Johnson, Dwayne “The Rock” 1972
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson 1972–
Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock, is the youngest champion in World Wrestling Federation (WWF) history. Johnson is of Samoan and African-American descent, and his exotic looks—and impressive physique—have helped make him one of the top-earning personalities in his field. His 2000 autobiography, The Rock Says.. The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment, spent five months on the New York Times bestseller list, and the following year, Johnson made his feature-film debut in The Mummy Returns.
Johnson was literally born into the world of professional wrestling. His mother, Ata, was the daughter of Peter “High Chief” Maivia, a professional wrestler of Samoan descent who wore traditional South Pacific garb in the ring, wrestled barefoot, and intimidated his opponents with his tribal tattoos. Johnson’s parents met when Maivia invited a young black wrestler, Rocky Johnson, to stay overnight at his home after a match. A former boxer, The Rock’s father was the first African American to win wrestling championships in Georgia and Texas when it was still a regional sport with no nationally recognized stars. Rocky Johnson was a formidable opponent in the ring, but refused to participate in some of the racist antics that occurred during this era of the sport. Other black wrestlers perpetuated stereotypes, bragging about their abilities in exaggerated slang or even eating watermelon for the television cameras. “My father wouldn’t do that,” Johnson wrote in his autobiography, The Rock Says. “He was the first black wrestler to insist on being very intelligent in front of the camera.”
Johnson was born in 1972 in Hayward, California, but moved several times during his youth because of his father’s career. He attended schools in Hawaii, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, but was often teased by classmates because of his size and his father’s career. Neither deterred him from an early passion for wrestling. “I was fascinated by the business,” he recalled in his memoir. “I loved everything about it: the violence, the theatricality, the athleticism, the volume.” Johnson began weightlifting as a teenager, and by his senior year was a standout football star at his Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, high school. He was even named to USA Today’s All-American team during his senior year, and had his choice of college athletic scholarships. He chose the University of Miami, where he played defensive tackle. The team, however, had a reputation for both playing rough and openly deriding their opponents. Once, a notorious brawl at a game against San Diego State cleared the bench, and footage of Johnson tearing across the field after the opponent’s mascot, a man in a giant Aztec warrior costume, was replayed on news broadcasts around the country that night. The incident led the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to impose heavy fines on players who leave the bench to participate in a fight.
Johnson hoped for a career in the National Football League (NFL), but injured his back and played poorly during his senior year. He was passed over in the NFL draft that year, but was offered an opportunity with the Canadian Football League (CFL) instead. In 1995, he
At a Glance…
Born Dwayne Douglas Johnson, May 2, 1972, in Hayward, CA; son of Rocky Johnson and Ata (Maivia) Johnson; married Dany Garcia (a financial services executive), 1997. Education: University of Miami.
Career: Professional wrestler, actor. Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders, practice team, 1995; signed with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), 1996, debuted Rocky Maivia, 1996, debuted as The Rock on August 11, 1997; television appearances: DAG, Star Trek: Voyager, That ’70s Show; film roles: The Mummy Returns, 2001; The Scorpion King; autobiography, The Rock Says… The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment, 2000.
Addresses: Home—Miami, FL. Office —World Wrestling Federation, Inc., 1241 E. Main St., Stamford, CT 06902.
became a practice player for the Calgary Stampeders franchise, and survived for months on a meager salary of $175 a week. At six-feet, four inches and well over 250 pounds, Johnson had a hard time just keeping himself fed on his wages. As he recalled in his autobiography, he often showed up at Stampeder meetings when he knew submarine sandwiches would be served, though the practices players were not required to attend. This abysmal phase of his career came to an end when Stampeders management released him from his contract to make way for a former NFL player.
Johnson returned to Miami, where his college girlfriend, Dany Garcia, lived, and called his father, who also lived in Florida. He asked his father to begin training him for a career in professional wrestling, to which Rocky Johnson agreed, though not without some trepidation. For the next few months, as Johnson perfected the various locks, flips, and falls that make up professional wrestling’s repertoire of moves, he earned money as a personal trainer at a fitness club. With help from a former colleague of his grandfather’s, he secured a try out match for the WWF in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was paired against Steve Lombardi, whose ring name was the Brooklyn Brawler, and won the eight-minute bout in a predetermined decision, along with a contract with the WWF. First, however, Johnson was sent to Memphis to compete in the WWF’s second-tier system, the United States Wrestling Alliance. He wrestled in promotional matches under the name Flex Kavana, earning $40 a night during the summer of 1996.
