Few people have had as rock-solid of a career in so many realms as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. In the wrestling world, he was dubbed “The Great One” and “The People’s Champion” and in the film world, his movies have brought in at least $10 billion worldwide.
On top of that, his 2000 autobiography The Rock Says… was No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list and his Project Rock sneaker with Under Armour sold out in less than 24 hours. All of this has helped him top Forbes’ list of highest-paid actors two years in a row, with an estimate of $87.5 million in 2020.
It’s no wonder the 6-foot-4, 277 pound Johnson himself says he’s had a “wildly Forrest Gump-ian life.” Here are 10 facts you may not know about the guy who has been called the “Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment”:
His nickname as a kid was ‘Dewey’
Before he was branded with the tough guy persona and fittingly strong wrestling name of “The Rock,” Johnson had a very different kind nickname growing up. When he was about six months old, he was with his godparents and his mom asked if his diaper was wet. His godmother responded, “No. He’s just a little dewy,” he recalled at the Television Critics Association virtual conference in 2021.
While he was too young to know better at the time, the moniker stuck. “For years, when my parents would come around in front of my girlfriends or friends or anyone, [they’d say], ‘Hey, Dewey!’ automatically,” he added. “It’s not like that’s a powerful name. Automatically, people were like, ‘Oh, God.’”
He wanted to become a CIA agent
Johnson had his eyes on becoming a real-life crime-buster, hoping to work for the Central Intelligence Agency — but a legal hurdle got in the way. “My criminal justice professor and advisor (Dr. Paul Cromwell) convinced me that the best operative I could become for the agency is one that also had a law degree,” Johnson posted on Instagram in 2018.
That gave him a reality check. “I thought that’s a great idea, until I realized no respectable law school would ever let me in with my pile of steaming s**t grades,” he wrote. “End of story.” But he did graduate from the University of Miami with a bachelor of general studies in criminology and physiology.
He was on track to become a pro football player
After a high school teacher encouraged him to try playing football, he found that he had a knack on the field, quickly excelling and earning a full scholarship to the top football college, University of Miami. The coach told him that he had a good shot at making it to the NFL, GQ reported.
“So in my head, that was it. I’ve got my ticket,” he told the magazine. “I get goosebumps now just thinking about it. I’ll make it, make money, my parents can move out of their apartment. This is it.” But things didn’t quite go that way. After suffering injuries, he says, “I struggled and I got depressed.” He played for the Calgary Stampeders but was cut from the team two months later.
Dwayne Johnson of the University of Miami Hurricanes runs upfield to make the stop at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, 1992
Photo: Miami/Collegiate Images via Getty Images
At his low point, he only had $7 in his wallet
After being cut from the football team in 1995, he landed in Miami and called his dad in Tampa to pick him up. While they were on Interstate-75, Johnson wondered how much he had to his name. “Pulled out my wallet, and yeah, I had a five, a one, and some change. I remember thinking… All I have is seven bucks. At that time I wanted so much more,” he told Esquire.
He compared himself to Warren Sapp who had beat him out of his position in Miami a few years prior and was freshly drafted for a million dollars. “It was like the success I wanted so badly and worked so hard for years was happening all around me to everyone else but me,” he said. “And I’ll never forget that. The term ‘seven bucks’ has a lot of meaning.” He later called his production company Seven Bucks Production.
Both his dad and grandfather were wrestlers
Johnson became the first third-generation wrestler in the WWE, a legacy that started with his grandfather, American Samoa-born “High Chief” Peter Maivia, in the 1960s. His dad, Nova Scotia-born Rocky Johnson, known as “Soul Man,” then learned from Maivia before marrying his daughter.
When Rocky retired in 1991, he started training his son — and when the younger Johnson made his WWE debut in 1996, his dad would sometimes be seen “leaping into the ring and defending his son when he looked to be in trouble,” The New York Times wrote. Johnson dedicated his Hollywood Critics Association’s Trailblazer Award in 2021 to his father, saying, “As complicated as our relationship was… he was a real trailblazer because what trailblazers do is they change people’s behavior. And that’s what he did. And he did everything he could to send people home happy.”
