How The Rock Became The Most Electrifying Man In… All Entertainment
From wrestler, to actor, to businessman, to president (?), Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s title is no joke: he’s the most electrifying man in all entertainment.
When was the first time you saw The Rock? For younger generations, he’s a bit like a Samoan-American Santa Claus – you know his name, you know his face, and that’s always been the case.
For me, if I really dig into the childhood archives, it would have been the PS2 front cover of WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It. As I’ve grown up, his grip on pop culture has only surged. If you told me as a teenager he’d be a possible presidential candidate, I’d have laughed. Now, I’d know my role and shut my mouth.
As he celebrates his birthday today, May 2, let’s look at what The Rock’s been cooking all these years. We need to go back to the first ingredient: football. While it may not seem it now, not everything went his way back in 1995, cut from the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League just two months into the season.
Johnson, an honorary member of the Anoa’i wrestling family (which also includes Roman Reigns and Rikishi) and the son of wrestler Rocky Johnson and grandson of Peter Maivia, knew where to go next – the ring. With the help of Pat Patterson, he won his first gig against The Brooklyn Brawler.
In the summer of 1996, he signed a contract with the WWF as Rocky Maivia, the company’s first ever third-generation wrestler.
Two years later, amid rampant popularity, he became known as The Rock, going on to feud and tussle with Triple-H, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shamrock, Mankind, Hulk Hogan and many, many more, shepherding the WWF through the Attitude Era to its more family-friendly WWE days. Even today, his ‘shut up b*tch’ clip does the rounds online.
His headline bout with John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII made for the best-selling pay-per-view of all time. He’s a 10-time world champion, a two-time Intercontinental Champion, a five-time Tag Team Champion, the 2000 Royal Rumble winner, and WWE’s sixth Triple Crown champion. Villain or hero, mean or nice, the world always loves the People’s Champ. He’s on the Mount Rushmore of professional wrestling.
It’s his bedRock, but his reputation has been growing outside the WWE since 1999, with a small role on That ’70s Show. The next year, he hosted Saturday Night Live. He was already one of the most influential people in the world; then came 2002, still in the infancy of his worldwide stardom, when he became the highest-paid actor for a first leading role in The Scorpion King, following his appearance in The Mummy Returns.
The next nine years are absolutely fascinating. You have projects one would expect of the star: budget Coach Carter in Gridiron Gang; action-comedy shenanigans in Welcome to the Jungle; generic thrillers like Faster, which actually boats the tagline, ‘Slow justice is no justice.’
Then there’s the outliers: playing the antagonist of an aptly-titled Doom adaptation; whoever the hell he was in the beguiling Southland Tales; a gay Samoan bodyguard who wants to be an actor in Be Cool; the super-underrated Walking Tall remake; aiming for the bushes in The Other Guys (even writing that down makes me cackle). For fun? Surely. Establishing a profile? Perhaps.
His true movie star status came in 2011’s Fast Five, swaggering into the familia’s world as the towering, baby oil-smothered, bulging Luke Hobbs, a spectre of the 1980s action era with wit, machismo and one-liners to spare. ‘Stay the f*ck out my way,’ was a warning to us, it seems. There’s also his highly-publicised beef with co-star Vin Diesel, which only bolstered his coverage ahead of Jason Statham buddy spin-off, Hobbs and Shaw.
The flops (Pain & Gain, Empire State, Snitch, Baywatch) don’t even come close to tickling the triumphs: some critical (all Fast entries, Moana, Jumanji); all financial (San Andreas, Central Intelligence, Skyscraper); and the all-round wonderful Fighting With My Family, sparked by a friendship with Stephen Merchant made on *checks notes* The Tooth Fairy.
Red Notice, Netflix’s upcoming espionage triple-hander with Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, is likely to be the streamer’s biggest film of the year. His DC debut in Black Adam is destined to be a billion-dollar blockbuster.
Does he have acting chops? By weighty standards, no (Ballers has probably been his biggest stretch) – but he has charisma on tap. He didn’t buy wrestling fans’ love, he earned it with his natural charm. Turkey or crowd-pleaser, he’s immensely watchable. Bautista and Cena are his closest comparisons, with great successes in Hollywood. Arguments could be made they’re even more talented.
Then again, Johnson’s prominence has always been more than that. The Rock is the most bankable actor on the planet, and at its core, the reason is rather simple – people like him.
He’s a public relations dream, armed with 231 million followers who can’t find a bad thing to say about him. Some are sceptical of his ‘always on’ persona: constantly thanking fans, no matter the time, no matter the day; always promoting a product under his corporate umbrella, whether it’s Teremana or ZOA Energy; and maintaining a spotless record in the most – understandably – cynical age of the internet.
He’s a hybrid of the beefed-up heroes of a bygone time – Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Lundgren, Van Damme – and an exceedingly humble celebrity, just as comfortable posting mouth-watering cheat day posts (damn, those banana and coconut pancakes) and sweaty workout snaps as he is laughing at himself posing with a fanny pack, turtleneck and a tissue to lean on.
Even with a net worth of $400 million, a life of fame and fortune we can’t fathom, a face that’s truly ubiquitous, he still manages to connect. Week in, week out, people partake in Teremana toasts, and he says ‘cheers’ right back. Even I’ve bought a bottle of his tequila (a small fortune to get to the UK, I’d add). He never seems to take the love for granted. Sure, he’s running a well-oiled social machine, but it really, really works.
Has anyone else in history ever achieved the level of recognition, agreeability and inoffensive stature as The Rock? Who knows, maybe the Jabroni-beatin’, pie-eatin’, Hell-raisin’, trailblazin’, People’s Champ will be President of the United States after all.
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