I have to admit something: I liked Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson before it was cool.
When I was a kid, I was a huge wrestling fan and when I wasn’t trying to do The Rock’s signature eyebrow raise in the bathroom mirror, I was hitting my cousin with The People’s Elbow on the living room floor. I even got a high-five from The Rock — then billed as Rocky Maivia — at my first live WWE wrestling show when I was 9.
Since then, Johnson has become one of the biggest celebrities on the planet, starring in a string of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters dating back nearly a decade. You might think you’ve heard everything there is to know about him, but here are some facts you probably never knew about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
1. His Family Is Steeped In Pro Wrestling
You probably know Johnson made his name in the WWE as a pro wrestler in the 1990s and 2000s, but did you know he was literally born into the business? His grandfather, Peter Maivia, was a wrestling star, as was his father, Rocky Johnson. He’s also related to other notable WWE wrestlers, including The Wild Samoans, Yokozuna, Rikishi, Umaga and current WWE Raw Women’s Champion Nia Jax. Below is Johnson’s father.
2. His Grandmother Was A Wrestling Pioneer
Not only were Johnson’s grandfather and father pro wrestling stars, his grandmother, Lia Maivia, was a pioneer in the business. She was one of the first female wrestling promoters ever, running Polynesian Pro Wrestling as a “strong-willed businesswoman,” according to Canada’s Slam! wrestling news.
3. He Moved A Lot As A Kid
Being the son of a pro wrestler can mean a lot of instability. Growing up, Johnson lived in a lot of places. He was born in California before his family moved to New Zealand, where he attended elementary school. They then moved to Connecticut, where he went to elementary and middle school. He then lived in Hawaii as a teenager, before moving to Nashville in high school. His family finally settled in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he finished high school.
4. He Was An Awkward Teenager
In 2016, after being named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, Johnson told the magazine he had acne and a “curly half-Afro” as a teen. He said every day after school he would eat doughnuts and cookies, which apparently led to his breakouts.
5. He Had An Embarrassing Nickname
Before he was called “The Rock,” his football teammates at the University of Miami called him “Dewey” Johnson. Even in interviews today, his teammates still refer to him as Dewey. They apparently first heard the nickname when Johnson’s parents came to visit and his mom called him by that name in front of everyone.
6. He Wanted To Join The FBI
When Johnson was at Miami, he studied criminology and physiology, earning degrees in both. He told Rolling Stone, “I wanted to work for either the FBI or CIA.” When a professor told him he’d likely need a law degree also, he decided it wasn’t for him. Good call!
7. His Large Tattoo Is Full Of Meaning
In 2003, Johnson shocked some people by getting a large tattoo that covers much of his chest and left arm. The tattoo is a partial Pe’a, which is an intricate tattoo males have traditionally gotten in Samoan culture (he’s half-Samoan). Johnson said his tattoo took 60 hours to complete and that it tells the story of his ancestors and his own life. If you’re thinking it looks similar to the tattoo that Johnson’s character, Maui, has in the Disney film “Moana,” you’d be absolutely right!
8. Wrestling Fans Hated Him At First
Can you imagine not liking The Rock? When Johnson debuted in WWE as Rocky Maivia in 1996, he wasn’t exactly a fan favorite. Despite being played as a hero, fans booed him relentlessly and chanted “Rocky sucks” every time he had a match. He later told Oprah Winfrey those negative chants made him transform into the egotistical character, The Rock, which, ironically made him a fan favorite.
9. His First Acting Role Was Playing His Dad
In 1999, Johnson got his first taste of acting outside the ring. He appeared in an episode of “That ’70s Show,” in which he played his real-life father, Rocky Johnson. The episode was appropriately titled, “That Wrestling Show.”
10. Willie Nelson Gave Him His First Guitar
In 2010, Johnson told “The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno that country music legend Willie Nelson gave him a guitar for his birthday and that the pair had been friends since about 2000. He played the guitar and sang several times in the ring during his years with WWE.
11. He’s Scared Of Spiders
In 2007, he faced his fear on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” by handling a tarantula. A couple years later, he told DeGeneres that doing that helped him get over his fear of spiders. She also got him to admit he gets nervous on roller coasters.
12. His Cheat Meals Are Epic
Johnson obviously stays in great shape, but when he does go off his diet, he goes way off it. In a Reddit Ask Me Anything Q&A session, he said his favorite cheat meal is double dough pizza, pancakes and peanut butter brownies with a Diet Coke. Oh, and there was also the time he ate eight slices of French toast and some apple pie while watching “Star Wars.”
13. He’s Made Webster’s Dictionary
When he was wrestling full-time with WWE, one of Johnson’s many catchphrases was telling opponents he was going to “lay the smackdown” on them. After The Rock used the phrase so often, the word “smackdown” became so popular that it made Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2007. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the word “jabroni” to make the book.
14. ‘Jumanji’ Is His Most Popular Movie So Far
For a guy who’s one of the top-earning actors and who’s starred in massive hits like “Moana” and The Fast and the Furious franchise, it might surprise you to know Johnson’s 2017 movie “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is his highest-grossing movie at the American box office (no wonder there’s a “Jumanji” sequel in the works!). Meanwhile, 2015’s “Furious 7” has been his most profitable movie worldwide.
15. His Production Company’s Name Has A Good Story
Since 2016, every movie Johnson has starred in has been produced by Seven Bucks Productions, which is his own company. He got the name from the amount of cash he said was in his wallet when he was cut from the Canadian Football League before he got started in wrestling.
