Rocky Johnson

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Rocky Johnson
Johnson, c. 1983
Birth nameWayde Douglas Bowles
Born(1944-08-24)August 24, 1944
Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada
DiedJanuary 15, 2020(2020-01-15) (aged 75)
Lutz, Florida, U.S.
  • Una Sparks
    (m. 1966; div. 1978)
  • Ata Maivia
    (m. 1978; div. 2003)
Children8, including Dwayne
FamilyAnoaʻi (by marriage)
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Sweet Ebony Diamond[1]
Drew Glasteau[1]
Rocky Johnson[1]
Billed height6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)[2]
Billed weight243 lb (110 kg)[2]
Billed fromToronto, Ontario, Canada[3]
Washington, D.C., United States
Trained byPeter Maivia[3]
Rocky Bollie[1]
Kurt Von Steiger[1]

Rocky Johnson (born Wayde Douglas Bowles (August 24, 1944 – January 15, 2020) was a Canadian professional wrestler.[1] Among many National Wrestling Alliance titles, he was the first Black Georgia Heavyweight Champion as well as the NWA Television Champion (2 times). He won the World Tag Team Championship in 1983, along with his partner Tony Atlas, to become the first black champions in WWE history.[4] He was the father of actor and current WWE wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and the grandfather of Simone Johnson (Ava Raine).[5]

Early life[edit]

Johnson was born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Amherst, Nova Scotia, where he was raised, the fourth of five sons of Lillian (née Gay; 1919–1996) and James Henry Bowles (1888–1957).[6][7][8] A Black Nova Scotian, he was descended from Black Loyalists who immigrated to Nova Scotia after escaping from a plantation in the United States after the American Revolutionary War.[7] The Loyalist lineage traces back to Dembo Sickles, son of a chief in present-day Benin who was captured by slavehunters in 1762, brought to the United States, and later brought to Prince Edward Island in 1785 and bought his freedom in 1803, his granddaughter Maria Sickles migrated to Nova Scotia later in the same century.[9][10]

At the age of 16, Johnson moved to Toronto, where he began wrestling and worked as a truck driver.[11] Initially, he trained to be a boxer and eventually sparred with greats such as Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, but was always fascinated by wrestling.[6]

Professional wrestling career[edit]

National Wrestling Alliance (1964–1982)[edit]

Johnson began his career as a professional wrestler in 1964 in Southern Ontario; soon after his debut, he legally changed his name to his moniker.[1][3][12] He chose the name Rocky Johnson as a tribute to two of his favorite boxing greats: Rocky Marciano and Jack Johnson, the latter being the first black heavyweight boxing champion.[13] In the late 1960s to mid 1970s, he was a major star in California. In Los Angeles he took on Freddie Blassie, The Destroyer and John Tolos.

He was a top contender in the National Wrestling Alliance in the 1970s, receiving title matches against then-World Champions Terry Funk and Harley Race.[3] He was well-suited for tag team wrestling, winning several regional tag team championships in the NWA. Johnson wrestled off and on in the Memphis promotion, often feuding with Jerry Lawler, winning Lawler's crown at one point. He also wrestled under a mask as "Sweet Ebony Diamond" in the Mid-Atlantic area.[14]

Johnson applies an armlock to Terry Funk

World Wrestling Federation (1982–1985)[edit]

In 1982, Johnson feuded with Don Muraco, Greg Valentine, Mike Sharpe, Buddy Rose, and Adrian Adonis. He was then paired with Tony Atlas as a tag team.[3] They defeated the Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika) for the Tag Team Championship on the December 10, 1983 episode of Championship Wrestling (taped November 15).[5] They were the first black men to hold a WWF championship.[3] Together, they were billed as "The Soul Patrol".[15]

Later career (1985–1991)[edit]

After leaving WWF in June 1985, Johnson went to Central States, Tennessee, Hawaii, Portland, Puerto Rico and the independent circuit. In Hawaii, he teamed with his brother Ricky Johnson.


After retiring in 1991, Johnson, along with Pat Patterson, trained his son Dwayne to wrestle. While he initially resisted his son's entry into what he knew to be an extremely difficult business, Johnson agreed to train him on the condition that he would not go easy on him. Johnson was instrumental in getting Dwayne (later dubbed "Rocky Maivia" after both Rocky Johnson's and Peter Maivia's ring names) signed to a WWF developmental deal.[16] Initially, Johnson had an on-camera presence at his son's matches, and jumped into the ring on his behalf after he was attacked by The Sultan and The Iron Sheik at WrestleMania 13. Johnson was not seen on-camera again after the Rocky Maivia character flopped, and soon Dwayne achieved crossover popularity as a cocky heel, The Rock.

