The world knows Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson first as a wrestler and then as an actor.
It’s no surprise then that there was immense outpouring of grief upon the passing of his 75-year-old father. Few, however, know that The Rock’s father was a champion wrestler who as one half of the ‘Soul Patrol’ won the first black world tag team championship in W.W.E. history.
Who then was Wayde Douglas Bowles better known as Rocky Johnson?
Bowles, who adopted the Rocky Johnson name, inspired by boxing greats Rocky Marciano and Jack Johnson, was born on Aug. 24, 1944, growing up in Amherst, Nova Scotia, before making a move for Toronto as a teenager. He descended from Black Loyalists who immigrated to Nova Scotia after escaping from a southern plantation in the United States after the American Revolutionary War.
As an emerging boxer, he had sparring sessions with George Foreman and Muhammad Ali before switching the ropes of boxing for wresting.
Although Johnson’s sports-entertainment took off in the mid-1960s with the National Wrestling Alliance, it will be with the W.W.E. which he joined in 1983 that he found greatest success.
Handsome and muscular, Rocky Johnson often bounded off the ropes, delivered punishing jabs and called himself “the king of the drop-kick” for his ability to dispatch opponents with that singular move.
Greg (the Hammer) Valentine, Don Muraco and Adrian Adonis were some of his foes in the ring. Together with another black wrestler, Tony Atlas, going by the Soul Patrol name became the first black world tag team champions in W.W.E. history when they defeated the Wild Samoans on Dec. 10, 1983.
It was not all gravy though as Johnson speaking with thehannibaltv.com, touched on racism in wresting where handlers wanted him as a Black man subjected to whipping as an enslaved but he was having none of that.
“Now it’s more covered up,” he said. “But there was a lot.”
“I was headstrong,” he said in the interview. “I kept myself in shape, and the stuff they were doing in the South, I wouldn’t go for. They wanted to whip me on TV, like they used to do with the slaves and all that. I said, ‘No. I came in as an athlete, and I’ll leave as an athlete.’ And they respected me for that.”
Despite the unguarded antics of the W.W.E. handlers, Johnson credits the organization for making it possible for him to travel the world. Johnson retired from the ring in 1991.
While the curtain was drawn on the career of Rocky Johnson, his son Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson would make his debut as a W.W.E. wrestler in 1996. The Rock had fallen on his father to be his trainer and despite the senior Johnson noting he pushed his son hard, he didn’t break or relent.
When The Rock needed help or support in the ring in the early days, his father was on hand leaping into the ring and defending his son. In 2008, the younger Johnson helped induct his father into the W.W.E. Hall of Fame.
Upon his passing on Wednesday as a result of a deep vein thrombosis, Dwayne Johnson released an Instagram video expressing his heartfelt thanks to well-wishers while also reminiscing his father’s role in his successful journey as a sports man and actor.
“A lot of you guys wanted to know what happened to my dad. He had not been feeling well, had been battling a cold and infection and on Tuesday he had what’s called a deep vein thrombosis, which is essentially a blood clot in the leg,” the Hobbs & Shaw star said.
“It was a big old blood clot that broke free, traveled up his body, and went right to his lung and clotted his lung and he died very quickly from a massive heart attack, just like that.”
He added: “… He had been in a lot of pain for a very very long time and that’s the life of a pro wrestler especially at that age.”
On how transient life was, Johnson advocated checking up on relatives and loved ones.
“Text them. Call them. Go see them, if they’re close by and if you can hug them I want you to hug them,” Johnson said. “You tell them that these are the marching orders from Dwayne Johnson who just lost his old man. But you hug them and you hug them hard.”
He added: “That’s what I’m doing with my family and my friends and the ones I love, I’m hugging them hard. You never know what’s around the corner, we just never know. Here today gone tomorrow.”
“I love you. You broke color barriers, became a ring legend and trail blazed your way thru this world. I was the boy sitting in the seats, watching and adoring you, my hero from afar. The boy you raised to always be proud of our cultures and proud of who and what I am. The boy you raised with the toughest of love,” he continued.