In August of that year, Johnson was given another tryout, this time against a well-known wrestler—Owen Hart, whose accidental death in 1999 devastated Johnson—and two weeks later received a phone call summoning him to WWF headquarters and training facilities in Connecticut. Elated, Johnson packed his apartment and drove away within an hour of receiving the news. He made his official WWF debut, as Rocky Maivia, at Madison Square Garden on November 16, 1996 in its “Survivor Series,” entering the ring as a “babyface,” or, in wrestling parlance, good guy. But this was a much different era compared to his grandfather’s or even his father’s day: the WWF had consolidated all the regional federations and, with live spectacles that attracted sellout crowds and savvy marketing strategies, had made pro wrestling a multimillion-dollar business. Moreover, wrestlers now admitted that their moves are choreographed, and the outcomes predetermined, a fact which had been a taboo topic before the 1980s.
Johnson won his first WWF championship in February of 1997—making him, at 24, the youngest ever to win a belt. But his prowess did not make him a favorite with live audiences, who had become far more aggressive during the 1990s and liked to boo “Rocky.” After a knee injury forced him to take a few months off, Johnson strategized with WWF writers to revamp his ring persona. The Rock debuted on August 11, 1997, in a Jackson, Mississippi event, and was introduced as an ally of the Nation of Domination, a coalition of “heel” (bad-guy) wrestlers which drew upon Black Panther history for inspiration. Through more plot twists, The Rock regained or lost the WWF title several more times.
The WWF writers devised storylines for The Rock and his foes such as Triple H, a wrestler named Paul Leveque, and pitted them in battles with WWF executives in the McMahon family as well. Johnson, responsible for fleshing out the character further through dialogue, kept a notebook with him in order to jot down ideas and new putdowns as they come to him. As a heel, The Rock arrogantly browbeat his opponents outside of the ring before the cameras. “The character of The Rock is perpetually defiant, perpetually talking or glaring,” observed Miami Herald writer Peter Whoriskey, “and calls himself The People’s Champion,’ a moniker that has nearly unlimited spinoffs. There is ‘ The People’s Eyebrow,’ a trademark gesture in which he lifts one indignant and threatening eyebrow. ‘The People’s Elbow’ is a basic flying elbow move that Johnson dresses up by tossing his elbow pad into the crowd, waving his arms dramatically, and bouncing off the ropes a few times before delivering the blow.” Johnson himself believes The Rock’s over-the-top persona appeals to many: “There are a lot of people who live vicariously through the WWF characters-like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin,” he told the Miami Herald. “What I think some of them want is to be able to put people down—like their bosses—and then get away with it.”
Johnson’s success and name recognition as a pro wrestler rivaled that of Hulk Hogan during the 1980s. He was only the second wrestler in the history of Saturday Night Live to host the show—Hogan was the first—and even appeared on the cover of Newsweek. He gained further fame with the success of his 2000 autobiography, co-authored with Joe Layden. The Rock Says spent 20 weeks on New York Times bestseller list, and attracted the attention of Hollywood producers. Johnson’s performance as the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns (2001) led to an offer to reprise the role in a prequel, The Scorpion King.
In the summer of 2000, Johnson spoke before the Republican National Convention. He talked about the need for voter registration, noting that “fourteen million eligible voters watch The Rock every single week,” according to the New York Times, and then introduced Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and former wrestling coach J. Dennis Hastert to the delegates. At the end of the year, Johnson was named one of People magazine’s “25 Most Intriguing People of 2000.” He asserted, however, that he harbored no desire to enter politics himself, as one former wrestler, Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, had done. As Johnson told St. Petersburg Times writer Jim Varsallone, his experience at the convention and the contested presidential election later that year made him far more interested in politics, but from a distance. “[Q]uite frankly I follow it closely now, but as far as running for any type of office, I think I’ll leave that to the politicians,” Johnson told the paper. “I think I’m too outspoken at times, and I might get myself in trouble.”
(With Joe Layden) The Rock Says… The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment, Regan Books, 2000.
Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ), March 23, 2000, p. 26.
Miami Herald, February 13, 2000, p. 1M; March 4, 2000, p. 1B.
