Tough and funny actor and semi-retired wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is also winningly candid about his life. Regarded by many as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, Johnson debuted as a film actor in 2001’s The Mummy Returns and has since built a movie career anchored by hits such as those in The Fast and the Furious franchise. But if it seems like his life has been a cakewalk, the likable star is open about the challenges he’s faced over the years and the respect he has for the woman who raised him, mom Ata Johnson.
Johnson is the only child of Ata and professional wrestler Rocky Johnson. When Johnson was a boy, Rocky’s work took him away from home for long stretches of time, effectively making Ata a Solo Mom. (The couple eventually divorced in 2003.) Despite Rocky’s success in the ring, money was tight. “We were living in an efficiency that cost $120 a week,” Johnson told the Hollywood Reporter in 2014. “We come home, and there’s a padlock on the door and an eviction notice. My mom starts bawling.” Just a week earlier, the 14-year-old had seen his mom weep when her car was repossessed.
Johnson was angry at his father for being absent so much of the time and for creating a life in which the little family moved often. (Johnson moved 13 times during his childhood; sometimes, the family would stay in one place for just a few months before moving on.) Johnson got into fights, and while living in Honolulu’s Waikiki neighborhood, he joined a theft ring that landed him in trouble with the police.
After the eviction, though, watching his mom scramble for work to secure them a new home, Johnson resolved to make some changes. “That was the tipping point,” he said. “It was about, ‘What can I control with these two hands?’ The only thing I could do was train and build my body. The successful men I knew were men who built their bodies.” Johnson went on to participate in football and wrestling in high school, and the physical exertion helped him cope with the challenges at home . . . because challenges still lay ahead.
When Johnson was 15 years old, the family was making another fresh start, this time in Nashville, Tennessee. Johnson remembers going out to eat with his parents, who got into an argument. As he shared on Oprah’s Master Class series, Ata responded with a suicide attempt: walking out into traffic. “I grabbed her and pulled her back on the gravel shoulder of the road,” Johnson wrote in a February 2018 Instagram post. His memories spurred by a scene he was filming for the HBO series Ballers, Johnson reflected in the post on “how many of us have been affected by suicide of our friends, family. Struggle and pain is real. We’ve all been there on some level or another.”
Ata, who Johnson notes does not remember the incident, survived. And so did her famous son, who over the years has struggled with incidences of depression himself, including a chapter when injuries sidelined his football career and he had to reinvent himself as a wrestler. As Johnson told Britain’s Express, he and his mom “both healed, but we’ve always got to do our best to pay attention when other people are in pain. We have to help them through it and remind them they are not alone.”
Johnson remains close with his mom. In a 2015 Instagram post, he shared a picture of Ata crying happy tears as they shared a trip on a private plane. He wrote, “I’m sittin’ across from my mom when out of the blue she looks around the plane, then looks at me and says ‘Son, I can’t believe the life I have . . . grandma and grandpa would be so proud.’ I asked her, ‘Are you happy, ma?’ Just then the flight attendant placed my moms [sic] breakfast down on the table and my mom said to me, ‘Am I happy? . . . I used to worry about how I was going to buy groceries for us and now I just had my breakfast placed down in front of me.’ She bursts into tears and says ‘Yes, son, I couldn’t be happier.’”
Honoring the women in his life is important to Johnson, who has three kids from his relationships with ex-wife Dany Garcia and current partner Lauren Hashian. On the birth of third daughter Tiana Gia, the inveterate Instagrammer wrote, “I was raised and surrounded by strong, loving women all my life . . . it’s hard to express the new level of love, respect and admiration I have for [Lauren] and all mamas and women out there.” That includes his mama, Ata, of course, whose strength—in 2010, she beat stage three lung cancer—continues to inspire her resilient son.
And he is resilient. As Johnson shared in an interview with Muscle & Fitness magazine, “As crazy as it may sound, in my mind, I’m always a week away from getting evicted, and that’s what keeps me motivated, not the material things. . . . Strip away the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood. Strip away the red carpet, the big box-office global hits, the cars, the homes. Strip everything away to me going back to being dead broke, evicted with seven bucks in my pocket, and you know what? The one thing that’s absolutely guaranteed is that I will still be training when the sun comes up.”
Look for Johnson in the upcoming action disaster thriller Skyscraper, due in theaters July 2018.
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