Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: How Hardships gave him Strength and Resilience that Brought Success

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is one man that has had an incredible journey from his football career and wrestling days, to the big screen. And the man is still forging on.

Throughout his childhood Johnson has faced struggles and tons of challenges, even getting evicted at age 15; all of which have interplayed to launch him on the path which has led to his remarkable success.

Despite the fact that Johnson is one of the biggest celebrities today, the guy’s success has not corrupted his values. In Hollywood, Johnson is one of the most down-to-earth stars and not one overly given to the spotlight, qualities which have made him even more endearing.

Johnson had parents who had reasons to always travel. Born in California, his family relocated to New Zealand, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Florida. At 15, Johnson one day came back to their studio apartment home in Honolulu to an eviction notice and a locked door when his mother couldn’t cover the rent.

“It broke my heart. I remember saying to myself, ‘I will do anything and everything I possibly can to make sure we never get evicted again.’ Johnson says of the experience. This jarring moment from his childhood is an instance in his young life that gave him the motivation to figure out how to break out of the cycle of poverty, and helped spark interest in something that would lead to a very successful career.

Johnson’s heritage is mixed. His father is a black man born in Nova Scotia while his mother is of Samoan descent

Johnson is “extremely proud” of his heritage and culture as someone who is half black and half Samoan. He was crowned a high chief in his mother’s native Samoa, by His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II and given some very intricate, detailed traditional tattoos.

Commenting on the significance of being recognized by the King, Johnson explained, “I told him I was going to carry this title with honor, dignity and, above all else, with pride. He told me, ‘From this day onward, you will no longer be known as Dwayne but will carry the title of the Son of Malietoa, which means the son of a king. You will leave your boyish ways behind you, as you are now a chief of the Seiuli family, a chief of Samoa.’ When I heard those words, I was moved. … It’s way deeper than an honorary title. It’s blood.”

Every day, people of all ages are bullied across the country. It’s hard to imagine that someone like Dwayne Johnson was once among them but he revealed that he had his own struggles. “I was always the new kid so that made me a target,” he explained. “We moved so much that we lived in fourteen different states because my dad was on the road which was unsettling and disorientating. I used to get into a lot of fights. I wouldn’t start them, but you know when you’re the new kid.”

While he admitted to becoming a “delinquent” in ninth grade by “doing stupid stuff,” he found a way to put these painful experiences behind him. What a great example and inspiration for anyone struggling with bullies.

There was a whole lot of stress for Johnson and family having to move around regularly. Coupled with money problems it was something quite near disaster, and so young Johnson learned the hard way, but inside the young man was a spirit of resilience and determination to break free from that cycle.

Dwayne Johnson was the recipient of a full scholarship from the University of Miami where he played as a defensive tackle until an injury sidelined his career. He was, eventually, replaced by Warren Sapp who went on to become a huge star in the NFL. Johnson graduated from the University of Miami in 1995 with a Bachelor of General Studies with concentrations in criminology and physiology.

In 2009, he delivered the commencement speech at his alma mater and told the crowd, “This University was the breeding ground for some of the most important lessons that helped shape my life and guide me to success.” He quoted UM head football coach, Randy Shannon, saying, “hard work always pays off” while encouraging the graduate to never settle for “complacency” or “mediocrity.”

After graduating from the University of Miami, Dwayne Johnson moved to his father’s native Canada where he played for the Calgary Stampeders for two months before being cut from the roster. His former coach, Wally Buono, claimed he was let go because, “[Johnson’s] agent phoned me from Miami because he had a wrestling opportunity [because of Johnson’s wrestling heritage] and asked me to do him a favour by cutting him. I knew he was from a wrestling family. Let’s put it this way: I didn’t have any problem letting him go.”

Later, during a WWE Raw telecast, Johnson stunned Canadian fans by saying, “In 1995, The Rock was cut from the Canadian Football League. Do you have any idea how much you’ve gotta suck to get cut from the Canadian Football League?” At least one journalist from the Vancouver Sun chose not to take the comment personally, chalking it up to the theatrics of wresting.

After finding success, Dwayne Johnson launched his own production company called Seven Bucks Production and the backstory to the company’s name has a lot of meaning for him.

