Rocky “Soul Man” Johnson, an African-American trailblazer in the wrestling industry and father to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, died on January 15. The WWE Hall of Famer, whose real name was Wayde Bowles, was 75.
Known as “The Soul Man,” Johnson began his career in the 1960s with the National Wrestling Alliance before signing with Vince McMahon’s World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1983. His death was announced on the WWE’s website.
He and fellow WWE Hall of Famer Tony Atlas would go on to become the first Black world tag team champions in the WWE later that year by defeating the Wild Samoans. The Rock inducted his father into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
He retired from in-ring action in 1991 and for many years helped train his son, who would go on to become one of the most successful WWE stars of all time. It was Johnson who introduced The Rock to the weight room, a place where the Hollywood juggernaut now spends a significant amount of time.
“Other dads took their kids to the playground,” Johnson once told Muscle & Fitness. “Mine took me to the gym, and the gyms he took me to were very hardcore. Weight rooms? Really? But it was important bonding time for us, and it was there that I learned at a very young age that there’s no substitute for hard work.”
The Rock always kept his father close to him. His original ring name was Rocky Maivia—a combination of his father’s name and his maternal grandfather’s name, High Chief Peter Maivia.
As of this writing, The Rock has not yet commented on his father’s death. But he’s posted about him often on his Instagram page. On Father’s Day 2018, he posted a throwback picture of himself and “The original Rock” and spoke of the tough love his old man used to dish out.
“Years later as a man and father of three girls, I know that tough love, is a helluva lot better than no love at all,” he wrote. “I’ll take it. It’s made me who I am today.”
Happy Father’s Day to this hardly ever smiling OG bad ass. Little boys by nature, look up to and idolize their old man. They want to be just like em, do whatever they do and are always looking for their approval. Funny thing is the day I stopped looking for that approval was the day I understood what it meant to be man and more importantly, a father. That shift lifted me to a new level of gratitude for the tough love he always gave. Years later as a man and father of three girls, I know that tough love, is a helluva lot better than no love at all. I’ll take it. It’s made me who I am today. Grateful to the original Rock. #HappyFathersDay #KingStache #RockyJohnson