Dwayne Johnson’s Vanity Fair interview is very good. I was nervous because it opens with his political aspirations, and I almost put it down immediately. Fortunately, he seems to be stepping back a bit from that (although not as far as I’d like). But the rest of the article provides a background to stories I’ve heard from DJ before. I mentioned his eviction at the age of 14 was a defining moment in DJ’s life. It was also what brought him from Hawaii to Tennessee and back into his father, professional wrestler Rocky Johnson’s, life. He talks about his dad and their “complicated” relationship throughout the interview. Rocky was unfaithful to DJ’s mom but she stayed with him until DJ was able to buy her a house. When DJ wanted to get into wrestling, Rocky told him, “Absolutely not. You got nothing to offer,” although Rocky eventually ended up training him. DJ recounted the final fight with his dad, which was over Rocky’s book, Soulman. DJ knew he was writing it and encouraged him to do so. All he asked was that Rocky “be real and open and honest and forthright.” When DJ got his copy, the book was full of mistruths, including outright lies that were attributed to DJ himself. Rocky said the fateful eviction never happened and credited a foreword to DJ that he hadn’t written. So DJ called his father and they had “the biggest fight we’ve ever had” close to Christmas 2019. It was the last time DJ ever spoke to his father, who died January 2020.
One section (of Soulman) hit particularly hard, because it related to the moment in Johnson’s life—the eviction from their Hawaii apartment when he was 14—that for him is a foundational moment, a key event in their shared family history and one he has constantly referred back to over the course of his life. “In the book,” says Johnson, “he tells the reader this absolutely never happened. We were never evicted out of Hawaii. ‘And when I asked my son about it, he told me, oh, yeah, dad, I just tell that to make people feel good. I just tell that for people to make them feel good—if they’re going through hard times themselves, they’ll look at this and somehow become maybe a little inspired that they can get through their hard times, too.’ ”
An even more naked affront was loudly trailed on the book’s cover: “Foreword by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.” In this, Johnson purportedly shared detailed tales of how his father’s career had foreshadowed his own, explaining that “my dad was far more successful than I was, and for a much longer period of time.” Problem was, he had never written or said these words. “I was like, am I fucking crazy?” he tells me. “Did I write this? When did this happen? Again, I was so upset.” One sentence, in particular, stuck in his throat: “Rocky Johnson is responsible for everything I’ve done in wrestling, the movies, TV shows and overall business opportunities.”
And so, over Christmas, Johnson called his father to have it out.
“We got into a massive fight,” Johnson remembers. He says his father’s principal defense was one of denial, blaming his ghostwriter and apologizing only for not proofreading the book. The thing about the Hawaii eviction, for instance? He had never said that. The fake introduction? He had no idea it was there. (Later, I find a wrestling podcast in which the book’s ghostwriter, Scott Teal, openly discusses having written this “Dwayne Johnson” foreword, though he states that he did so at Rocky’s instruction and with Rocky’s guidance.)
The conversation between Johnson and his father was a rough one. “It was the biggest fight we’ve ever had, and we had gotten into some doozies in the past,” he says. “I had leaned into my dad like I never had before because I was just really disappointed and hurt.” And that was where things were left between them. Normally, Johnson says, he prefers not to let things fester. “I like to take care of things with expediency. And if there’s some shit we need to take care of, let’s take care of it. Let’s dive into it. Even if it’s hard, it’s okay. But that was a different thing. It’s just a different, unique relationship that you have with your old man.”
That phone call would be the last time they spoke.
“We had some good times,” says Johnson. “We had some rough times. We had some fighting times. And my dad always knew that there were parts of his life that were fucked up. And in the end, away from the noise, we had some pretty raw conversations about who he was, and who he always wanted me to be. And the good stuff is what will always be in the forefront of my mind, because I recognize that in our complicated testosterone-driven relationship, some of the best parts of me that I’ve been fortunate to share with the world I get from him. The resilience, the work ethic, the ‘No one’s gonna give it to you, so you got to get your ass out there and work it, earn respect’ type of credo, I get from him. And I will always carry that with me.”
I remember the stories about DJ buying his mom houses and that he’d bought his dad a pickup. I know you can’t put a price on love, but it still made a bit of a statement. It makes sense, Rocky prioritized everything else in his life before DJ. After being evicted, DJ showed up in Tennessee a month before his mother. Rocky was with some girlfriend and wouldn’t take 15-year-old DJ in. Instead, he sent DJ to live in a motel with his wrestling buddy, Bruno, whom DJ had never met. I suppose Rocky gets credit for training DJ in wrestling, but he did not deserve to take full credit for The Rock’s career. And he certainly had no right to make up words for DJ about it. I’m positive DJ knew his father was lying in his excuses for how all those things ended up in the book. It must have broken his heart to have to hear that coming through the phone.
This will probably haunt him for a long time. The thing is, DJ was right to tell his father everything he did. What Rocky did was awful, and he owed DJ an explanation and an apology, neither of which DJ got. Hopefully he can find comfort in the fact that in his last phone call with his father, DJ was “real and open and honest and forthright” with his father, which is something his father never granted him.
Photo credit: Vanity Fair via Instagram