When the Calgary Stampeders cut him, Johnson flew back to Miami and he realized that all he had was seven dollars to his name. He said, “Pulled out my wallet, and yeah, I had a five, a one, and some change… Warren Sapp had just signed for millions of dollars in the draft. He was the one that actually beat me out of my position [at Miami] two and a half years earlier.” He went on to explain that he’s happy for Sapp, with whom he has remained friends, but he will never forget why “‘seven bucks’ has a lot of meaning.”

As he worked on finding his own success, he battled depression. “I was lost, I didn’t know where I was going to go, what was going to come next because I couldn’t see a future.” Fortunately, he was able to see the silver lining by realizing that “I wasn’t going to get back on my feet feeling sorry for myself, I had to pick myself up and keep going and fighting and grasp and claw and scratch at every opportunity that came my way.”

With his career in football over, Dwayne Johnson turned to wrestling. Incredibly, both sides of his family have strong roots in the profession. His father, “Soulman” Rocky Johnson was at the peak of his fame in the ’70s and ’80s and was part of the first black tag team (along with Tony Atlas) to win the WWF’s (now WWE) World Tag Team Championship. Johnson’s maternal grandfather was High Chief Peter Maivia, a “blood brother” to the famous Anoa’i wrestling family. Born in Samoa, he relocated to New Zealand to launch his career and won titles in the South Pacific before settling in the United States.

At first, Johnson’s father was against him beginning a career in wrestling. “Looking back,” he told Fortune, “I understand that he was thinking, ‘Man, I wrestled for 40 years, and this is what I have to show for it: a tiny apartment in Tampa. I don’t want this for you.'”

First emerging as Rocky Maivia, Johnson made it to the WWE in 1996 where he transformed into The Rock, “the biggest superstar televised wrestling has ever seen.” His origins, personal flair, and charisma made audiences go wild.

While Hollywood agents took notice after his first Saturday Night Live appearance in 2000 (he has now entered the elite “five timers club” after being asked to host the comedy show an incredible five times), Dwayne Johnson wasn’t an overnight success story and he knew that he’d have to work hard and understand the industry if he was going to make it big.

“When I first got into the business, I didn’t have studios knocking on my door. I couldn’t greenlight anything,” Johnson recalled. “So I made a vow and a pact to myself that I was going to understand the business from top to bottom. I’m new to acting, therefore, who are the best coaches? Who are the studio executives I should know so I can understand how the business works on the marketing and publicity side, on the production side? I really wanted to be a sponge and I didn’t give a [damn] if it was overwhelming. Bring it on. I got one shot at this.”

Starring opposite Brendan Fraser in 2001’s The Mummy Returns, Dwayne Johnson was so impressive and well-received by audiences that the studio made him the star of the prequel, The Scorpion King, the following year. Recognizing his bankability, they paid him $5.5 million, “a record amount for an actor in his first lead.”

Since then, he’s starred in films such as The Other Guys, The Game Plan, and the Fast & Furious franchise. He hasn’t let his success go to his head — Johnson set a Guinness World Record for the number of selfies he took with fans at the premiere of his film, San Andreas.

As he explained to Esquire, “Wrestling is intimate. You can reach out and touch the wrestlers. I don’t get that connection in movies, but the impact is so much greater. You’re able to craft a longer career in movies.”

Dwayne Johnson married Dany Garcia in 1977 and while they welcomed daughter, Simone Alexandra, in 2001, their marriage ended seven years later.

After the split, Johnson was linked to Lauren Hashian, the daughter of legendary Boston drummer, Sib Hashian. While the pair have never married, together they are raising their daughter, Jasmine, was who born in 2015.

Dwayne Johnson is not a man who takes his career lightly. He makes it clear that, no matter what kind of script he receives, he considers everything but is always careful to be mindful of who he is and what his fans expect from him. “You’re not going to see me all of a sudden, out of the blue, in a slice-of-life drama,” said Johnson. “There’s a smarter way to bridge the gap. You’ve got to build to it. I’m in this business to service the audience. That’s the No. 1 thing. It’s not, ‘Well, I would like to do this or that.'”

This viewpoint didn’t just arise overnight. At first Johnson tried distancing himself from The Rock and his wrestling career as much as possible going so far as to hide his tattoos and muscles during photoshoots in an attempt to change his image.

“And then it hit me: I’m not being authentic,” he explained. “I’m really not being me. I like going to the gym. I like driving my pickup truck and maybe I don’t want to live in Hollywood. Maybe I want to live in Florida in the country. Maybe I don’t want to wear a suit. I love wrestling and I love going back and being with the fans even if I don’t wrestle anymore. I’m that guy.”