16. He Once Held A World Record For Selfies
In 2015, Johnson set a Guinness World Record for the most selfies taken in a 3-minute span. While at the premiere of his movie “San Andreas,” he snapped 105 selfies in that short span on the red carpet with fans. Unfortunately, the record was eventually topped by Donnie Wahlberg and then again by a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
17. He Saved His Mother’s Life As A Teenager
When Johnson was 15 years old, his family was going through a rough period. Recently, he revealed that after they’d lost their apartment, his mother, Ata Johnson, tried to kill herself. He said she stopped their car on a Nashville highway and tried to walk into oncoming traffic. Johnson grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back.
18. He Modeled His “Moana” Character Off His Grandfather
In 2017, Johnson revealed that his larger-than-life “Moana” character, Maui, was partly inspired by his late grandfather, Peter Maivia. Maivia was a legendary Samoan wrestler in his day and even appeared in the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice.” He died of cancer in 1982 when Johnson was 10 years old.
19. He Was Intimidated While Making “Moana”
Speaking of “Moana,” by the time Johnson signed on to make that Disney film he was already a massive movie star, but he hadn’t done much voice acting or serious singing. To nail his performance of the song “You’re Welcome,” written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, he said he listened to the song’s demo track nonstop for months to be ready to belt it out. In the end, his co-star Auli’i Cravalho said he “nailed it.”
20. He’s An Avid Fisherman
Like many people who’ve spent time living in Florida, Johnson loves to fish. He posts about his hobby on social media from time to time, filling those posts with fishing lingo like “spinnerbaits” and “soft plastics.” In 2017, he revealed that he raises bass in a pond on his farm.
21. He Loves Country Music
His football teammates at Miami have said Johnson used to sing country music on the team bus. He’s said in interviews that his days as a teen in Nashville first got him into country music and that he’s loved it ever since. On Twitter, he’s said he counts Merle Haggard, Johnny Paycheck, George Strait and Jamey Johnson among his favorite artists.
22. His Cousin Is His Stunt Double
Tanoai Reed has been Johnson’s stunt double for more than 15 years. In addition to having a strong resemblance, the two are distant cousins, related to one another through their great-grandfathers. Reed has called Johnson the “realest” and most “down to earth, humble and talented” guy he knows.
23. His First Starring Role Made History
In 2001, Johnson was offered $5.5 million to star in “The Scorpion King.” It would be his first starring role and reportedly set a Guinness World Record for the highest salary ever paid to a first-time top-billed actor.
24. He’s Gifted His Dad Not Just One—But Two—Cars!
Earlier this year, Johnson’s father Rocky Johnson, had hip replacement surgery. When he told his son he’d need a bigger car because of his situation, Dwayne Johnson bought the 73-year-old ex-wrestler a shiny new Cadillac Escalade. The massive vehicle even had a gold bow on it. It was the second time he’d bought his dad a new car, after surprising him with a Ford Explorer in 2016. What a son.
25. He Could’ve Been Willy Wonka
When director Tim Burton made “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in 2005, the director cast Johnny Depp as the wacky candy maker. But, according to “Entertainment Tonight,” Johnson was Burton’s second choice for the role. Seeing The Rock standing next to an Oompa-Loompa would’ve been pretty fantastic.
26. He Had A Serious Feud With Vin Diesel
In his wrestling days, Johnson had plenty of onscreen feuds with people who were actually his friends backstage, but in 2016, he had a real-life feud with his “Fast 8” co-star Vin Diesel. The pair don’t appear in any scenes together in that movie because they refused to be on the set together. Johnson has since said it’s behind them but not before posting an infamous Instagram post where he called Diesel some not-so-friendly names.
27. He Was Arrested Several Times As A Teen
In 2006, Johnson told NPR he’d been arrested “probably eight or nine times” by the time he was 17. He said his offenses were fighting and theft but “that’s just what I got caught for.” Those experiences led him to take the role in the movie “Gridiron Gang,” in which he played a football coach who mentored troubled teens.
28. His Acting Helped Save A Kid’s Life
Jacob O’Connor, a 10-year-old Michigan boy, was able to save his younger brother’s life by using what he saw Johnson’s character do in the movie “San Andreas,” in which he played a search-and-rescue medic. When O’Connor saw his 2-year-old brother fall into their grandmother’s pool, he immediately pulled the boy out and started giving him chest compressions, which he got from The Rock. Johnson has since called the boy a hero.
29. He Starred In A Ride At Universal Studios
When the classic Universal Orlando ride Earthquake: The Big One was redesigned in 2007, its new iteration, called Disaster!, featured Johnson in a prominent role. The attraction made riders extras in an action movie that starred Johnson. This year, Disaster! was replaced by a new ride based on the Fast and the Furious franchise, in which Johnson has played a major role.
30. He Was On “Star Trek” Once
For his second acting role, Johnson appeared in an episode of “Star Trek: Voyager” in 2000. In the episode, he played an alien gladiator (read: wrestler) who fights one of the crew members of the USS Voyager. In the episode, Johnson’s character did some of his own signature WWE moves.
31. He’s A Canadian Citizen
By now, you’ve likely realized Johnson is truly a man of the world. But did you know he’s a Canadian citizen? He became one in 2009 in honor of his father’s heritage. Rocky Johnson was born in Nova Scotia.