Whatever happened to Martin Lawrence?

For much of the 1990s, actor/comedian Martin Lawrence was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, with a popular long-running TV show, a hit stand-up album, and a string of box office hits. But Lawrence's ascent started to stall toward the end of the decade, and his star power has been on the wane ever since. Many of Lawrence's most ardent fans have spent the last few years wondering where their beloved "bad boy" has disappeared to, so here's a look at what the funnyman has been up to over the years.

The early years

Lawrence didn't start out dreaming of a career in entertainment—while still in high school, the future star was actually a Gold Glove boxer in the Mid-Atlantic region. He wanted to go pro, but gave up on fisticuffs after a suffering a severe injury to his eye, and it wasn't long before he found his way to the stand-up stage.

After relocating to New York, Lawrence worked his way into a regular slot at comedy club the Improv, where his hilarious, often confrontational act caught television producers' attention, and he made his TV debut on the What's Happening! sequel series What's Happening Now!. A brief but memorable turn in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing—along with several more supporting roles—followed.  

The bad boy of film and television

In 1992, Lawrence received an early leg up from Def Jam Recordings head honcho Russell Simmons, who hand-picked him as the first host of Def Comedy Jams, his HBO series spotlighting young black comedians. One of the first acts Lawrence introduced? A baby-faced Chris Tucker.

It proved a pivotal year for Lawrence. Not only did he deliver a scene-stealing performance in the Eddie Murphy comedy Boomerang, he also put his talents front and center with his very own Fox sitcom, the aptly titled Martin. The show proved a major hit with audiences and made its star a household name—his catch-phrase "wazzup!" even became a bit of a cultural phenomenon. That was enough to land him a role opposite another TV star in a major Hollywood film. The co-star was Will Smith, the film was Bad Boys, and the rest, as they say, is history.  

A thin line between work and exhaustion

On the heels of major box office success, Lawrence kept himself busy—maybe a little too busy. With his first post-Bad Boys role, the actor set out to reaffirm his leading man status while proving he could write and direct, too. But the pressure of carrying a film almost entirely on his own may have proved too much: weeks into filming the dark romantic comedy A Thin Line Between Love And Hate, the actor had a meltdown on the set and was hospitalized for exhaustion. The film would go on to be a modest hit, but the episode certainly didn't help his reputation in Hollywood.

Rather than take some time off, Lawrence continued to book new work. And he suffered another episode, this time stalking the streets of L.A. with a pistol while shouting, "They're trying to kill me!" at passing cars. His second bout with exhaustion led to another hospital stay. This time, Lawrence got the message and stepped away from the spotlight to heal.  

Personal life and personal dramas

While his professional fortunes skyrocketed, Lawrence's private life grew turbulent. The comedian spent much of the '90s struggling with personal issues that threatened to derail his career. He became engaged to Saved By The Bell actor Lark Voorhies in 1993, but the relationship fell apart before year's end. He rebounded by marrying former Miss Virginia Patricia Southall in 1995, and the pair had two children together before divorcing in 1997. It would be over a decade before Lawrence walked down the aisle again, and he used that time to stabilize himself and play doting father to his daughters—not to mention putting energy and focus into getting his act back together.

Big Momma and a big screen bounce back

Lawrence eased his way back into Hollywood's good graces in 1999 with a couple of successful comedies in Life and Blue Streak—but he also found his way back into the tabloids while prepping for his next film, Big Momma's House. Lawrence slipped into a three-day coma and very nearly died when he collapsed while training in his Big Momma "fat suit" in 100-degree heat. The production was delayed while he recovered, but the time off didn't hurt: when the film finally arrived in theaters in 2000, it proved a box-office behemoth, raking in close to $200 million worldwide. Just like that, Martin Lawrence was back on top.  

But not enough bounce

Unfortunately, Lawrence followed his Big Momma success with a string of genuine misfires. What's The Worst That Could Happen?, Black Knight, and National Security all underperformed, and in spite of solid box office for Bad Boys II, a Big Momma's House sequel, and the suburban biker comedy Wild Hogs, he hasn't managed to right the ship for good. The past 10 years have seen the actor's big-screen appeal in steady decline behind substandard comedies like Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins and Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. Though Lawrence's talent and dedication have never been in doubt, one has to wonder how many more chances are left.  

With his movies continuing to miss the mark, Lawrence wisely tried to return to the medium he once dominated: television. Unfortunately, TV has proven a struggle for the actor as well. In the last five years alone, Lawrence has seen networks repeatedly pass on pilots. And the one series that did get picked up—Kelsey Grammar co-starrer Partners—lasted just 10 episodes before getting the axe.

Bad Boys finally gets busted

Somehow, the small screen always felt a bit too…small for Lawrence's big personality, and a return to film always seemed like an inevitability. No role seemed better suited to get Lawrence back on track than a return to his big-screen breakout as Marcus from Bad Boys. After all, fans of the first two films have been clamoring for a third for years.

After an extended period in development limbo, Bad Boys III—a.k.a. Bad Boys For Life—got some good news when writer/director Joe Carnahan came aboard, and a fourth film was even in the works. But just as things got cooking, the pieces holding BBIII together fell apart. Carnahan left the project, Will Smith's availability became a major problem, And the studio eventually pulled the film from its release slate. Like that, Lawrence's big-screen comeback was over before it even began.

Times have changed for comedy

Comedic stylings have changed dramatically since Lawrence broke through in the early '90s, and many of the comedy kings from that decade are no longer wearing their crowns. Lawrence's observational, racially charged approach may not jibe well with the dry, self-deprecating and politically focused wit that dominates the current stand-up scene—let alone the slipstream, sex-crazed, out-to-shock approach that plays in theaters. One has to wonder whether Lawrence's inability to change with the times is ultimately why Hollywood is no longer knocking at his door.

Don't call it a comeback ... yet

Still, with over five decades of life under his belt and nothing to lose, Lawrence decided to take his talents back to the stand-up stage last year. Martin Lawrence: Doin' Time premiered on Showtime in September 2016, marking his first stand-up film in almost 15 years. Sadly, the Showtime special didn't put Lawrence back in the spotlight. Doin' Time arrived with little fanfare, was met with critical indifference, and overall, suggested he may have lost a step—but as with any other creative venture, there's also the possibility that he just needed to get warmed up again.

There's always time to get back on track

While Martin Lawrence doesn't seem to have any projects in the works at the moment, his brand of comedy can still be funny. It might even be a welcome voice in today's political climate—given a few modern upgrades, of course. We're really hoping Lawrence makes that happen as soon as possible. Though at this point, it would seem wise for the funnyman to start with a few baby steps back into the mainstream. Why not a supporting role as bad boy Marcus Burnett in that Bad Boys television spinoff we've been hearing so much about? That would certainly get people watching, and it might even bring Bad Boys III back to life. Here's hoping.