In early 2003, Johnson was hired as a trainer for the WWE developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, but was let go in May.[17][18] He made a return to the ring, and defeated Mabel in a boxing match at Memphis Wrestling on November 29, 2003. On February 25, 2008, Johnson was announced as an inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame along with his father-in-law, "High Chief" Peter Maivia. Both Johnson and his father-in-law were inducted into the Hall of Fame on March 29, 2008, by his son, The Rock.[19]

On December 20, 2019, Johnson joined the board of directors of the International Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Johnson recounted in his autobiography Soulman that he met his first wife, Una Sparks, at a dance while he was training to become a boxer. Una was from Cherry Brook, Nova Scotia and a devout Jehovah's Witness.[21] They had two children, Curtis and Wanda, whom he thanked at his 2008 WWE Hall of Fame induction. While married to Una, he became romantically involved with Ata Fitisemanu Maivia, daughter of wrestling legend "High Chief" Peter Maivia.[3] Ata met Rocky after Maivia and Johnson were tag team partners in a match on the independent circuit. Their son Dwayne was born May 2, 1972.

Johnson stated that, in order to provide for his two families, he adopted a frugal lifestyle on the road; he subsisted on beer, sliced cheese, and bologna, and was not a "partier".[22] He did not reveal if Una knew about Ata and Dwayne, but stated that she gave him an ultimatum to quit wrestling, or they would have to separate as Jehovah's Witnesses "didn't believe in blood sport".[23] He stated that he and Una parted amicably and remained good friends. He obtained a divorce in Texas, then filed for a marriage license in Florida on December 21, 1978, to marry Ata. By marrying her, he became a member of the famous Samoan Anoaʻi family. They divorced in 2003.[22][24]

In 2019, Johnson co-wrote an autobiography alongside Scott Teal, Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story, released October 15 of that year. The book was recalled by the publisher shortly after release, due to payment disputes between Johnson and the co-author.[25]

In 2022, Sports Illustrated published an article stating that Johnson had five other known children, in separate relationships, confirmed via genealogical DNA testing in the 2010s which connected them to Rocky's brother Ricky: Paula Parsons (b. 1964 in Lucasville, Nova Scotia), Trevor Edwards (b. 1967 in Montreal), Lisa Purves (b. 1968 in Vancouver), Adrian Bowles (b. 1970 to in Truro, Nova Scotia) and Aaron Fowler (b. 1970 in Amherst, Nova Scotia).[26]

Legal issues[edit]

In 1987, Johnson was arrested and charged for rape of a 19-year-old Tennessee woman.[27] He claimed he was "set up" by rival wrestlers.[27] The charges had him blacklisted from wrestling, leading him to alcoholism and a strained relationship with his son until several years later when he became sober.[27]

In 2000, while working at the Pine Island Community Center in Davie, Florida, Johnson was investigated for several cases of misconduct, including unwanted groping of female coworkers.[28] He later faced charges of battery and theft after he allegedly took home a piece of athletic equipment, as well as allegedly inappropriately grabbing a female coworker.[29] The Broward State Attorney's Office, while noting there was "sufficient evidence" that Johnson had groped his coworker, declined to prosecute because the woman feared the publicity it would bring her.[29][30]


On January 15, 2020, at the age of 75, Johnson died of a pulmonary embolism at the home his son bought for him in Lutz, Florida; the embolism was caused by a blood clot that traveled from a deep vein thrombosis in his leg.[31][32][33][34] B. Brian Blair told the Associated Press that Johnson "thought he had the flu or something" but refused to see a doctor.[35] Dwayne Johnson paid tribute, stating, "I'm in pain. You lived a very full, very hard, barrier breaking life and left it all in the ring. I love you dad and I'll always be your proud and grateful son."[36][37] Hulk Hogan tweeted condolences, describing Rocky as "a great man, great friend" and "one of only a few that was kind and helpful when I first broke in".[38]

In popular culture[edit]

In his first television acting job, his son Dwayne, known at the time by his ring name The Rock, portrayed his father in a season 1 (1999) episode of That '70s Show titled "That Wrestling Show".[39]

He is portrayed by Joseph Lee Anderson in the show Young Rock, based on his son's life.[40] The series, which was green-lit for production by NBC four days before Johnson's death, dedicated the pilot episode in Johnson's memory.