New York Times, August 6, 2000.
People, November 15, 1999, p. 84; December 25, 2000, p. 94.
Scholastic Action, March 6, 2000, p. 4.
St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL), January 1, 2001, p. 4D.
Wrestling Digest, August 2000, p. 11; December 2000, p. 24.
The Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com.
Johnson, Dwayne "The Rock"
Johnson, Dwayne "The Rock"
May 2, 1972 • Hayward, California
Professional wrestler, actor
Although Dwayne Johnson is not a superhero out of a comic book, he does have an alter ego. By day he is a somewhat mild-mannered husband and father. But at night when he steps into the ring, he becomes the chair-flinging, wisecracking wrestler known as The Rock. In the late 1990s the charismatic Johnson, with his exotic good looks and signature eyebrow arch, helped make World Wrestling Smackdowns a part of must-see TV. By the mid-2000s, he had such a following that he was dividing his time between the mat and the big screen. Some observers felt that Hollywood had found its next big-budget action idol, and many predicted that Johnson would have no problem filling the shoes of America's favorite muscleman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was now busy in his new role as governor of California.
Third generation wrestler
Johnson is a third-generation wrestler. His mother's father, Peter "High Chief" Maivia, was a professional wrestler of Samoan descent whose heritage served as the basis for his ring persona. Samoa is an island nation located in the South Pacific, and Maivia played the part of an island native, wearing his hair long, wrestling barefoot, and sporting traditional tattoos over most of his body. While on the wrestling circuit he became acquainted with an up-and-coming African American wrestler named Rocky Johnson. During a visit with Maiva's family, Johnson met High Chief's daughter, Ata. The two eventually married, and on May 2, 1972, the couple had a son, whom they named Dwayne Douglas Johnson.
Johnson was born in Hayward, California, but he grew up all over the country, since the family moved around to accommodate Rocky Johnson's wrestling career. Because of the family's frequent moves, young Dwayne had a difficult time making friends. He was also teased by other children about his father's profession, and about his size—even as a youngster, Johnson was bigger than average. As a result, he had a quick temper, and as Johnson admitted to Samantha Miller of People, he was even arrested several times for fighting. "It was all youth and stupidity," he explained. In the mid-1980s, however, the Johnsons settled down long enough for Dwayne to begin attending Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where an interest in sports helped calm the young man down.
"My work, my goal, my life, it's like a treadmill. And there's no stop-button on my treadmill. Once I get on, I just keep going."
At Freedom High, Johnson boxed and ran track, but he pursued football with a vengeance, hoping to win a scholarship in order to become the first member of his family to go to college. He was a standout star, and by his senior year he was named to USA Today 's high school All-American team. Before graduation Johnson was recruited by several colleges, but he chose to head to Florida to attend the University of Miami, where he played defensive tackle. He soon became known for his talents on the gridiron, but was also known for his crazy antics. During one game against San Diego in 1992, millions of people watched on television as he raced around the field chasing the opponent's mascot, a man in a giant Aztec warrior costume.
Johnson's future in football looked bright until he suffered a back injury during his senior year. He was so depressed that he cut classes and his grade point average (GPA) dropped to a dangerously low 0.7. Not only was he sitting on the bench, he was also on academic probation. Johnson pulled himself together, thanks in part to his future wife, Dany Garcia, a business major he met while in Miami. Garcia encouraged him to hit the books, and in 1995 he graduated with a degree in criminology and a respectable 2.9 GPA.
Enter Rocky Maivia
Because of his injury, Johnson was not picked to play for the National Football League (NFL) during the 1995 draft, but he still pinned his hopes on a career in pro football. When he was offered a contract by the Calgary Stampeders, he signed on the dotted line and headed to Canada. Life in Canada was miserable. Johnson saw little field action and was paid less than $200 per week to be a practice-squad player. He rented a tiny, dingy apartment and slept on a mattress he found near a local dumpster. His salary left little room for food, so Johnson took to attending every Stampeder meeting, even though he didn't have to, because he knew sandwiches would be served. He was determined to stick it out, but in an abrupt move, Johnson was let go by the football franchise to make room for a former NFL player. "That was hard," he told Zondra Hughes of Ebony. "I was supposed to be reaping the fruits of my labor, and there I was in Canada having to start all over again."
