18 Eyebrow-Raising Facts About Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Before Dwayne Johnson, previously known as “The Rock,” was a movie star making millions of dollars per film, he was a troubled youth with no money in his pocket and a failed football career.
And even when he finally stepped inside the squared circle and wrestled in front of thousands of people, the fans hated him.
If you’ve ever wondered how Johnson went from being a broke 24-year-old to being a 46-year-old icon with a net worth of $220 million, check out these 17 electrifying, eyebrow-raising, depression-stomping, billion-dollar-movie-making ways he laid the smackdown on Hollywood.
His Early Years
Dwayne Johnson was born on May 2, 1972 in Hayward, California. He was born to his mother, Ata Maivia, and his father, Rocky Johnson, who was a professional wrestler.
Johnson comes from the Anoa'i family, which is full of wrestlers — his maternal grandfather wrestled for Vince McMahon in the ‘70s, his father wrestled for the WWE in the ‘80s, and his maternal grandmother was a wrestling promoter. Today, Anoa’i family relatives include former and current wrestlers like Rikishi, Umaga, the Usos, Nia Jax, and Roman Reigns.
Because of his father’s wrestling career, the Johnson family frequently moved, from California to Hawaii to Pennsylvania and to Florida.
He Didn’t Come From Wealth
Professional wrestling is only lucrative for some wrestlers. For Rocky Johnson, it wasn’t — at least not when little Dwayne was growing up.
Rocky Johnson worked gigs at several different promotions but it just wasn’t enough. When Dwayne was 14, the family got evicted from their efficiency apartment that cost $120 a week (around $275 in 2018 dollars).
“We come home, and there's a padlock on the door and an eviction notice. My mom starts bawling. She just started crying and breaking down. 'Where are we going to live? What are we going to do?’” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
He Knows Depression
After the eviction, a dark incident occurred: On an interstate highway, Johnson’s mother got out of her car attempted to walk into traffic. Johnson grabbed her and dragged her to safety.
“I reached a point where I didn’t want to do a thing or go anywhere. I was crying constantly,” he told The Express.
But Johnson managed to overcome it by lifting weights, something that he credits with helping him through a hard time in his life — and bouts of depression.
“There was never any medication,” he told Muscle and Fitness. “It was getting off my ass and being active and getting out and training. Releasing a lot of blood, sweat and respect — that was my medication. I’ll never forget my mom crying and I’ll never forget the thought I had: ‘Well the only thing I can do is just go build my body,’ because the men who were successful that I knew of — Stallone, Arnold, Bruce Willis — they were men of action.”
His Teenage Years Were Troubled
The rest of Johnson’s teenage years weren’t easy, either. Between the ages of 14 and 17, he joined a small-time theft ring while living in Hawaii, targeting tourists shopping in a high-end area of Honolulu.
“We would target the money, we would target the high-end clothes and we would target the jewelry — turn around and sell it, best we could,'' he told Muscle and Fitness. Johnson said he was arrested “eight or nine times” by the time he turned 17.
Football Put Him on the Right Track
While in high school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Johnson met a teacher who would eventually put him on the path to being the People’s Champion (one of his WWE nicknames).
One day, while not wanting to use the smelly boy’s room, Johnson wandered over to the teachers’ lounge restroom. While there, a teacher pounded on the door and demanded he leave — and it ended up impressing Johnson. He later apologized to the teacher, who turned out to be the high school’s football coach.
“[H]e looked in my eyes and said, 'Son, I want you to come out and play football for me.' That was the day everything changed,” Johnson told Sports Illustrated.
He Cold-Called His Way to a Football Scholarship
At 6’4” and 240 pounds with an angry streak, Johnson proved to be a formidable lineman and tight end. He received several offers from colleges, but his target — the University of Miami — wasn’t one of them. So he cold-called the school’s recruiter and pitched himself.
And it worked!
As a freshman in 1990, he was playing for the Hurricanes and on a full scholarship, according to Sports Illustrated.
But His Football Career Didn’t Pan Out
Johnson suffered a torn shoulder and four knee surgeries, which sidelined him for much of the season. And since the Hurricanes tapped another player — future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp — to fill his position, he was overlooked.
When it was time for the 1995 NFL draft, no one called, so he went to the Canadian Football League. It was a practice contract, which paid between $200 and $250 a week.
He was cut just a couple months later.
His “Seven Bucks Moment”
With his football career in the rear view mirror, and while he was being driven home by his dad to go live with his parents Tampa, Florida, Johnson reached into his wallet to find how much cash he had. It was a $5 bill, a $1 bill, and some change. Johnson calls this the “Seven Bucks Moment.”
Depressed and living with his parents, Johnson did just two things for a few weeks — watch TV and clean every scruff mark he could find in his parents’ apartment. Until, finally, he realized he needed to do something.
Having called the Canadian recruiter and thanking him, he decided to close the book on that part of his life. “And that was when I decided I was going to be a professional wrestler,” he said.
His First Foray into Wrestling
While Johnson’s wrestling heritage would definitely help him in his wrestling career, he didn’t go straight to the top. First, he had to pay some dues like every other wrestler starting out, which involves wrestling in front of tiny crowds for little or no pay.
“I had a guarantee of $40 per match,” Johnson told Stephen Colbert. “Monday nights were the Big Top flea market in Memphis Tennessee, Saturday was the State Fair.”
Through the week, he wrestled in other, even stranger venues. One was a used car dealership.
