Dwayne Johnson’s beloved father Rocky Johnson has passed away. The Canadian-born wrestling legend was 75.
Johnson was born Wayde Bowles in Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1944. Bowles moved to Toronto as a teen to work as a truck driver and began wrestling during his off hours. His training also included boxing and Bowles counted Muhammad Ali and George Foreman as some of his sparring partners. Soon after his wrestling debut in 1964, Bowles legally changed his name to Rocky Johnson.
In 1969, he began wrestling for the World Wide Wrestling Foundation, later joining World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in the early 1980s, where he says he experienced racism and helped usher the organization into a more socially-conscious era. In an interview shared by the New York Times, Johnson recalls some of the appalling sketches the WWE pitched to the wrestler. “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,” said Johnson.
Johnson was married to fellow Nova Scotian Una Sparks when he met wrestler Peter Maivia and his daughter Ata. Rocky and Ata became romantically involved and were married in 1978, four days after his divorce from Una was finalized. Rocky and Una had two children together and Rocky and Ata’s son Dwayne was born in 1972. Rocky and Ata divorced in 2003 and Rocky later remarried speech pathologist Sheila Johnson.
Johnson made history in the WWE when he and partner Tony Atlas paired up to become the Soul Patrol and were crowned the Tag Team Champions in 1983, making them the first black tag team to earn the title. Johnson retired from wrestling in 1991 and began training his son, Dwayne. The younger Johnson initially wrestled under the name Rocky Maivia and signed a WWF development deal. The elder Johnson often made appearances in his son’s matches until Dwayne made the crossover to the role of heel and began going by his new wrestling name, The Rock. In a 1999 episode of That 70’s Show, Dwayne played his father in a role that counts as his first acting job.
In 2008, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson helped induct his father Rocky and his grandfather Peter Maivia into the WWE Hall of Fame. Only hours after his death was announced, the WWE shared a collection of videos showing some of Rocky’s most famous matches.
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Rocky reportedly passed away on January 15 in Lutz, Florida in the home that Dwayne bought for him. Dwayne excitedly announced the news of his father’s home with his Instagram followers in March 2019, sharing his father’s history. “He’s a weathered soul and like all weathered souls, there’s often a harsh storied path that got them there,” said Johnson, who revealed that his grandmother kicked his father out of the house on Christmas Day when he was only 13 years old. “His reality of compassion and love was forged thru pain and toughness,” said Johnson.
“He raised me with that tough physical love and used to beat my ass in the gyms and on wrestling mats. I hated it then as a little boy, but grateful for it today as a man,” said Johnson. “It’s shaped my DNA and helped inform how I raise my own babies (minus the ass kickings) but always instilling the value of hard work and discipline. For that I’m grateful and this one felt good.”