Johnson returned to Florida where both his parents and Dany Garcia lived, and immediately approached his father with a proposal: he wanted to be trained as a wrestler. His decision was made partially out of necessity, but Johnson also had a real love of the sport. After all, he had seen his first wrestling match when he was three weeks old, and when he was six years old his father had taught him such basic moves as the headlock and the armlock. Rocky Johnson, however, had his doubts. He knew that the life of a wrestler was not an easy one and he wanted to spare his son the tough road he had walked. Rocky finally relented, and for the next few months kept the would-be sparrer on a grueling training schedule.
When he felt prepared enough, Johnson contacted a colleague of his grandfather's, who helped open the door for a tryout with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in Corpus Christi, Texas. Although promoters were impressed enough to sign a contract with him, Johnson still had to pay his initial dues by spending some time in Memphis, Tennessee, performing in the WWF second-tier system, the Unites States Wrestling Alliance. During the summer of 1996 Johnson wrestled in promotional matches using the name Flex Kavana, and earned about $40 per night. In August he was given his second professional tryout, this time pitted against a well-known wrestler named Owen Hart. He did so well that he was transferred to Connecticut where the WWF headquarters and training facility were located.
On November 16, 1996, just one year after hitting a low point in Canada, Johnson made his professional wrestling debut at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He performed under the name of Rocky Maivia, a nod to both his father and grandfather. The WWF event was called the Survivor's Series, and Johnson, as Rocky Maivia, was considered to be a "good guy" or, in wrestling terminology, a "babyface." His "bad guy" opponent, or the "heel" in the match, was Paul Levesque, more commonly known as Triple H.
The Rock is unveiled
Johnson quickly became a hit with wrestling crowds, and in February of 1997 he captured his first WWF championship, making him, at age twenty-four, the youngest wrestler to win a belt. But just a few months later Rocky was being booed during matches. Apparently the fickle audience members were becoming much more interested in rooting for the "bad guys," and in a business where image is everything, Johnson had some rethinking to do. In mid-1997, after suffering a knee injury, he took some time off to recuperate, to marry his longtime girlfriend Dany Garcia, and to strategize.
Wrestling in the late 1990s was not the world of wrestling Johnson's father had inhabited. In 1979 the regional federations that existed throughout the United States had been consolidated into a single organization known as the World Wrestling Federation, and by the mid-1980s pro wrestling had evolved from an athletic sport into a form of high-energy entertainment. Wrestlers now admitted that their moves were choreographed and that the outcomes of the matches were pre-determined. Wrestling had become big business, attracting millions of fans and earning millions of dollars for promoters and the main attractions, the wrestlers.
Johnson and WWF writers and producers worked long and hard to come up with just the right image for the handsome, six-foot-four-inch, 270-pound newcomer. What finally emerged was a character named The Rock, who would transform the world of wrestling. According to Johnson, who spoke with Sona Charaipotra of People, "The Rock is Dwayne Johnson with the volume turned all the way up." Wearing black boots, black briefs, and with a tattoo of a Brahma bull on his twenty-two-inch bicep, The Rock was touted as part of the Nation of Domination, a league of "bad boy" wrestlers. He also became a formidable force both inside and outside the ring, especially when he glared at opponents and the press with a menacing lift of his right eyebrow.
When The Rock was unveiled on August 11, 1997, in Jackson, Mississippi, the crowd went wild, and over the next several years fans stood in line to catch the next installment in his wrestling storyline. Producers pitted him against various characters in mock grudge matches, and The Rock won, then lost, then regained his federation championship several times. Along the way, Johnson became perhaps the most popular wrestler in the history of the sport. He was known as The People's Champion, and his signature eyebrow move even took on a name—The People's Eyebrow. In addition, The Rock became a merchandising gold mine. His image appeared on T-shirts, posters, and Halloween masks; and there were Rock action figures and video games. By the 2000s, according to Gillian Flynn of Entertainment Weekly, the WWF was bringing in $120 million in merchandise sales per year, thanks solely to Johnson.
Pins down the big screen
Johnson's appeal was not limited to wrestling fans, although he is credited with almost doubling the WWF's female fan base, thanks in large part to his movie-star good looks. He was so popular that in 2000, when he published his autobiography, The Rock Says, the book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for an astonishing twenty weeks. Johnson drew record crowds at book signings, and began popping up on television, both to promote his book and to take on small acting roles. He made several appearances on the late-night comedy program Saturday Night Live, and was featured on such TV shows as DAG, Star Trek: Voyager, and That '70's Show. The next logical step was the big screen.
