Jake “The Snake” Roberts film delivers sad tale with happy ending
Crazy as it may seem, Jake Roberts doesn’t even like snakes.
“I’m no different than anybody else,” said Roberts. “I can’t stand snakes. I’m terrified of them.”
Roberts’ new documentary–The Resurrection of Jake Roberts–is now playing in select theaters across the country. The film includes cameos from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Dustin “Goldust” Runnels, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, and the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, but the central characters to the story are Diamond Dallas Page, Scott Hall, and Roberts.
“We put a lot out there,” explained Roberts. “It’s still hard for me to watch.”
Warning: Trailer contains explicit language
Roberts’ nickname in wrestling was “Jake The Snake,” and the snake represented a critical piece of his persona.
“If I had a twelve or fifteen foot snake next to me, chances are you didn’t want to talk about me,” explained Roberts. “The snake was something to hide behind. My biggest problem was all the shame I carried around with me. But when I had that big snake with me, that’s all people ever wanted to talk about. Everyone was scared of the snake, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want anyone to get close to me. I wanted everyone to be afraid of me.”
The 60-year-old Roberts, who is a WWE Hall of Famer, is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. His work in the ring was mesmerizing, as the 6'6" inch monster–billed from Stone Mountain, Georgia–was naturally gifted in the ring. His profound-but-dark interviews were also a major part of his success, a skill which stemmed from a harsh childhood.
“My wrestling character wasn’t an act,” Roberts explained. “One of the reasons I was so good at doing interviews and coming up with storylines was because I learned to lie quickly. After you’re sexually abused, you learn to lie quickly and constantly be on guard. As ‘Jake the Snake,’ I never wanted you to trust me. If you could trust me, then that meant our relationship was getting good.”
The documentary explores how Roberts and his father–the late Aurelian Smith, who was known in wrestling as Grizzly Smith–shared a strained relationship, something that tormented Roberts. The story of Roberts’ birth is also clouded by darkness.
“My father was basically dating my grandmother,” said Roberts. “She passed out, and he went in the next room and raped a 12-year-old girl.”
Nine months, Aurelian Smith, Jr.–the man known today as Jake Roberts–was born.
“My parents then got married because that’s what you did back then,” said Roberts. “She had two more children fairly quick, and before the age of 17, she was divorced with three kids.”
Roberts’ problems were only beginning. After his parents divorced, his beloved grandmother died of cancer. His stepfather–a man he loved and trusted–was electrocuted and died. In addition to all of this, his step-mother sexually abused him and Roberts’ sister was also kidnapped and murdered.
“My father was raping her, so she constantly looked for a father figure in her life,” said Roberts. “She was pregnant three times before she was 18. Nobody knew what she had been through. I thought she was going to get us kicked out of the house. I didn’t want to have to move back with my father, because his wife used to rape me. But my sister was dying for love from a man.”
At the age of 18, Roberts’ sister married a 55-year-old man.
“A year or so later, they had a kid,” said Roberts. “Then his ex-wife came in and kidnapped her and murdered her. They couldn’t prove murder because they didn’t have a body even though there was enough blood in the back of her car to prove she was dead, so she ended up doing ten years for kidnapping. As soon as she got out of prison, she and her ex-husband took off with all of the money from the life insurance policy.”
Unbeknownst to Roberts, his suffering from childhood caused severe depression. He also rarely ever interacted with his own children.
“I don’t think I knew how to be a father,” said Roberts. “Plus, I learned at a very young age that when you get close to someone, they hurt you, whether that meant raping you or leaving you behind. So I didn’t let no one get close to me. I didn’t fall in love. I knew what happened when you’d fall in love, it would hurt you.”
While “Jake The Snake” was considered a hero by kids around the world, he was a deadbeat to his own eight children.
“I didn’t make myself available to them,” explained Roberts. “I was more of the court jester, and I was afraid that the demon my father had, which was young girls, would somehow manifest itself in me. I didn’t want to take that chance. I would not hold my little girls in my lap because I was afraid of that. I was terrified.”