“I’d be putting on my boots and gear next to an office trying to sell cars. It was the oddest thing,” he recalled. At the time, in the mid-’90s, he was wrestling as Flex Kavana for USWA Memphis.
Then he signed a contract with the WWE (then the WWF) in 1996.
Rocky Sucks! Rocky Sucks!
Shortly after a successful introduction into the WWE, the company gave him a massive “push” — an attempt by a wrestling company to promote a wrestler as a rising star. This is often done with the wrestler winning numerous matches and given lots of screen time.
Johnson, a third-generation wrestler, seemed like the perfect candidate as a “babyface” — a wholesome good guy character. Except it didn’t take.
Here’s a timestamped clip of wrestling promoter Jim Cornette talking up Johnson in the ring on “Monday Night Raw.” Once Cornette starts saying how great Johnson is, he receives some lukewarm cheers and a number of boos.
Crowd reactions just got worse. By the time WrestleMania rolled around — the WWE’s “Super Bowl” wrestling event — the crowd was chanting “Rocky Sucks!”
Another Knee Injury Made Him “The Rock”
A few weeks later, Johnson again incurred a knee injury, sidelining him for several weeks. But it was the opposite of a career-ending injury; this one may have saved it.
When Johnson returned to the ring, he asked his boss, the ever-fascinating Vince McMahon, for two minutes of screen time where he could say whatever he wanted to the audience. Within two minutes, he turned his smiling babyface persona into an angry and aggressive “heel” (bad guy). "The Rock" was born — the persona that finally attracted a call from Hollywood.
After that, Johnson was one of the WWE’s hottest stars for many years; he had numerous championship reigns. It’s unclear how much he made, but since top wrestlers like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin — one of The Rock’s main rivals — made $5 to $12 million in 1999, it’s safe to say The Rock made millions as a wrestler.
His First Shots at Acting
The first non-WWE role Johnson ever had was in 1999, where he played himself on “That ‘70s Show.”
Then he had another bit part on the television series “The Net,” where he played a character named Brody in 2000. Later that year, he landed a part on “Star Trek: Voyager,” where he played an alien and fought the character Seven of Nine in what was basically a wrestling match.
In 2001, Hollywood truly came calling.
He Made Millions for His First Movie
It was the 2001 blockbuster “The Mummy Returns” where Johnson finally broke into Hollywood — and in a pretty big way.
He played the movie’s villain, the Scorpion King, and while the CGI was laughable — just check out a computer-animated Rock monster in all its terrible glory — the movie was a smash hit, earning $433 million at the box office on a $98 million budget.
He received $5.5 million for his role, where he only spent 15 minutes on the screen — an enormous amount for an actor with zero Hollywood pedigree, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Hustling to the Top
“The Mummy Returns” put Johnson on track to take over Hollywood.
While still wrestling for the WWE part-time, Johnson would take leave to film movies like “The Rundown,” “Walking Tall,” “Be Cool,” “Doom,” and “Get Smart.” He even hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 2009, the first of many times doing so.
While he was making a very respectable living as a movie star, he still wasn’t the A-lister we know today. After “The Tooth Fairy,” a 2010 family comedy where Johnson played a tooth fairy with big, fluffy wings, the actor knew something had to change.
So he fired his agent.
“You know what happens, when you have a vision, and you want it executed in a certain way, you need people around you who are going to believe in that too,” he told Yahoo News.
Now His Movies Make Billions
After switching agents, Johnson catapulted to the top. 2013 was the year of Dwayne Johnson, and by 2014 he had nabbed starring roles in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” “G.I. Joe,” “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, and “Hercules.”
According to Yahoo News, the “G.I. Joe” director called him “Franchise Viagra” for his ability revive dead franchises.
By 2018, he had starring roles in “Moana,” “San Andreas,” “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” “Skyscraper,” and “Rampage.”
Practically everything the man touches turns to gold. The average box office take of a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movie is $113 million, and altogether his movies have made more than $9.7 billion worldwide.
He’s One of Hollywood’s Top-Paid Actors
So that should be no surprise that Johnson makes serious money from his blockbuster hits.
Johnson was the second top-paid actor of 2017, earning a total of $65 million (Mark Wahlberg edged him out at $68 million for the top spot).
But that’s nothing. Between June 2017 and June 2018, Johnson became Forbes’ highest-paid actor in the history of its Celebrity 100 list. He made $124 million.
He Travels With a 40,000-pound Portable Gym
How does he stay in such good shape? It’s not just the estimated 821 pounds of cod he eats annually (a fish which he hates), it’s also all that time at a mobile gym which follows him around on his busy movie-shooting schedule.
And it is is a gym.
According to The Rock, it’s a 40,000-pound-plus #travellingironcarnival which is set up at 5 a.m. daily by a “small hard working crew,” he said on his Instagram. We imagine that crew’s salary is paid for via movie budget “perks” for the most electrifying man in Hollywood entertainment.
He Owns a Production Company
But why stop at just being one of the most highly paid actors, ever? Around 2016 or 2017, Johnson — along with his ex-wife, Dany Garcia — launched Seven Bucks Productions (does that name sound familiar?).
The studio produces HBO’s “Ballers,” in which Johnson has a starring role (and rakes in $650,000 an episode). It also has partnerships with many high profile companies like DreamWorks and Warner Brothers, and will produce the upcoming sequel to the cult-hit “Big Trouble in Little China” starring — you guessed it — Johnson.