The fourth of six children, Martin Fitzgerald Lawrence was born on April 16, 1965 in Frankfurt, West Germany, to African American parents who were serving in the U.S. military in West Germany at the time of Martin's birth. Lawrence was named after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and U.S. President John F. Kennedy. His parents divorced when he was eight years old and Lawrence rarely saw his estranged father, who worked as a police officer. His mother, Chlora (née Bailey), began working several jobs to support her family.
During his teen years, Lawrence excelled at boxing. Lawrence lived in Queens, New York, and Landover, Maryland, and he attended: Thomas G. Pullen School of Creative and Performing Arts (Landover, Maryland); Fairmont Heights High School (Fairmont Heights, Maryland); Eleanor Roosevelt High School (Greenbelt, Maryland); and Friendly High School in Fort Washington, Maryland, becoming a Mid-Atlantic Golden Gloves boxing contender. He seriously considered a professional career until he suffered a broken eye that prompted him to reconsider.
Lawrence ended up moving to New York City and found his way to the legendary The Improv. Shortly after appearing at The Improv, Lawrence won a performance spot on Star Search. He did well on the show and made it to the final round, but did not win. However, executives at Columbia Pictures Television saw Martin's performance and offered him the role of Maurice in What's Happening Now!!; this was his first acting job. Upon cancellation of that show, Lawrence found bit parts in various films and television series. His breakthrough role was as Cee in Do the Right Thing. Other roles followed in films such as the House Party series, Talkin' Dirty After Dark, and the Eddie Murphy vehicle Boomerang. During this period, entertainment mogul Russell Simmons selected him to host the groundbreaking series Def Comedy Jam on HBO. Def Comedy Jam gave many comedians (including Chris Tucker, Dave Chappelle, Mike Epps, Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer) mainstream exposure.
During his stint with Def Comedy Jam, Lawrence appeared in his own hit series, Martin, which aired on Fox TV. The show ran from 1992 to 1997 and was an enormous success. Martin was the flagship of Fox's Thursday-night line-up, which drew millions of viewers away from NBC's "Must See TV" line-up. He hosted Saturday Night Live on February 19, 1994, where he made crude remarks about women's genitalia and personal hygiene; the monologue was completely edited out of NBC reruns and syndicated versions, and Lawrence was banned from the show for life. Martin's ratings continued to skyrocket so much that Fox became more of a contender against NBC and came closer to being considered among the top television networks.
After Martin ended its run in 1997, Lawrence found work in comedy films. He often starred as the second lead opposite actors including Eddie Murphy, Danny DeVito, and Tim Robbins. Many of his films were blockbusters at the box office, including Nothing to Lose, Life, Blue Streak, and Big Momma's House. He also starred in critical- and box-office failures, including Black Knight and National Security. Regardless, his salary steadily increased to over $10 million per film role. He continues to work in film, with such films as Big Momma's House 2, which opened at No. 1 at North American box office and grossed almost $28 million its first weekend, and Wild Hogs (2007), in which he played a bored suburbanite seeking adventure on the open road in a biker comedy alongside John Travolta, Tim Allen and William H. Macy.
In 2006, Lawrence appeared on Inside the Actors Studio, during which Lawrence briefly brought back to life some of the characters he had portrayed on Martin.
In 2008, Lawrence starred in Disney's College Road Trip co-starring with Raven-Symoné. It was his first G-rated film, but not his first appearance in a children's film: he supplied a voice for Open Season (2006) opposite Ashton Kutcher.
At the 2009 BET Awards he appeared in a spoof movie trailer with Jamie Foxx for a fictional movie, The Skank Robbers, that featured their respective television characters Sheneneh Jenkins and Ugly Wanda. In 2010, Fox announced that it was producing a film based on the sketch, featuring Foxx, Lawrence, and actress Halle Berry.
In 2011, Lawrence reprised his role as FBI agent Malcolm Turner in Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, the third film in the Big Momma's House series.