The solution to all of Roberts’ problems? Booze, pills, and cocaine.
“I did drugs because they numbed me,” said Roberts. “I didn’t have to be me. When you hate yourself as much as I hated myself, you didn’t want to be conscious at all. You want to be f----- up. I once took all the mirrors down in my house because I was just wanted to f------ punch myself.”
Roberts also resented the fans for caring about him.
“Deep inside, I hated the fans because they loved me,” said Roberts. “I used to scream, ‘How the f--- do you love me when you don’t even know me?’ As crazy as that sounds, I didn’t want anyone to love me. Up to about two-and-a-half years ago, I didn’t like myself, regardless of my success. Even at the highest point in my career, I still couldn’t stand myself. And I never thought I was any good. I never accepted myself as a great talent until a couple of years ago.”
Roberts refused to give himself credit, he explained, because the art of wrestling came so easily for him.
“Whatever I did in the ring came naturally to me,” he said. “If I had to think about it, I’d have been out of business. My movements in the ring were all natural. I’d be on the road, in the car with the guys, and they’d be talking about psychology, asking why I did this or why I did that. I’d say, ‘Well f---, because that’s the only way there is to do it.’ I couldn’t explain what I did because to me it was natural. I didn’t have time to think, I was too busy drinking and doing drugs.”
Despite facing some incredible opponents in the ring–including Andre The Giant, the “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Sting, and the Undertaker, Roberts’ biggest obstacle has always been himself.
“My biggest opponent?” asked Roberts. “Well, that was the man in the mirror.”
Roberts life forever changed in 2012 when he moved in with “Diamond” Dallas Page. He began a journey to prove that his history would not define his destiny.
“I told Jake I’d never give up on him,” said Page. “But if he gave up on himself, that would be a whole different animal. As long as he wouldn’t give up, we’d keep working.”
The friendship between the two men dates back even before Roberts started with World Championship in 1992.
“I used to run a night club in Fort Myers, Florida called Norma Jean’s Dance Club,” said Page. “That was the hottest spot from Sarasota to Cuba. I was also a wrestling fan, and I was so pulled in by Jake’s work in the ring and his interviews. I would think of everyone else as wrestlers, but Jake Roberts? That mother----- was real. And then Jake rolled into my club one night, and we became drinking buddies.”
Page was immediately mesmerized by Roberts’ skill and ability.
“When Jake came to WCW, I wanted to be around him all the time,” said Page. “I knew no one had better ring psychology than Jake Roberts. There’s certain guys that are unbelievable talkers and their work was good, but besides Ric Flair and Steve Austin, there weren’t many guys who were the best talkers and the best workers. As great as Hulk Hogan was, he still wasn’t that great a worker. His work was good, but it wasn’t Jake. Jake was on a different planet.
Roberts’ stay in WCW was brief, and he had already departed the company by the time Page tore his rotator cuff by the end of ‘92.
“Jake was the only guy to call me,” said Page. “I was married at the time to Kimberly, and Jake had split up with his old lady, so we stayed with us for three months. He had to leave after he lost a black cobra in our house. But our relationship continued. I used to bring my matches over to him and he would critique them for me. But he wouldn’t answer my questions–he would make me figure it out. Jake said, ‘Listen, I used to have one thousand moves. Then I had a hundred. Now I have five. That’s all I have, but it’s not about moves. It’s about what you do with those moves. You need to make people care and make sure your s---t looks real in the ring.’ And I learned more from sitting on the couch with him than I ever did in the ring.
“Jake would ask me why I did certain moves in the ring. I’d say, ‘That’s what the bookers told me to do.’ Jake asked, ‘Do they believe in you? Do they think you’re ever going to be anybody? They don’t care about you. You control your own destiny in that ring, so go out and own it.’ Years later, that would be the exact same s--- I would say to him.”