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

Johnson as NWA Texas Heavyweight Champion


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Rocky Johnson Profile". Online World of Wrestling. Retrieved 2008-04-28.
  2. ^ a b Shields, Brian; Sullivan, Kevin (2009). WWE Encyclopedia. DK. p. 258. ISBN 978-0-7566-4190-0.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Rocky Johnson: Hall of Fame". World Entertainment. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  4. ^ "Superstars". WWE.
  5. ^ a b Foley, Mick. Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks (p.36)
  6. ^ a b "Rocky Johnson returns home". SLAM! Sports. 2005-07-16. Archived from the original on 2012-07-17. Retrieved 2010-09-03. Growing up, Mr. Johnson was known as Wayde Bowles{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  7. ^ a b Solomon, Brian (2006). WWE Legends. Simon and Schuster. p. 146. ISBN 0-7434-9033-9. He was born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Amherst, Nova Scotia, in 1944, the fourth of five sons born to James Henry Bowles and Lillian Bowles. His family members were descended from slaves who had escaped the plantations of the American South
  8. ^ "Where the Soul of Man Never Dies". The Ringer. January 20, 2020. Retrieved January 25, 2020.
  9. ^ Cole, Darrell (Feb 3, 2022). "From slavery to celebrity, drawing a line from Africa to Hollywood - through Amherst, N.S." SaltWire. SaltWire Network.
  10. ^ Tattrie, Jon (Feb 18, 2022). "'How am I related to The Rock?' Nova Scotia boy's question sparks museum exhibit". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  11. ^ ""Soulman" Rocky Johnson". Gary Will's Wrestling History. Archived from the original on 10 January 2008. Retrieved 28 January 2023.
  12. ^ Levenson, Michael. "Rocky Johnson, Pro Wrestler Who Trained His Son the Rock, Dies at 75". The New York Times. January 15, 2020.
  13. ^ Staff (19 August 2019). "Book Review: Soulman – The Rocky Johnson Story". POST Wrestling. Retrieved 6 December 2019. The book wraps up with Johnson's time in Mid-Atlantic territory working under a mask as Sweet Ebony Diamond…
  14. ^ Jimmy Geurts (17 June 2019). "Mick Foley, Rocky Johnson to visit Sarasota wrestling charity event". Sarasota Herald Tribune. Retrieved 6 December 2019. Johnson joined the WWE in 1983, where he and Tony Atlas formed The Soul Patrol and became the first black tag team to win the World Tag Team Championship.
  15. ^ "Rocky Johnson, father of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson dies at 75". Whatwire. 16 January 2020. Archived from the original on 19 February 2022. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  16. ^ "Rocky Johnson: The unknown WWE trainer". August 20, 2003.
  17. ^ "Rocky Johnson - OWW". Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  18. ^ "Rocky Johnson: A Career Overview".
  19. ^ "Rocky Johnson Joins IPWHF Board of Directors". Archived from the original on 6 August 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2022.
  20. ^ "Chapter 5: Job Men" Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story by Rocky Johnson with Scott Teal; ECW Press (2019). Via Google Books. Retrieved January 15, 2020
  21. ^ a b "Chapter 27: Bubba Von Dougas" Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story by Rocky Johnson with Scott Teal; ECW Press (2019). Via Google Books Retrieved January 16, 2020
  22. ^ "Chapter 10: White Women" Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story by Rocky Johnson with Scott Teal; ECW Press (2019). Via Google Books Retrieved January 15, 2020
  23. ^ Oliver, Greg (2003-08-20). "Rocky Johnson: The unknown WWE trainer". Slam! Sports. Archived from the original on 2015-12-23. Retrieved 2010-08-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  24. ^ "The controversy over Rocky Johnson's now-pulled autobiography". 18 January 2020. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  25. ^ Oliver, Greg. "How Five Strangers Figured Out Rocky Johnson Was Their Dad—and The Rock Is Their Half Brother". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2022-07-01.
  26. ^ a b c Lambert, Molly (April 25, 2013). "Started From the Bottom, Now He's the Rock … and Other Inspirational Tales From This Week's Tabloids".
  27. ^ Greto, John W. (14 October 2000). "Ex-Wrestler at Center of Furor Over Sex Allegations".
  28. ^ a b Allman, John W.; Greto, Victor (17 March 2001). "Ex-Wrestler Won't Face Prosecution".
  29. ^ Greto, John W. (27 March 2001). "Ex-Worker Won't Face Criminal Prosecution".
  30. ^ "Rocky Johnson's Cause Of Death Revealed". Heel By Nature. 19 January 2020. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  31. ^ "Rocky Johnson, father of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson dies at 75". 16 January 2020. Archived from the original on 5 February 2022. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  32. ^ "The Rock’s dad, who was also a professional wrestler, has died; Rocky Johnson was 75" by Brett Clarkson Sun-Sentinel Retrieved January 15, 2020
