Twelve years after Johnson's inauspicious big-screen debut in 2001's The Mummy
Returns — and after a decade of "singles and doubles," as he puts it he is poised to
go from a dependable player to MVP, if two mammoth upcoming releases deliver. First
is MGM/Paramount's sword-and-sandals epic Hercules, due out July 25. Then there's
the 2015 Warner Bros. earthquake disaster flick San Andreas, which Johnson is shooting
in Australia at a salary of about $12 million, the type of number that makes even other A-listers
blink.All this comes after Johnson reached a turning point in 2011, when, dissatisfied with
everything he was making (Tooth Fairy, anyone?), he switched agents (from CAA to WME)
and publicists, convinced he could do better. "It was incredibly difficult because you develop
a friendship over the years," he says. "But it just dawned on me: Change has to happen."
Since then, his star has soared with movies (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Journey 2, Fast Five,
Fast & Furious 6 plus 7) combined grosses well into the billions of dollars.
This is a huge turnaround from someone who endured massive upheaval as a child;
got into frequent trouble with the law as a teenager; was kicked out of his home at 14;
and faced the end of everything he had dreamed about when he was dumped as a
professional football player, sending him into a crippling tailspin of despair. "I didn't
want to do a thing," he recalls. "I didn't want to go anywhere. I was crying constantly.
Eventually you reach a point where you are all cried out."
Johnson was 14 when he came home and found an eviction notice pinned to the door.
He was living in Hawaii with his mother, Ata, while his father, Rocky, a professional
wrestler, was scraping a living going from one wrestling circuit to another. (An only child,
Johnson is the son of a Samoan mom and an African-American dad.) "We were living in
an efficiency that cost $120 a week," he recalls. "We come home, and there's a padlock
on the door and an eviction notice. My mom starts bawling. She just started crying and
breaking down. 'Where are we going to live? What are we going to do?' "
Johnson was devastated. He almost chokes up describing that time and his sense of
hopelessness. Just a week earlier, he'd witnessed his mother in tears when her car was
repossessed; he had added to her burden by getting into fights and joining a theft ring that
preyed on the most affluent stores in Waikiki, which often landed him in the hands of the police.
As his mother scrambled for the work that would land them a new home, he resolved never
to go through this again. "That was the tipping point," he says. "It was about, 'What can I
control with these two hands?' The only thing I could do was train and build my body. The
successful men I knew were men who built their bodies." At 18, he won a full football
scholarship to the University of Miami and was ecstatic when he was the only freshman
chosen to play, a rarity in college football. He was in love with the game and even dabbled
in steroids, thinking that might help, though only for a while, as he didn't see the desired
effect. "I tried them when I was 18, me and my football buddies. Nothing happened," he says.
Then, in his freshman year, he sustained the first of several serious injuries: "My shoulder
popped out of its socket and was just hanging there." It sent him plummeting into his first
of three depressions. "I didn't know what it was," he says. "I didn't know why I didn't want to
do anything. I had never experienced anything like that." He dropped out of school without
even taking his midterms and went to stay with his parents in Tampa. For weeks, he remained
there, his shoulder in a sling, lethargic and unable to break out of his despair, until his coach called.
"He says, 'Get your ass in a car and come back right now,' " remembers Johnson. "He was
so embarrassed and pissed. He did what he was told and restored his standing at the school,
still clinging to the dream of playing in the NFL. But more injuries affected his game, and when
the draft came, he wasn't picked. In 1995, he was signed by the Canadian Football League's
Calgary Stampeders at a yearly salary of $35,000, nothing like the six figures he had imagined
that would have allowed him to make down payments on a home for his mom. Then things got
worse: Within months, he was relegated to the practice team, which paid a mere $250 a week.
He was nearly broke, forced to share a two-bedroom apartment with three other players, eating
ramen noodles and spaghetti and sleeping on a filthy mattress he had found ditched outside
a pay-by-the-hour sex motel. Finally, his coach told him he was being cut. " Experiencing a
second depression even worse than the first, he returned to Miami, where the stress led him
to split with his ex-wife. With no car, he called his father asking for a ride, and as they took the
4 HR drive from Miami to Tampa, Johnson says: "I looked in my pocket, and I had seven bucks.
Wow. Seven bucks to my name."
Abandoning football, he followed his father and grandfather into wrestling, taking the moniker
"Rocky Maivia" from his dad's first name and his granddad's last. His father reluctantly agreed
to train him, afraid Dwayne was embarking on the same hardscrabble life that had cost him so
much pain. After a few false starts when fans rejected Johnson's nice-guy image as fake and
booed him with the chant, "Rocky sucks!," he reinvented himself as a bad guy. Rocky became
The Rock. He went on to become one of the most successful wrestlers in history, with 17
championship reigns. "I loved it," he says. "I loved the showmanship, and I loved the theatricality.
It was so entertaining and over-the-top, and I was always mesmerized by these guys."
The Rock made millions for himself and the WWE, working closely with its chairman, Vince
McMahon, to whom he still turns for counsel. He became one of the few modern wrestlers to
cross over into mainstream pop culture because, he says, he dared to add a dash of comedy
to his bad-guy turn. WWE capitalized on that with massive merchandising (Garcia says together
they still are creating six or seven new products a month) and even animated shows like Slam
City that feature The Rock as a character.