Roberts was not keen on making new friends, but the charismatic, hard-working, eternally optimistic Page was an exception.
“I always liked Dallas,” said Roberts. “He always worked so f------ hard to do something. He was a perfectionist, and I appreciated his hard work. He used to watch 20 hours of tapes. It blew my mind away that he would work this hard. He would make me explain it to him. I made the mistake of telling Dallas there is no such thing as a dumb question. I regretted that, believe me, because he asked me the ins-and-outs of everything. He wanted to know everything about it.
“I took the time to help him when he was 35 years old and everyone else said he was too old. Guys used to laugh at him. And that’s the reason we first had a connection. Guys would pull jokes on him and steer him in the wrong direction just to f--- with him. Let’s be straight up, wrestlers aren’t nice guys. Most of them are pricks and they can be brutally mean. Some of the things they’d say in the locker room were sharper than knives, and Dallas heard all of it. I’d been that guy who’d been f----- with and tormented, and I wanted him to prove them wrong.”
“I was in and out of rehab, so I was never in any kind of denial that I had problems,” said Hall. “The 12-step method just wasn’t sticking for me. So the WWE Wellness Program suggested psychological counseling, and that really helped me be more successful, but I either needed to go to rehab or try something different.”
Hall’s addiction intensified to the point where he was so sick that he could not have visitors or phone calls.
“The only contact I had was medical staff and the kid who brought the trays in for food,” said Hall. “I had IV’s in both arms, tubes up my nose, and I don’t feel good. But this kid is a huge wrestling fan, and he wants to talk to me about wrestling. He pulled out his phone and he showed me this before-and-after picture of Jake after working with Dallas. I’d never partied with Jake, I never really knew Jake until I moved in with him. I was always a huge fan of his wrestling, and I’d heard he’d been in some dark places. I knew I’d been in dark places, so it gave me hope that Jake could turn the corner. Maybe, I thought to myself, there is still hope for me.”
Roberts and Hall learned they share a lot in common.
“Dallas can drink like a normal guy,” said Hall. “He can have five or six. I don’t want to have five or six, I want to have twenty. So Dallas couldn’t relate to the mental illness part of it, but Jake could. It’s been a blessing for me to be around guys who know the lifestyle on the road. It wasn’t a hand-down, it was a hand up.”
Just like Roberts, Hall also viewed himself with an extremely negative self-image.
“That’s why I was so attracted to this fake life, this fake persona,” explained Hall. “When I’m in the ring, I’m doing great. As Razor Ramon or the ‘Bad Guy,’ I don’t have a care in the world. But when I come back through the curtain, reality is there waiting.”
Roberts also noticed the similarities between himself and Hall.
“Scott Hall said it best,” added Roberts. “The fans love us more than we love ourselves.”
The pair of legends became an every-day focus for Page.
“Jake is almost two years sober,” said Page. “Now, when you speak with him, you can have a really intelligent conversation with a really smart guy. But there were times when this really beat me up. That first year when Jake was sober, he messed up maybe six times. He went cold turkey from booze, pills, and crack, but he needed to go completely sober.
“Scott fell after the movie. But even when the cameras aren’t rolling, we’re still going. So let’s focus on the story you keep telling yourself. I call it ‘self-talk,’ like you talk to yourself. Nobody can pull you down more than you. No one one can f--- you up more than you. The positive side is nobody can pick you up more than you, but you just need to learn how to do it. So that was my goal with Jake and Scott. Teach them how to help themselves. They’d say, ‘I’m worthless, I’m a piece of s---, I f----- up again,’ and if you keep telling yourself that, then you’re screwed. If you say you can or you say you can’t, you’re right.”
Roberts and Hall both still live within a couple of blocks from Page. Though they have had opportunities to leave, neither is in a hurry to stray from their home base.