  33. ^ "Rocky 'Soulman' Johnson, The Rock's Dad and WWE Superstar, Dead at 75". TMZ. January 15, 2020.
  34. ^ "Rocky Johnson, WWE Hall of Famer and father of 'The Rock,' dies at 75 (January 15, 2020) ESPN retrieved February 19, 2020
  35. ^ Burch, Sean (17 January 2020). "Dwayne Johnson Posts Loving Tribute to Late Father and WWE Star Rocky Johnson: 'I'm in Pain'". Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  36. ^ "Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson Posts Emotional Goodbye To Dad After Death, 'I'm In Pain'". TMZ. 17 January 2020.
  37. ^ Casey, Connor (2020-01-16). "Hulk Hogan Remembers Rocky Johnson Following His Death". Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  38. ^ "That '70s Show: Dwayne Johnson's Cameo As His Father Explained". ScreenRant. January 23, 2020.
  39. ^ "Young Rock Cast Guide: What Every Real Wrestler Looks Like". ScreenRant. February 17, 2021.
  40. ^ "NWA World Tag Team Title (Detroit)".
  41. ^ Hoops, Brian (January 18, 2019). "Pro wrestling history (01/18): Ivan Koloff defeats Bruno Sammartino for WWWF title". Wrestling Observer Figure Four Online. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  42. ^ "NWA Florida Brass Knuckles Title".
  43. ^ "Florida Heavyweight Title".
  44. ^ "Florida Tag Team Title".
  45. ^ "NWA Florida Television Title".
  46. ^ Duncan, Royal; Will, Gary (2006) [2000.]. "(Memphis, Nashville) Tennessee: Southern Tag Team Title [Roy Welsch & Nick Gulas, Jerry Jarrett from 1977]". Wrestling title histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Waterloo, Ontario: Archeus Communications. pp. 185–189. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  47. ^ "Southern Tag Team Title". Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  48. ^ "NWA Georgia Heavyweight Title".
  49. ^ "NWA Georgia Tag Team Title".
  50. ^ "Macon Tag Team Title (Georgia)".
  51. ^ "ICWA". Retrieved July 19, 2022.
  52. ^ "WCW World Television Championship history". Archived from the original on 2008-04-12.
  53. ^ "NWA Canadian Tag Team Title (British Columbia)".
  54. ^ Royal Duncan & Gary Will (2006). "(Texas) Dallas: NWA Texas Brass Knuckles Title". Wrestling Title Histories (4th ed.). Archeus Communications. p. 271. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  55. ^ "Texas Brass Knucks Title [East Texas]". Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
  56. ^ Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal (2000). "Texas: NWA Texas Heavyweight Title [Von Erich]". Wrestling Title Histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Pennsylvania: Archeus Communications. pp. 268–269. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  57. ^ "NWA Texas Heavyweight Title". Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  58. ^ Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal (2000). "Texas: NWA Texas Tag Team Title [Von Erich]". Wrestling Title Histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Pennsylvania: Archeus Communications. pp. 275–276. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  59. ^ "NWA Texas Tag Team Title [E. Texas]". Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  60. ^ "NWA Americas Heavyweight Title".
  61. ^ Hoops, Brian (January 16, 2019). "Pro wrestling history (01/16): Arn Anderson & Bobby Eaton win WCW Tag Team Titles". Wrestling Observer Figure Four Online. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  62. ^ "NWA Americas Tag Team Title".
  63. ^ "Beat the Champ Television Title (Los Angeles)".
  64. ^ "CWA International Tag Team Title (Memphis)".
  65. ^ "NWA (Mid-America)/AWA Southern Heavyweight Title".
  66. ^ "AWA/NWA United States Heavyweight Title (San Francisco)".
  67. ^ "World Tag Team Title (San Francisco 1960s - 1970s)".
  68. ^ "NWA Polynesian Pacific Tag Team Title (Hawaii)".
  69. ^ "NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Title".
  70. ^ "NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Title".
  71. ^ "Rocky Johnson: Awards". Retrieved July 19, 2022.
  72. ^ "Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Top 500 Wrestlers of the PWI Years". Wrestling Information Archive. Archived from the original on 2007-08-22. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
  73. ^ "Rocky Johnson's and Tony Atlas' first World Tag Team Championship reign". Archived from the original on 16 February 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mick Foley (2001). Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. HarperCollins. p. 768. ISBN 0-06-103101-1.

External links[edit]