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Dwayne Johnson recalls hard times in Hawaii

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    In this image released by HBO, Dwayne Johnson, left, and Rob Corddry appear in a scene from the series “Ballers,” airing Sundays at 10 p.m. EDT on HBO.

MIAMI >> Everybody knows him as “The Rock.” Most associate that with Dwayne Johnson’s physical prowess, his domination as a wrestler, and his steely determination. But it could stand for something else.

When he was 23, he says, he hit “rock bottom.”

“The first rock bottom that I hit was out of college where I worked for 10 years from the time I started playing football at 14 years old to the time I was 23, I think, and did not get drafted. I played in the CFL (Canadian Football League) for approximately 200 bucks a week Canadian. I got cut from the team a couple of months later, and I had to close that chapter in my life,” he says in his tailor-made gym in Miami.

“Then when I went back home, I couldn’t afford to live here in Miami with my girlfriend at the time, and I had to move back in with my parents … It’s a tough experience when you have to move back in with your parents. And at that time, my parents — we never lived in a home. So they had a little small apartment in Tampa, Fla., and I had to move in with them. And then you go through the challenges of that. You hit depression. You hit rock bottom.”

As a teenager he’d already tasted defeat of another kind. “When I was 14 we were evicted and forced to leave the state of Hawaii,” he recalls. “And it wound up being the greatest blessing in disguise because at that time, I was getting in a lot of trouble. At that time, I already had multiple arrests under my belt from doing a lot of things that I shouldn’t have been doing. And I’m lucky. I’m really lucky that I didn’t wind up in prison, and certainly I was on that track if I had stayed there in Hawaii.”

Growing up, Johnson’s dream was to play for the National Football League. But he suffered several serious injuries in college football resulting in five knee surgeries, debilitating back trauma and medical reconstruction of his shoulder. His alternate goal became wrestling, like his father before him. And the world first heard of “The Rock” when he kept pinning the competition, piling up championships like junk mail.

Even so Johnson’s fame as a wrestler has been eclipsed by his momentum in film and television, with movies like “The Scorpion King,” “San Andreas” and “Central Intelligence,” and TV shows like “Clash Time,” “WrestleMania” and his latest, “Ballers,” which returns for its second season on HBO Sunday.

On the half-hour comedy, Johnson, 44, plays Spencer Strasmore, an ex-football superstar whose contacts make him the ideal financial mediator and mentor to players. Johnson, who is also an executive producer on the show, confesses that Strasmore is the man he longed to be.

“Spencer Strasmore has a life I wanted. I wanted that life. Down here, University of Miami, 18 years old, I stepped on campus. I had no money, and we struggled for a long time. But my No. 1 goal was to make it to the NFL just so I can buy my parents their first house that they lived in. I never lived in a house until I was 28 years old. So we lived in efficiencies and apartments,” he says.

“So the point is, it’s Spencer’s life as a successful NFL player, future Hall of Famer — that was the life I wanted. I failed at that … I think I found peace with it. I don’t know. Maybe a therapist would say otherwise. Maybe I need some work with clearing some issues, but for many years my goal was to make it. And I never did. And then when the game is taken away from you or it’s cut short like a lot of players, like it happened to me … so it sidelined me,” he says.

Has he accepted that failure? “As best I can, but I think — and now, because I have my degree in psychology, clearly, I think I’m finding peace with it on the show. And I gotta tell you, it’s unlike any experience I’ve ever had. I’ve had the opportunity in movies to play a lot of characters and a lot of men who have done some pretty good things, and they galvanize some people, and they go on to save the day, and there’s bad guys to hunt down. In something like this, the muscle I get to exercise is a completely different one that I was never used to. What I mean by that is just living and just every day you’re just living and living life. So the experience has been tremendous, and I am fortunate to be playing a guy whose life I wanted.”

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    • Not the best PR for his parents. They were the ones evicted. Dwayne was still a young boy. Happy it all turned out well for him because he put in a lot of hard work.

    • And yet, our politicians think the best thing is to give free handouts to homeless who have no prospects, to continue living in a place they cannot and will not ever afford. Because they think it’s better to be a forever ward of the State than to be self-sufficient, I guess?

      • Yes, in a success story article of a world far away from Hawaii politics and its homeless issue, you’re the rant who pins it together. Nice job!

    • His dad was a superstar pro wrestler too (Rocky Johnson) and I bet he wasn’t around much when Dwayne was a kid to keep him in line as they frequently traveled to work gigs. His mom was a Samoan, so he probably didn’t want to mess with her much though and her relatives.

  • The Rock has got his head on right and it is nice to see that he has succeeded in achieving the American dream by his hard work, perseverance, and guts.
    Certainly a very good role model for all. Wish him continued success.
    As far as leaving Hawaii, he is absolutely right that it was the best thing that happened to him and his family. The way things are here, anyone who has the drive and
    potential must leave as there is no future for most here anymore unless you are connected to the political elite or have boku bucks.

    • Hawaii is so expensive. Every time I look at what home prices are on the mainland compared to Hawaii and then look at the grocery ads online it’s just amazing. The cost of food is almost half of what it cost in Hawaii and the home prices are at least 60% less. People who make a decent wage/salary can afford to buy or rent a pretty nice place on different parts of the mainland.

      • it is expensive. After 58 years I moved to idaho. It is cleaner and law enforcement is good here. Food is cheaper. I thought I would not like it here. I miss the ocean but I can be mortgage free here. A beautiful 2000 sq feet home on 1/4 acre is between 250K and 300K. The schools all have buzzer in entrance only with fencing all around. Not bad

  • Wonderful rags to riches story. You mo popular now. God definitely loves you and so do we. Those gay roles you played and the mahu photos you shared on a talk show just cracked me up. Instead of shaming yourself you increased your fan base. Smart! Good luck, Brah, and live a long healthy life.

  • Leaving Hawaii is a common theme, for many locals, who have big dreams, big bills, and 2 or 3 simultaneous low paying jobs.

    The “Rock” gives many locals hope, at the cost of leaving Hawaii.

  • Really good guy, but his movies … I mean they’re terrible. sorry. He’s a real ham. But he forged his way in life and is a great success, good for him. I like that he still recognizes the teachers at McKinley that helped him when he was young.

  • I was blessed to have the opportunity to see him play while i lived in the kendall area of miami and again when i worked at cracker barrel in milford, CT. his wrestling hall of fame intros of his father and grandfather on the same nite was touching as well. very grounded and humbled man of stature!

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