Whatever happened to Chris Tucker? From his breakout role in Friday to his iconic part in the wildly successful Rush Hour franchise, Tucker was a superstar in the 1990s and aughts. But since 2010, he's appeared in all of two films. It's a peculiar move for a man who was once the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. Find out where Chris Tucker has been and why he all but disappeared from show business.
Chris Tucker began his career as a stand-up comic as a teen in his native Atlanta. At 19, he moved to Los Angeles, and by 1992 he was a regular on Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam. His success on the series made him a contemporary of legends like Bernie Mac and Cedric The Entertainer.
Tucker's stand-up career earned him small spots in House Party 3 and various music videos for Dr. Dre, 2Pac, and Heavy D & The Boys. But in 1995, he took his career to the next level when he starred in Ice Cube's comedy Friday. His role as Smokey earned him three MTV Movie Awards nominations: Best Comedic Performance, Best Breakthrough Performance, and Best On-Screen Duo. He continued his climb to A-list status in 1997 with roles in The Fifth Element and Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.
Tucker was on top of the world, which is why what happened after that had some people scratching their heads.
In 2001, the same year Rush Hour 2 was released, Tucker appeared in Michael Jackson's music video for "You Rock My World." After that, he was barely seen until the 2007 release of Rush Hour 3. The film was six years in the making and expectations were high—perhaps that's why a perfectly decent project was met with tepid reviews.
Tucker has only appeared in two movies since then: Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk (2012). Surely one critical flop wasn't the sole reason he dropped off the scene. So what's the reason he's kept such a low profile for the past 14 years?
In 2017, Tucker explained to AZ Central that he was busy with a return to his roots.
I started as a stand-up and then the movie career took off so fast, I kind of put it on the back burner. But it’s on the front burner again. It’s a priority. I never stopped doing it; I just didn’t focus on it so much. But it is something you have to work at. I have way more life experiences than I did when I was a teenager. I have a lot more material. I think I’m a whole other person than when I was a kid doing 'Def Comedy Jam.'... I love making movies, but I have been working doing my stand-up. I’m working one way or the other.
Tucker was also highly selective about his roles. A detailed list from Vulture reveals that he turned down parts in Any Given Sunday, Lethal Weapon 4, and Django Unchained. According to a 2015 report in the Washington Post, Rush Hour director Brett Ratner once estimated that Tucker had turned down nearly $100 million worth of projects. "It’s probably about that much," the comedian confirmed on an episode of the Interrobang comedy podcast. "But I’ve got $100 million of great experiences."
Another explanation for Tucker's disappearance is a renewed commitment to his religious faith. He was raised in a Pentecostal Christian home, and according to Complex, he became born-again in the mid-'90s. He prefers to keep his language clean, which limits his choices for roles. Perhaps that's why he leans on stand-up, where he can control the material.
Speaking with The Georgia Straight in 2014, Tucker reflected on how his faith affected his comedy.
Being a Christian helps me in comedy. Normally, most comics talk about stuff that’s easy—maybe cussing or saying something raunchy. I have to dig deeper to find something that’s still funny and not raunchy. It’s harder. I like the challenge... I go to comedy clubs and it’s like, 'All right, how raunchy can you get?' And it’s really not that funny to me. What’s funny to me is being creative and talking about stuff that I wouldn’t have thought about.
Tucker also laid low following some trouble with the IRS. In 2011, TMZ reported that Uncle Sam slapped him with a lien one year earlier. Tucker allegedly skipped out on paying income tax for multiple years—including 2001, when he hit payday for Rush Hour 2. He was on the hook for $11.5 million. In 2014, Forbes reported that he was hit with a second lien for $2.5 million, driving his total debt up to $14,068,047.50.
A rep for Tucker told CNN, "Chris Tucker has not incurred any new tax years. The current lien filing by the IRS was the result of an audit that lasted for four years which stemmed from poor accounting and business management." The spokesperson claimed that the case was settled and that Tucker had reached an agreement with the IRS.
Hopefully, the comedian has learned his lesson. In his 2015 Netflix special, Chris Tucker: Live, he told his audience, “Take care of your business, man, and don’t listen to people. Do your own business. Be careful who you listen to, 'cause that’s the last time I let Wesley Snipes help me out with my taxes!”
Although the world may miss seeing Tucker on screen, he seems perfectly content doing his thing without the burden of a massive spotlight. That said, rumors of a Rush Hour 4 have been floating for years. Tucker himself even fanned the flames with a 2019 Instagram tease. If and when he makes his comeback, there's no doubt that the public will welcome him back and brace themselves for laughs.