“Dallas is obnoxiously positive,” said Hall. “He’s been a good friend to me. Everybody has their thing they get pleasure from. For me, for a long time, it was booze and pills. When people ask, ‘When was the last time you had a drink,’ I ask, ‘What time is it?’ I just want to make it to dinner. Dallas is somebody who genuinely likes helping other people.”
Page and Hall also ran in the same circles during the 80’s.
“I worked in night clubs before I got into wrestling, and so did Dallas,” said Hall. “We’d crossed paths in Florida. I’d been wrestling in Japan and Europe, and having great success, but nothing here in the U.S., where it matters. So after about four years, I thought I’d quit this wrestling dream, find a real job, get married and have kids. So I got married, but I had one commitment left–a seven-month tour of Europe. Now I come back and my wife is seven months pregnant with my son Cody, who’s now 24 wrestling in Japan, and I pitched the ‘Diamond Stud’ character to Dallas. That was the one thing that really bonded Dallas and I.
“I never forgot how Dallas helped me. When I started the NWO was in a position where I had some influence, I was in a position where I could return the favor to Dallas. He was the first guy to touch the NWO. He left me and Kevin laying in the Super Dome in New Orleans on live TV. He was the right guy for the job, but it felt good to help a guy who helped me.”
The documentary details the triumph of the human spirit for Roberts, but Page and Hall also represent a big piece of his journey.
“Scott’s still working at it, and so am I,” said Roberts. “People can say what they want, but it’s not easy getting clean after 30 or 40 years. Scott has his good days and his bad days. A bad day doesn’t mean he uses, it’s just a day that is tough. See, we don’t know how to live sober. My wires are all messed up. Downers, ones that are supposed to relax you, but those get me going. I take four or five Percocets and I’m ready to run a mile. Alcohol is supposed to relax you and put you to sleep, but the more alcohol I drink, the faster I want to run. That’s the sign of an addict.”
Page could not be more proud of his two friends. Hall is about to start as an NXT trainer, while Roberts has his one-man comedy show, a book on the way, and an upcoming wrestling announcement regarding a new promotion out of Las Vegas. Roberts also reconnected with five of his eight children, and he is a proud grandfather of nine grandchildren.
“I don’t have bad days any more,” explained Roberts. “You have to realize what I considered a bad day. When I woke up in the morning, I was depressed. But I’m not tormented like I was. I didn’t know I was suffering from depression, I just thought I needed a drink.
“I deal with everything daily. I don’t let my emotions build up. I have emotions now. I cry, I get happy. For so many years, I would never be happy. I actually made an interview out of that, ‘Just because I’m smiling doesn’t mean I’m happy.’ That’s where I was at, but I am not there any longer.”
Hall, like Roberts, is thankful that he has a reason to live.
“I was in a dark place and all broken up, and I arrived at Dallas’s in a wheelchair,” said Hall. “I thought I’d had a pretty good run and thought it was over. I’d given up hope. But I thank Dallas for reintroducing me to myself, and restoring hope. I have a pretty strong, positive vibe. I feel grateful to be alive, especially when there are so many guys who are gone. I don’t want to sound like a heel, but it’s all about the choices they made. If I could leave anybody with anything, it’s this–if you need help, ask for it. If people offer to help, accept it. Everybody out there knows somebody who suffers from some kind of addiction. There is a lot of stigma to seeking help. I needed to go numerous times to get any kind of results. So I encourage people, if people offer you help, accept it, and if you need help, ask for it.”
Roberts also admitted he is shocked he isn’t buried six feet under.
“I’m absolutely surprised I’m still alive,” said Roberts. “I remember the days I was wishing I would die. I would get up and curse God when someone else died, because I really wanted to do. I wouldn’t commit suicide, because I couldn’t have done that to my mother or my kids.”
Amazingly, Roberts admitted, the best is yet to come for Jake Roberts.
“I’m grateful, I’m happy, I’m at peace. I want to help some people, and I want them to know there is hope. If you’re ever having a problem, find me on Twitter and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction.”