At one point in his career, Chris Tucker was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, pulling in a cool $25 million for 2007’s Rush Hour 3, which didn’t live up to the awesomeness of the first two Rush Hour films (and truth be told, it didn’t even son the Rush Hour 2 blooper reel, which is a thing of beauty). Hell, he had top-billing over Jackie-fucking-Chan, who’d been active for almost four decades before making the first Rush Hour. With CBS bringing Rush Hour to the small screen this week without their original stars—a programming trend that also includes Lethal Weapon, Training Day, and Cruel Intentions—it makes a Chris Tucker fan like myself wonder: how did we go from Chris Tucker being the (25)-million-dollar-man to practically vanishing?
Before dissecting that, one has to understand Chris Tucker’s meteoric rise. While the story of comedians turning into TV and movie stars is tradition (see Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Ray Romano, and Amy Schumer), Chris Tucker’s of a different ilk. Tucker got his start on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, telling jokes about Michael Jackson as a coke-sniffing pimp, and why white people might not vote for a black president—in 1992, that is.
It was a similar track that fellow Def Comedy Jam comedians Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer took, but Chris Tucker’s stock grew much faster. Tucker went from smaller roles in Meteor Man and House Party 3 to a star-turning performance as Smokey in the first Friday film in 1995. While Tucker never returned to the Friday series, he didn’t have to: he was on his own wave.
The role of Skip in 1995’s Dead Presidents showed Chris’ range, but it was his action-comedy chops in films like Money Talks and The Fifth Element that must have convinced New Line Cinema to let him run with 1998’s Rush Hour, a buddy action-comedy that found Tucker trading barbs with the legendary Jackie Chan. That $244.4 million box office score from the first film—which only cost $33 million to make—was proof Tucker's casting worked. And when it came to the 2001’s Rush Hour 2, the duo hit pay dirt in the form of over $347 million. Tucker was living large, and could practically write his own ticket. So why did it take six years for Chris Tucker to make Rush Hour 3, and why did he not do ANYTHING else within that time frame?
To hear Chris Tucker (and the media) tell it, it was a combination of things. One of the biggest factors was the fact that Chris Tucker became a born-again Christian. While the timeline isn’t firm, it’s been said that Tucker became born-again in the late 1990s, after filming Money Talks, which possibly put a damper on what many saw as his calling card. Tucker was on Def Comedy Jam for a reason, and had a way of working profanity into hilarity during his stand-up routines. With religion driving him, the soon-to-be $25 million dollar man must have constantly been offered roles that he felt weren't the right fit for him. Some of those roles include both Friday sequels, as well as rumored appearances in Any Given Sunday and Lethal Weapon 4. In 2014, Tucker said he would “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.”
Chris Tucker also seems to have run into money troubles. In 2011, People reported that Tucker was set to lose his $6 million home in Florida after owing the bank $4.4 million on the property. At the time, he was mum on the situation, but in 2014, Tucker’s representatives said he’d paid a huge $2.5 million lien on a property in Georgia, dispelling a TMZ report that said Tucker owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million on the property. In his 2015 Netflix special, Chris Tucker: Live, he made light of his tax woes: “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!”
Ultimately though, Chris Tucker could afford to be selective. Tax issues aside, Tucker was a bankable star in the late 1990s, and parlayed that acclaim into the Rush Hour series, which in turn afforded him the flexability to pick and choose films at his leisure. A 2015 interview with the LA Times spelled this out, with Tucker expressing that he wanted “to get better. I want to do something that excites me, that is different and fun.” That could explain why he chose to play Bradley Cooper’s friend in Silver Linings Playbook, or why he was in Ang Lee’s upcoming Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. “Working with them helped me grow and be a better actor,” he explains. In retrospect, this isn’t so far-fetched; this is the same Chris Tucker who played the hell out of a heroin-addicted Vietnam vet in Dead Presidents, and had a quick role in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. He’s never been against coloring outside of the lines; it’s just that most fans want to see him painting the same pictures.
Chris Tucker’s rise in Hollywood has been an intriguing case study. He’s actually more calculated than you might realize. Instead of taking the money whenever and wherever it came up, he decided to place his bets on a winning franchise like Rush Hour. That series did more for his bank account than anything he’d worked on, and gave him a confidence to truly explore his craft during a time where he was sorting out his personal life, both financially and spiritually. He’s come out on the other side of his journey with a renewed outlook on life, and what appears to be a determination to better himself as an actor. Not necessarily for his fans, but for himself. You can’t front on that. And you know this, maaaaan!