting,” Serena Williams captioned a Nov. 9 Instagram post of her daughter, Olympia, riding her bicycle while a man recorded her ride. “The one and only G.O.A.T still motivating. King Richard, but I call him daddy.” The man in question was Richard Williams, whose story was the subject of King Richard, the new biopic starring Will Smith. With the movie already generating Oscar buzz for Will, many might forget that the man he portrays is the real-life father of two of tennis’ greatest players (and arguably, the greatest of all time in Serena.) For those unfamiliar, here’s what you need to know about Richard Williams.
1. Richard Williams Hails From Louisiana.
Richard Dove Williams was born on Feb. 14, 1942, in Shreveport, Louisiana. “In Shreveport, my family and I lived in a three-room shack on East Seventy-Ninth Street, next to the railroad tracks. The house was so raggedy a strong wind could have blown it down,” Richard wrote in an excerpt of his book, Black and White: The Way I See It, published by the New York Daily News in 2014. Richard’s father left his mother, Julia, and her five children to survive on their own. “When my father never gave anything to me, I decided I was going to give my family everything I had,” he wrote. “The more I worked, the more I helped Mama and my sisters, and the prouder of myself I became.” After graduating from high school, he eventually found his way to California.
2. He’s Been Married Multiple Times.
While out in California, Richard met Betty Johnson. Betty had one child from a prior relationship, and after she and Richard married in 1965, they had five children together, per Page Six. They divorced in 1973. Seven years later, he married Oracene Prince. She and Richard had two biological daughters together – Venus and Serena – before divorcing in 2002. In 2010, Richard married Lakeisha Juanita Graham, a woman 37 years younger than he was. They welcomed a son, Dylan, in 2012 and divorced in 2017, per Heavy.
3. Richard Had No Background In Tennis
After Richard saw Virginia Ruzici receive a $30,000 check on television after she won a tennis tournament, he decided that his next two kids would play the sport, according to Sports Illustrated. “When we got started in tennis, it was to go out and make a lot of money. Believe me, we have made tons, and I’ll make even more.”
He bought books and tapes to learn everything about the sport, taught Oracene – a gifted athlete – how to play, and began to coach the three girls from his first marriage, according to a 2018 Serena profile in GQ. When Venus and Serena were 3 and 4, he started them playing at the public courts in Compton, California. Richard also drew up a 78-page training regime. As Venus and Serena developed, Richard moved the family to South Florida, where the daughters – Serena was 10, Venus was 11 – could train at Rick Macci’s tennis academy. Richard eventually pulled the girls out of the school and did all the coaching himself at home. It was a successful risk, with Venus and Serena exploding on the scene, racking up wins left and right.
“I don’t feel like I was really in a bubble, to be honest,” Serena told GQ. “I had friends. And you know, my dad wouldn’t let us be pro full-time until we finished high school.”
4. His Tennis Dreams Were Supported By His Wife
“My dad at one point was working, and then, he stopped,” Serena said in the Nov. 16 episode of Red Table Talk, per PEOPLE. “He’s like, ‘This is what we’re going to do. I’m not going to have a job. I’m gonna go with Venus and Serena and train them every day.’ Now that would be impossible for me if my husband [Alexis Ohanian] were to tell me that.” Serena credited her mother for supporting the family while Richard chased tennis
5. Richard Was Ahead Of His Time, According To Serena
“My dad was and still is way before his time,” Serena Williams told GQ’s Wesley Lowery for a profile on Will Smith. “You see, when someone is different—when they don’t act or look how a person assumed they would—the first reaction is often fear. They think, How do we break them? My dad anticipated that, but he would not allow himself or his family to be broken.” Serena also gave praise to Will Smith for the accuracy of his portrayal, telling Lowery that “there were moments she had to remind herself that it wasn’t actually her father on the screen.”