Shirley from “What's Happening” Helped Martin Lawrence When He was Broke

Shirley Hemphill

Shirley Hemphill, best known for her role in What's Happening as a smack-talking waitress named Shirley Wilson. Her talent wasn't just displayed through her acting, but in her stand-up comedy as well. In fact, even the great Richard Pryor was a mentor to her when she was still getting started in her career. However, not many know that this talented woman had a heart of gold in and out of her work life. 

In 1987, comedian Martin Lawrence was also looking for his "big break," but without much luck. One of the first opportunities he had was in an up-and-coming show titled What's Happening Now where he would be on the screen beside Shirley Hemphill, Ernest Lee Thomas, and other notable black actors. The show was just short of success, however, and was canceled before Lawrence could finally reach the spotlight.

Lawrence speaks of that time in his life, stating plainly: "I didn’t get any jobs in acting...I went, like, broke." But he wasn't without hope. He continues: "Shirley Hemphill called me and asked me how I was doing...She was like a big sister: ‘I don’t want you moving in with nobody. You need your privacy.’ And the next day I opened my mailbox and she’d sent me $500."

As far as Lawrence's history has shown, without the kindness of Shirley, Martin Lawrence may have never continued into the success he is today. Kind acts like this show that she was truly a success in life and in friendship, and a real credit to her profession.