You don’t get a body like Dwayne Johnson’s from sitting on the couch eating Cheetos all day. It takes a strong commitment to fitness and a healthy diet. He hasn’t been shy about his efforts in either area.

“Training is my anchor,” Johnson explained. “Being on a regimented schedule, setting a goal, failing at a goal. It’s the philosophies of being an athlete that carry me today.”

Of his diet, he combines protein shakes with five or six carefully crafted meals a day. The protein, fat, and carbohydrate content is measured to ensure he’s getting what he needs. While preparing for a role as a bodybuilder alongside Mark Wahlberg in Pain and Gain, Johnson’s meals included oatmeal, omelets, steamed veggies, lean meats, and rice. He explained, “there’s a right way and a wrong way to bulk up for a film. The wrong way is to eat as much garbage as you can for weeks on end… it’s unhealthy and puts an incredible amount of stress on your body.”

During an interview with Esquire, Dwayne Johnson was complimented on his singing abilities. He responded saying, “Thank you. In Polynesian culture, the men run 300, 350 pounds and the women are even bigger. But Polynesian men are known for singing in a pitch that is soft falsetto singing. It sounds amazing. That’s just how they sing, at a very high pitch in an octave that’s very falsetto and soft. I fool them with my voice. I’m singing in Disney’s next animated musical, called Moana.”

In Moana, Johnson took on the role of Maui, a muscular, tattooed demigod charged with helping the title character save her home on a Polynesian island. Clearly, this was not too much of a stretch for the actor who sat around with his family playing a ukulele as a youth in Hawaii.

After appearing in action films, it might seem like an abrupt gear change but Johnson explains that, no matter the medium, “There’s a strong audience appetite for me in roles where, if there’s a problem, I will galvanize people around me and I will handle it.”

If we’ve learned anything about Dwayne Johnson, it’s that he values a strong work ethic. After working on the Fast & Furious franchise, something went wrong while they were filming Fast 8. In a very direct Instagram post, he called out some co-stars, called them “candy asses” and added, “some conduct themselves as stand up men and true professionals, while others don’t. When you watch this movie next April and it seems like I’m not acting in some of these scenes and my blood is legit boiling — you’re right.”

There were immediate reports of a feud between Johnson and Furious mainstay, Vin Diesel, who shot down the rumors and explained, “I don’t think the world really realizes how close we are, in a weird way. I think some things may be blown out of proportion. I don’t think that was his intention. I know he appreciates how much I work this franchise. In my house, he’s Uncle Dwayne.”

Weeks later, Johnson doubled down on what he originally said and explained, “I was very clear with what I said. I’ve been in the game a long time. Would Universal [Pictures] have preferred that didn’t happen? Sure, we talked about it. The irony is after that and as they do their tracking and all their analysis, the interest shot through the roof to a whole other level.”

Despite the fact that Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia are divorced, the pair run his Seven Bucks Productions company together and she manages his career.

“His drive isn’t any different than when I met him when he was 18 years old,” Garcia told the LA Times. “He was born that way. He’s going to die that way, if he ever dies. But he’s always had this level of excitement to do more. Like, ‘What else can we bring?’ It’s never, ‘Woo-ha! What else can I crush?'”

Of the arrangement, Johnson seems grateful. “I’m happy to say we’re all together working nicely, but it took a lot of work,” he said. “With Dany, it was going through the sludge of divorce and then having the clarity to say, ‘We’re still friends, we respect each other, let’s do business. And let’s do big business.'”

Considering his level of success, it would be understandable if Dwayne Johnson had an ego as big as his biceps but he’s managed to stay pretty humble. Growing up, he dreamed of owning a Rolex watch. A week after finally buying one, it was broken and he “realized he didn’t care and never replaced it.”

Even today, he owns a Ford F150 truck that he brings with him wherever he’s filming. “I get it shipped everywhere,” he explained. “There’s an 8-inch lift on it, it has big country tires on it — I call it brown neck. That’s my thing. I’m not into sports cars. I can’t fit into them. And I can’t have people drive me. I don’t like service that way.”

He remembers what it’s like to live “paycheck to paycheck” and the anxiety that comes with that life. He says that keeping those struggles in mind helps him appreciate his success. It probably helps motivate him to give to others including Samoan causes and programs at the University of Miami.


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