He made a 10- to 12-year plan to become the top guy in Hollywood
In a blink, it seemed like Johnson was suddenly on top of both the wrestling and movie industries, but in actuality, it was part of a long calculated plan. “I started to quietly retire from professional wrestling when I was 29,” he said in an Instagram video in 2020. “I had the most incredible run as a pro wrestler.” Every night he was out there wrestling, his goal was to entertain — not necessarily to win — so it made perfect sense, but he didn’t want to just be a flash in the pan.
“I wanted to have a real long-lasting career that had weight, that had value,” he explained. So he studied the craft, working with acting coaches, and set out a 10- to 12-year plan. “I wanted to be the number one man in the world of Hollywood in terms of box office draw.”
He was well aware wrestling success didn’t mean anything on screen. “I was really nervous,” he said, making his first major role in The Scorpion King in 2002. Along the way, he had to make bold choices and get rid of people that weren’t on the same page. “I made the tough decisions and the most important of all, was deciding I was done trying to be someone I’m not to conform to Hollywood. Instead, I decided to be my own man and Hollywood would eventually conform to me.”
The tattoo on his back, chest and left arm took 60 hours
In 2003, Johnson took a trip to Hawaii to get his family heritage inked on his body by a Tahitian tattoo artist Po’oini Yrondi, Before getting started, Johnson and Yrondi chatted for hours and said a prayer.
The tattoo itself took 60 hours — divided into three 20 hour sessions — and the elaborate design represents “all the things that are important to me, that I love and that I’m passionate about,” he said. Among the symbolism are coconut leaves representing a Samoan chief-warrior, the sun for good fortune, two eyes of ancestors looking over him and a tortoise shell to fend off evil spirits. Also part of the design is a symbol showing three people in one, to show the bond between him, his then-wife and daughter. (He now has two more daughters.)
He held a Guinness World Record for taking selfies
Talk about multitasking! While at the London premiere of his film San Andreas in 2015, Johnson managed to accomplish another feat — setting the Guinness World Record title for most selfies taken in three minutes, which he did with 105 fans.
Officials were on hand to make sure that every shot included the full face and neck of the subjects and were in focus (a few were disqualified). But in the end, he earned the title and posted on Instagram. “World premiere of San Andreas and rewriting the record books all in one night. #MicDropBoom #NewSelfieKing.” (The record was later broken in 2016 by Donnie Wahlberg and again in 2018 by a man named James Smith.)
Tim Burton considered him for the role of Willy Wonka
Before Johnny Depp donned the iconic top hat to play Willy Wonka in the 2005 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, director Tim Burton considered Johnson. “I remember thinking, ‘Holy s**t, I’m in,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “But that was many years ago when I was just starting out in Hollywood with no foundation of global box office strength or any real acting experience to even pull it off.”
He added that Depp was “the biggest star in the world” at the time so “the fact that Tim even considered me (albeit I’m sure he considered for all of seven seconds) sure meant a helluva lot to me as I was just breaking into the business with no idea what the future had in store.” He shared that memory in the summer of 2020 while introducing his kids to the original 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory film. “They loved it and now fully expect me to deliver a room full of chocolate and candy,” he said.
As of the sliding doors moment, he added: “I’ll always raise a glass to the dreams that don’t come true because sometimes they’re the best thing that never happened.”
He’s considered running for president
Having checked off so many fields, could Johnson eventually move into the world of politics? Maybe. It’s no accident that every episode of Young Rock starts and ends with Johnson playing himself being interviewed by a journalist, played by Randall Park, as he’s running for president in 2032. In fact, back in 2017, he said, “I would consider a presidential run in the future if that’s what the people wanted. Truly I mean that, and I’m not flippant in any way with my answer.”
That wasn’t the only time he expressed that pull to the White House. “I can’t deny that the thought of being governor, the thought of being president, is alluring,” he told GQ in 2016. “And beyond that, it would be an opportunity to make a real impact on people’s lives on a global scale. But there are a lot of other things I want to do first.”