In January 2013, it was announced that Lawrence and Kelsey Grammer are considering pairing up to star in a comedy for Lionsgate TV. The series will likely follow the same production model as Charlie Sheen's Anger Management, which is also produced by Lionsgate TV. That show was recently given a hardy back-90 pickup following its initial 10-episode order. In March 2013, it was announced that television producers/writers Robert L. Boyett and Robert Horn are on board, writing and executive producing. They have worked on the popular hit sitcoms Family Matters, Perfect Strangers, Full House, and Designing Women. Partners, pairs the two actors as Chicago lawyers from "vastly different backgrounds who unexpectedly meet in court on the worst day of their lives," according to a network description. David A. Arnold has been tapped to write. Arnold has written for television shows including: Raising Whitley, Meet the Browns, The Rickey Smiley Show and more. Edi Patterson has been cast as a regular and will play Verushka, a busty, sexy Russian woman who co-owns the massage shop next door. Danièle Watts will play the daughter of Lawrence's character. The show premiered August 4, 2014 and lasted one season.
In August 2014, Martin Lawrence confirmed, on Conan O'Brien, that Bad Boys 3 is almost done being written.
Lawrence was engaged to actress Lark Voorhies in 1993. He married Miss Virginia USA, Patricia Southall in 1995. Lawrence and Southall have one child together, daughter Jasmine Page (born January 15, 1996). They divorced in 1997. In 1997, Lawrence began a relationship with Shamicka Gibbs. They married on July 10, 2010, at Lawrence's Beverly Hills home. Actors Eddie Murphy and Denzel Washington were among the 120 wedding guests; R&B singer Shanice serenaded the couple with the Minnie Riperton classic "Lovin' You." Lawrence and Gibbs have two daughters: Iyanna Faith (born November 9, 2000) and Amara Trinity (born August 20, 2002). Lawrence filed for divorce from Gibbs on April 25, 2012, citing irreconcilable differences and asking for joint legal and physical custody of the children.
Lawrence owns a farm near Purcellville, Virginia. For many years, he owned a large mansion in the exclusive Beverly Park community, but sold it in June 2012 following his divorce.
In July 1995, while on the set filming A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Lawrence lashed out in a violent rage and was then hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
On May 8, 1996, he became increasingly erratic and was arrested after he brandished a pistol in the middle of an intersection on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles, screaming, "They're trying to kill me!" He was again hospitalized, with his public-relations agent citing exhaustion and dehydration as the reasons for this episode.
In March 1997, Lawrence was arrested after punching a man in a Hollywood nightclub.
During August 1999, Lawrence slipped into a three-day coma after collapsing from heat exhaustion while jogging in 100-degree heat in preparation for Big Momma's House while wearing heavy clothing and a "plastic suit." He recovered in the hospital after nearly dying due to a body temperature of 107 °F (41.7 °C), his breathing assisted by a ventilator.What's Happening Now!! (cast member from 1987 to 1988) – Maurice Warfield
A Little Bit Strange (1989) (unsold pilot) – Sydney Masterson
Kid 'n Play – Wiz
Hammer, Slammer, & Slade (1990) – Willie
Private Times (1991) (unaired TV pilot)
Def Comedy Jam (host from 1992 to 1993)
Martin (1992–1997) – Martin Payne
Love That Girl! (2010–2011) (executive producer) – Uncle Gerald
Untitled Martin Lawrence / CBS Sitcom (2012) (unsold pilot) – Ray Barker
The Soul Man (2014) - Crazy Rudy (1 episode)
Partners (2014) – Marcus Jackson
Blockbuster Entertainment Award
nominated with Eddie Murphy for Favorite Comedy Team (2000) for the movie Life
nominated for Favorite Actor (2001) for the movie Big Momma's House
NAACP Image Award
won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (1995) for the series Martin
won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (1996) for the series Martin
nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (1997) for the series Martin
Kids' Choice Award
nominated for Favorite Television Actor (1995) for the series Martin
nominated for Favorite Television Actor (1996) for the series Martin
nominated for Favorite Movie Actor (2001) for the movie Big Momma's House
MTV Movie Award
nominated with Will Smith for Best On-Screen Duo (1996) for the movie Bad Boys
nominated for the movie Big Momma's House
nominated with Will Smith for Best On-Screen Team (2003) for the movie Bad Boys II
ShoWest – Male Star of Tomorrow (1995)
Teen Choice Award – nominated for Wipeout Scene of the Summer (2000) for the movie Big Momma's House
BET Comedy Award – won Icon Comedy Award (2005)