In 2001 Johnson appeared briefly in the summer blockbuster The Mummy Returns, for which he was paid, in Hollywood terms, a paltry $500,000. Although he was given only minutes of screen time, producers were impressed enough that they built a movie around Johnson's Mummy character, called The Scorpion King. The film, which was released in 2002, is an action-adventure movie set in ancient Egypt. Johnson plays Mathayus, a desert warrior who is determined to save his people from an evil conqueror named Memnon. If he succeeds, he will take his rightful place as the Scorpion King. Although the movie was definitely not high drama, considering that Johnson's character spent most of his time swinging a sword and slashing his enemies, the would-be actor took his role seriously. In fact, he worked closely with an acting coach throughout the shooting of the film.
When The Scorpion King hit theaters in April of 2002, it made more than $36 million during its opening weekend. Critics discussed the digitized action sequences and compared the movie to The Mummy, but most focused on Johnson and his million-dollar performance ($5 million, to be exact). In various reviews he was called a big-screen champ and the new face of Hollywood action. As Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly put it, "The Rock commands the screen as naturally as he does the ring."
The Scorpion King opened up a whole new career for Johnson. In 2003 he followed up Scorpion with The Rundown, another action movie, but one with a comedic edge that allowed him more acting freedom. Again, reviewers were pleasantly surprised. They called The Rundown a movie that was a cut above the average shoot-'em-up blockbuster, and they praised Johnson's portrayal of Beck, a bounty hunter set loose in the Amazon jungles of Brazil. In particular, critics praised his comedic abilities, which viewers had glimpsed in his television roles. Johnson's acting coach, Larry Moss, told Gillian Flynn in Entertainment Weekly, "The action roles were obviously what he was commercially designed to do in the beginning, but he can play real comedy, and I hope he does after all the action-star stuff."
The most electrifying man in sports
By the mid-2000s, Johnson was a full-fledged movie star. In 2004 he made his dramatic debut in Walking Tall, playing Chris Vaughn, a club-wielding sheriff who battles drug dealers and con artists who threaten to take over his peaceful Washington town. There were also several other movies in the pipeline, including two comedies, Be Cool (2004), a sequel to the 1995 hit Get Shorty, and Instant Karma, slated to open in 2005.
Although busy with his many film roles, Johnson still managed to maintain his hectic wrestling schedule. This meant that between filming he was still out on the road, performing and promoting for more than two hundred days a year. Such a demanding schedule was hard on family life, especially considering that Johnson and Dany had their first child, daughter Simone Alexandra, in 2001. Even on the road, however, Johnson claims that he finds the time to call Dany every day, and he still retains close ties to his mother. As Hughes commented, "The Rock is a mama's boy." But The Rock is also a very determined man who has pumped-up plans for the future. As he told Hughes, "I want to do more in the WWF. I want to do more in the movie industry. Ultimately, I want to be the most electrifying man in sports entertainment, period."
For More Information
Johnson, Dwayne, with Joe Layden. The Rock Says … The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment. New York: Regan Books, 2000.
Charaipotra, Sona. "The Rock Sounds Off." People (April 19, 2004): p. 30.
Flynn, Gillian. "Rock of Ages: Wrestler, Actor, Action Hero?" Entertainment Weekly (May 3, 2002): pp. 10–12.
Gleiberman, Owen. "Rock Formation: The Scorpion King, a Bare-Bones Prequel to the Mummy Movies, Gives The Rock a Solid Step toward Stardom." Entertainment Weekly (April 26, 2003): pp. 117–118.
Gostin, Nicki. "Newsmakers: Interview with The Rock." Newsweek (April 12, 2004): p. 71.
Hughes, Zondra. "The Rock Talks about Race, Wrestling, and Women." Ebony (July 2001): p. 32.
Leyner, Mark. "The Rock is an Onion." Time (April 29, 2002): p. 81.
Miller, Samantha. "Bigger, Boulder: Scorpion King's The Rock, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson, Wrestles with Fatherhood, Fame—and Flab?." People (May 6, 2002): pp. 109+.
The Rock Official Web site. http://www.therock.com (accessed on July 6, 2004).