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Terry Crews talks toughness, growth and the infamous Oscars slap on final day of L.A. Times Festival of Books

A black-and-white studio portrait of Terry Crews, looking thoughtful.
Actor Terry Crews, author of “Tough: My Journey to True Power,” appeared at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Sunday.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

When actor Terry Crews watched the infamous slap at the 94th Academy Awards ceremony, it felt to him like a “blast from the past.”

His past.

He saw who he once was in Will Smith’s slap of comedian Chris Rock over a joke about Smith’s wife. (Crews said he’s done worse.) He also saw himself and who he’s since become in Rock’s ability to control his emotions and hold it together in that moment.

“Chris Rock saved Hollywood that day,” said Crews, host of the popular TV show “America’s Got Talent.” The former NFL player has starred in numerous movies and TV shows, including “Everybody Hates Chris,” also starring Rock, and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

Crews drew the parallels to a crowd of hundreds on the final day of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, where he spoke about his new memoir, “Tough: My Journey to True Power,” which details his quest to find what it really means to be tough.

“The way I lived my life was like a revenge flick. It was all about settling scores,” Crews said to the crowd seated under a tent and scattered on the grass. “The problem that I discovered is you can either have success or revenge — but you can’t have both.”

At that, his audience broke into applause.

“What I witnessed with Will Smith on that stage was an attempt to get revenge in the moment, when success would have been letting it go,” Crews added. “It was a perfect example of what this book is about, because I change the whole definition of what tough was. Tough was not being able to throw punches, tough was the ability to take them.”

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Crews was one of a series of celebrities who descended on the L.A. Times main stage throughout the day to talk about their books. Others included Josh Peck, Billy Porter and former “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay.

The two-day festival, which returned to its home at the University of Southern California after two years of virtual events, featured food trucks, book vendors and more than 550 authors, chefs, artists, celebrities and musicians, including Janelle Monáe, Danny Trejo, Don Winslow, Ziggy Marley and Kal Penn.

Now in its 27th year, the festival offers panels, discussions and performances touching on dozens of topics including crime fiction, mental health, Los Angeles’ tradition of sports superstardom, slam poetry, the Constitution and climate change.

By 10 a.m. Sunday, crowds were already gathering around the USC Stage to listen to the Trojan Marching Band. Children watched from their parents’ shoulders and pet owners carried their dogs as they listened to a musical rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Many held umbrellas to shield themselves from a relentless sun.

Countless books were on display and visitors filled tote bags with their new purchases.

“A book is the only gift you get that you can open again and again and again and again,” an announcer told the crowd gathered to hear Crews speak.

In his conversation, Crews grew emotional, at times wiping away tears, as he shared stories of an abusive father, his wife leaving him at one point and a high-powered Hollywood agent who sexually assaulted him.

He read a passage from his book: “Anytime you’re acting out of anger, you are not in control. You’re allowing yourself to be provoked. To be filled with anger and rage is to be powerless and weak.”

Among those gathered to hear Crews speak were Lorna Bukasa and her 13-year-old son Daniel.

“He said so many powerful things about manhood, about dealing with anger, about messages you get when you’re growing up,” Bukasa said. “He just really has a powerful story that’s going to help a lot of people. I’m so happy my son could hear it.”

“I think it’s really important for guys my age to know what it is to be a man,” Daniel added. “It’s easy to lose sight of that.”

Later in the day, another crowd gathered to listen to Rachel Lindsay, the “Bachelor” franchise’s first Black female lead, as she talked about her experience detailed in her first book “Miss Me with That.”

Lindsay shared that she was surprised when she learned that Chris Harrison, the longtime host of “The Bachelor,” would be leaving the hit ABC reality show.

His exit came several months after he came under fire for making racially insensitive comments during an interview with Lindsay.

“Those were his words that came out of his mouth, those were his opinions,” Lindsay said. “I never looked at it as like, ‘I took down the host of a franchise’ ... He did that all by himself.”

The crowd broke out in applause.


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