Chris Rock's professionalism allowed Oscars to go on after slap — producer

LOS ANGELES - Chris Rock's professionalism after being assaulted by Will Smith on live television was what allowed the Oscars to go on, the show's producer said in comments broadcast Friday.

Rock was able to continue to present an award just moments after Smith rushed on stage and slapped him across the face over a joke about the actor's wife.

"Because Chris handled the moment with such grace and aplomb -- it allowed the show to continue," producer Will Packer told ABC television.

"Because Chris continued the way that he did, he completed the category. He handed the trophy to [best documentary winner] Questlove... it gave us license in a way to continue the show, which is what we were trying to do."

Hollywood's glitziest night turned sour when Smith took offense at a joke Rock had cracked over wife Jada Pinkett Smith's closely cropped head.

Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, a condition that causes hair to fall out.

After hitting Rock, Smith returned to his seat and shouted obscenities.

There have been conflicting reports in recent days over whether Smith was asked to leave the ceremony, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- the body that awards Oscars -- saying he refused to go.

But Packer said he had counselled against ejecting the actor after speaking to Rock as he walked off stage.

"I said: 'Did he really hit you?' And he looked at me and he goes: 'Yes. I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali,'" Packer said.

Smith played the legendary boxer in the 2001 film "Ali."

Packer said he had not been part of the conversation about removing Smith, but he had spoken against it.


"I immediately went to the Academy leadership that was on site and I said: 'Chris Rock doesn't want that,' I said: 'Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse.'"

Half an hour after the astonishing attack, Smith was awarded the best actor Oscar for his role in sports biopic "King Richard."

The standing ovation he received for the award has been heavily criticized, with accusations that Hollywood did not take the assault seriously.

Packer said the applause was for the actor and his work, not for the incident.

"I think that the people in that room who stood up, stood up for somebody who they knew, who was a peer, who was a friend, who was a brother, who has a three-decades-plus-long career of being the opposite of what we saw in that moment," he said.

"I don't think that these were people that were applauding anything at all about that moment, and all these people saw their friend at his absolute worst moment and were hoping that they could encourage him and lift him up and that he would somehow try to make it better."

Smith issued an Instagram apology on Monday, in which he called his behavior "unacceptable and inexcusable."

"I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be."

Rock, whose US comedy tour began in Boston this week told audience members he was "still kind of processing" the incident.

He made no further comment.

The Academy is mulling punishment -- including possible expulsion -- for Smith, one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, and only the fifth Black man to win a leading actor Oscar. -- Agence France-Presse