Whether fans know him as the man that kickstarted the WWF Attitude Era, or his time in Hollywood, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has had a larger than life persona. However, his lavish lifestyle was not something he was born into.
Johnson recalled a story while speaking to Oprah recently about when he knew he was destined to change his life for the better, not only for himself but for his parents.
“When I was 14-years-old, we lived in Hawaii, and we lived in a small efficiency apartment,” Johnson recalled. “My mom and I came home – and I’ll never forget it, the rent was $180 a week. There was an eviction notice on the door, it was the final eviction notice. My mom started crying and I’ll never forget that moment. About six months later, I told myself, I never wanted to be in that position again. What can I do? And this was at 14.
“So, at 14-years-old, I thought well, the heroes in my life Muhammad Ali, for example, professional wrestlers, they’re all men who worked hard with their hands and their bodies. So, I decided that is what I’m going to do. I’m going to do what my dad taught me to do and build my body, so we’re never evicted again.”
With that being said, Johnson began shaping himself up and launched his career with the WWF in 1996. Early in his wrestling career, Johnson became a movie star, after landing a role in The Mummy Returns. Reflecting on his wrestling and Hollywood careers, Johnson never believed that he would become such an overnight sensation.
“I never imagined this,” Johnson proclaimed. “At one time, when I was a kid, I did feel in my heart and in my gut, that the world was going to hear from me. I didn’t know how, but I do feel that way. I never thought in my mind that this level of success or fame was going to happen.”
Johnson went on the record by saying that he is not one to splurge on himself. The one time he did though, he learned a valuable lesson.
“The first thing I splurged on – so when I was a kid, 13 or 14-years-old, in my mind, what it meant to be successful was to have a Rolex watch,” Johnson giggled. “I thought for years every successful man has a Rolex watch. When I was making a little bit of money, this was in 1999, I was like this is it, I’m going to splurge and I get myself a Rolex.
“At that time, I was wrestling, and I wore it in the ring; not for a match. I was doing an interview in the ring, and a melee broke out. It always happens in the wild world of professional wrestling. One of the wrestlers fell on the Rolex, it came off and broke. You see me on live TV with a look on my face like ‘Oh, my gosh, my Rolex.’ I’m supposed to be in the moment, wrestling these others guys, but all I could think about was my Rolex. I finally get my Rolex back, and I’m backstage, and I look it at – I’m heartbroken. I remember going back home that night and thinking that this was a sign. I don’t need it and I’m never getting something like that again.
He adds that he is not a big bling guy, but instead uses his money wisely.
“I’m not a big bling guy,” Johnson noted. “I’ve always wanted to make sure that the splurging I do is on property [for my family].”
A wrestler has to have a convincing, yet satisfying gimmick if they want to get over with the fans. Johnson recounts his WrestleMania 13 appearance as the time when he felt uncomfortable being Rocky Maivia and instead begged to be more like himself, which transformed into “The Rock” character.
“It was a turning point in my career and it allowed me to grow,” Johnson started off by saying. “It really allowed me to just be me. When I first started wrestling, the idea was why don’t I call myself Rocky Maivia, out of respect for my father, Rocky Johnson and for my grandpa, Peter Maivia. I hated the name. I just wanted to make my own way. I love my family, but I don’t want to do it like that, because it’s like I’m trying to leverage their fame. The powers that be (WWE Management) said ‘Nope, that’s your name.’ I was also told ‘When you go out and wrestle, you have to smile. I want you to smile big.’ This was in the WWE. The idea was that I was a rookie in the business. I was a babyface, which is a good guy. I was being groomed as a good guy-wrestler. The idea was that I was supposed to be grateful for the opportunity so, when I went out there, I had to smile, even if I lost.
“A few months later, the company made me Intercontinental Champion. A month later, we go to the annual biggest event – it’s like the Super Bowl of wrestling, WrestleMania. This was WrestleMania 13. By the time I got to Chicago (where the event was held),16,000 people were chanting ‘Rocky sucks.’ I remember laying there in the ring and the referee said to me ‘Don’t listen to them.’ It was crippling for me.
“At that time, the powers that be thought that this wasn’t going to work, and for whatever reason, people aren’t liking you. They aren’t connecting with you. At that moment, it was very defining, because I asked them if I could just be myself and just go out there, speak to the crowd, and just be myself – authentic…The powers that be at that time Vince [McMahon] said ‘You got it.’ So the next night on Raw, I grabbed the microphone and said ‘I may be a lot of things, but sucks is not one of them.'”
After finding himself in wrestling and the fans appreciating his new gimmick, Johnson was skeptical that his acting career in Hollywood would not be liked the same way it was in the WWE. It took some time, but after starring in a few movies, he found out that he was just as successful at being an actor, as he was a promo/in-ring talent in the WWE.
“I still see every opportunity that I have as a little crack in the wall, a little scratch,” Johnson said. “It’s almost as if every scratch represents every opportunity, therefore, the success on the other side of the scratch, is the light.
“[On accepting his success overall] I have today, yes. There was a time where I wasn’t quite too sure if I was confident enough as to why it was happening and what I was doing. It wasn’t very systematic. There wasn’t a blueprint for me to follow when I came from wrestling to Hollywood. There wasn’t a ‘Look, do it like that black-Samoan guy did it.’ At that time, the biggest movie stars in the world were George Clooney. It was great [being able to change what Hollywood considered to be movie star material].”
You can listen to The Rock’s full interview with Oprah here. If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.