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DWAYNE JOHNSON —How The Rock Transformed from Pro Wrestler to Bankable Movie Star by Kaya Morgan

Nicknamed "The People's Champ", the Rock is one of those rare souls that transcend the boundaries of age, culture and taste as a top-shelf athlete and entertainer. Not that long ago, he had only $7 to his name. Today, he has not only become one of the most bankable World Wrestling Federation superstars in the world but has become a cultural phenomenon in his own right. How did this 6'5", 270 lb., body-slamming, ruggedly handsome member of the testosterone club with the signature raised eyebrow, who can captivate a crowd of 40,000 screaming fans, so quickly rise to the top?

Born in Hayward, California, in 1972, of a Samoan mother and Afro-Canadian father, Dwayne Johnson grew up in the small town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He had the good fortune of being born into a family of wrestlers his father, the great "Soulman" Rocky Johnson, pro wrestling's first African-American champ, and grandfather, the late High Chief Peter Maivia, a Samoan grappler known for his long hair and tattoos of Samoa over much of his body. The two men instilled a true passion for the sport into the young Johnson as they funneled the feisty teen's spurts of independence into a positive direction of healthy work ethics while teaching him the underlying methods behind wrestling.

His attendance at Freedom High School was Johnson's first opportunity to excel as an athlete, where at age 14 he became involved in track, later rising to become a star of the local football team. By his senior year, he was considered one of the top 10 defensive tackles in the country. Not surprisingly, he was awarded a full five-year scholarship to the University of Miami as a defensive lineman for the Miami Hurricanes with an eye on a NFL career. But this soon-to-be superstar wasn't just your normal jock. Due to a knee injury during his senior year, life took quite a different turn from what he had originally planned. Unable to play, and with genuine a concern about his future, he found the inner-strength to improve his academic performance and graduate with a degree in criminology and physiology.

Passed over by the NFL, Johnson was picked up by the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League based in Alberta who soon relegated him to the practice squad. Then life gave him a swift kick when what appeared to be a way to stay in the game turned out to be the most miserable choice of his life. Living on just a few hundred dollars a week, he found himself forced to take up residence with four other roommates in a shoddy apartment that even a rat would run from. They literally plucked from the dumpster soiled mattresses for their beds, discarded by the cheap motels in the area.

Determined to succeed, Johnson stuck it out until at age 23, and with only $7 in his pocket, he was cut from the team. Now at rock bottom and forced to rely on his family for support, he headed home, humbled to have to start over. But this may have been a blessing in disguise. Ready for a change, he begged his father to teach him everything he knew, and after much debate, Rocky Johnson reluctantly agreed. He was a hard taskmaster, and showed his son no mercy on the mat. He began working the carny circuit and even barns for $35 a night. Then joining the WWF in 1996 under the name of Flex Kavana, within just six months, he won the prestigious Intercontinental Belt the second most prestigious belt in the world, and the Slammy Award for "The Best Newcomer of the Squared Circle" quite the honor for Johnson. A year later, he joined The Nation of Domination, eventually taking over its leadership and renaming himself, "The Rock." He soon became part of a band of elite wrestlers known as "The Corporation," and his popularity began to skyrocket to levels never before seen in the sport.

The Rock has given his fans some of the greatest matches in wrestling history, laid claim to the WWF Heavyweight title six times, and the WWF Tag Team championships five times. But clearly, he transcends wrestling. He has outsold Frank McCourt and the Dalai Lama as a best selling author with "The Rock Says," filled with the many Rock-ism phrases he coined so well. He has twice triumphed on Saturday Night Live garnering the show's best ratings in years, now pulling in $10 million to star in box office hits like The Mummy , The Mummy Returns, The Scorpion King, and The Rundown , and was named by GQ as "Action Hero of the Year."

Quite soft spoken in real life, Johnson has a wicked sense of humor and remains humble by refusing to take himself too seriously. In his leisure hours, he enjoys singing old Sam Cooke songs, watching Johnny Bavo cartoons, playing video games, and spending time with his college sweetheart and wife, Dany Garcia, a financial consultant, and their young daughter, Simone.

Contrary to popular belief, all wrestlers are not dumb brutes. The Rock is the best example of a new breed of wrestlers to make it to the top using their brains as opposed to their brawn. Given a few more years, the Rock could easily use his charisma, natural talent and spectacular image to propel him into the next generation of big action heros. Move over, Arnold make way for the Rock!

To find more about Dwayne Johnson, go to

More stories by journalist, Kaya Morgan, can be found by clicking the link. Contact us for reprint rights as most articles are available.

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