By Joshua Maloni
For years, Jake "The Snake" Roberts was a villain inside the squared circle.
But outside the ring is where he truly was a bad guy.
It wasn't by choice. A horrific childhood and years of working at a breakneck pace had taken its toil on the man who famously feuded with Randy "Macho Man" Savage, "Ravishing" Rick Rude and Andre the Giant.
It was in the second decade of this century that, drinking, taking drugs, overweight and slumping around the ring, Roberts found himself all alone with his inner turmoil - not to mention the physical pain of more than four decades of slamming his body around for sport. A newer, softer image hadn't worked, and rehab hadn't helped.
It was then that former WCW champion "Diamond" Dallas Page, a man Roberts helped usher into the sports entertainment business, took a chance and invited Roberts into his home. He taught the fallen wrestler "DDP Yoga," which, Page promised, would help Roberts lose weight and regain mobility.
More than that, though, DDP held Roberts accountable. As the two friends fought to reclaim Roberts' life, a film crew chronicled the daily struggles. "The Resurrection of Jake the Snake" records Roberts' path back to wholeness.
Today, four years sober (and counting) Roberts has earned a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame - and he's connecting with his fans like never before.
In fact, a funny thing has happened along the way: The man whom parents begged children to stay clear of, whose malevolent whispers sent chills down viewers' spines and whose snake, Damien, struck fear in the hearts of opponents, has become a good guy in real life.
Roberts is one of a handful of wrestlers who will sign autographs and take pictures with fans at this weekend's Niagara Falls Comic Con. He will appear Friday through Sunday at Scotiabank Convention Centre, 6815 Stanley Ave., Niagara Falls, Canada.
Tickets and more information can be found online at http://niagarafallscomiccon.com. Other wrestlers scheduled to appear include "HBK" Shawn Michaels, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and "The Total Package" Lex Luger.
Jake "The Snake" recently chatted with NFP about his journey, his fans - and winning the title of "Favorite Grandpa."
JM: What do you enjoy the most about these conventions and the opportunity to meet fans?
Jake Roberts: Well, you know, things have changed drastically for me in the last four years. I got sober; I got clean. ... There was a lot of things that were missing. To have all the opportunities I've had to travel the world - you've got to remember that, when you're working for Vince McMahon, you're working seven days a week. You didn't have time at all. You're just going city to city and performing. But I traveled so many places and didn't really get a chance to look at anything.
Now that I'm doing these conventions ... I'm getting to smell the roses, so to speak, and getting a chance to go back around and go look at the falls, seriously, instead of just driving by or flying over them.
The fans are a huge part of it for me. For so long, I was in such a dark place that I didn't really enjoy anything. So, to go out and see these fans and talk to them. ... The embarrassing part for me is they'll talk to me about a match, and I'll be thinking to myself, "I never wrestled that guy." And they'll pull a picture out, and there I am in the ring with somebody. "Well, holy crap, I did wrestle that guy!" As the memory goes with the head injuries I've had, there's a little problem there. But still.
You know, you wrestle for 40 years, there's just so many opportunities ... that are missed. And, again, just doing these conventions, man, I get to rub shoulders with them; get to talk to them; get to meet them.
It's so hard to let go of something like wrestling for me. When I'm around these fans, I get to get caught up in it again. I get to enjoy it again. I get to enjoy what I've accomplished - which I never appreciated. So, these conventions are huge for me.
JM: I know, personally, having watched you when I grew up, there are a hundred things I could ask you about. When you go to these conventions and you meet with fans, what is the thing they want to talk with you about these days?
Jake Roberts: Well, the first thing they say is, "Where's the snake?" I'm like, "Christ, you know, it's not here, OK? Give me a break." (Laughs) Because I don't like the damn things anyway. I never did. That's another funny thing to talk about.
You know, these days, with the movie and stuff that I did following my path to sobriety ... they basically just want to talk about the present - you know, what I'm doing right now. They want to be a part of it. That feels so good that they still want to connect with me. So, I'm happy to tell them what I'm doing.
A lot of them ask me if I've got a book on the way and, yes, I do. In a few months it will be out. It's completed, but I'm doing it all myself. So, it takes a little time to get these things done.
JM: You mentioned the movie. From everything I've read, it seems like you're doing great. How are you feeling? How are things going for you these days?
Jake Roberts: Well, right now I am down. I just buried my mother. ... That is an empty spot. I really feel lost, like, "Wait a minute, I can't pick up the phone and call her." It still feels weird. It is a hole that has to be filled.
I am so grateful that I was able to get sober and clean before she left, because I know she worried about me constantly, and hated the fact that I was going through what I went through. But she was always there for me, man. If I reached out, she was always there, you know?
So, to have cleaned up, and gotten right, I know she was happy with me with that. And she was comfortable.
But to go through this process, and not drink, is so huge for me. Because, normally, boy, I would've been on a binge and a half for something like this comes along. I've not had one moment that I wanted to go drink or go do drugs or anything. I'm really grateful that I came through this thing. ...
All I can do is just a day-by-day process and keep living the dream, man, and that's sobriety.
JM: I'm sorry to hear about your mom, but I know people are going to be proud to hear how you're approaching this.
Jake Roberts: Oh yeah, man. I like to go to these cons, too, because if there's somebody out there struggling or having a hard time, come talk to me about it, man. I'll take time out to come talk to you. Because it is very serious, and it's hard. And I want to help as many people as I can. And that's what the movie's about. It's about helping people; about showing how "Diamond" Dallas Page sacrificed and took chances and put his life out there to really get screwed up by a couple of drunks and addicts, you know, myself and Scott Hall.
And, you know, we all need to think about that. We all know somebody that's struggling, and most of the time we just, you know, we turn our head or we don't answer the phone when they call. Or we kind of avoid them. "It's such a pain."
You know, I get it, man. You know ... an addict or an alcoholic, all they do is bring pain. It's never a good thing, this thing they're involved in, because that's not what their life's about. The movie's about helping other people, man, and, you know, the transformation that I made.
I look at that film now, man, I'm like, "Oh, my god, I can't believe I looked like that. That's not me." It disgusts me that I let myself go that far. But that's what happens when you're an addict. I never met an addict in jail or in rehab that came up to me and said, "You know what, Jake, when I was a little kid growing up, I thought I wanted to be an alcoholic." Nobody did, but it's just something that happens along the way.
JM: You mentioned what DDP did for you. Are you still in touch? Is he still part of your life?
Jake Roberts: Oh yeah. Constantly, man. Three or four times a week. I still do the DDP Yoga. Probably not as often as I should, but I'm really busy these days. I've got quite a load on me. I'm going to be coming to Canada to do a tour at the end of May and June. It's about a 30-day tour. So, that's pretty busy.
Jake "The Snake" Roberts
JM: So, Jake, here's what I'm wondering: You mentioned a minute ago that you never were a fan of the snake. How did the idea for the snake come about?
Jake Roberts: Well, it was my idea. And, to be brutally honest, I was drinking beer and smoking pot driving down the highway. And they were talking about "Monday Night Football." And it was on the radio. Those long road trips, you have a lot to think about. And they were talking about Kenny ("Snake") Stabler, who played for the Saints and played for Oakland for so many years. And I just started thinking, "Man, it'd be so cool if there was a wrestler who had a snake, and smoked some pot and he kind of went outside the lines."
So, I started thinking more and more about it, and we were talking about it in the car as we drove down the road. ... "Yeah, man, he could, like, have his snake. He could put his helmet on. He'd be so cool."
And then I started thinking about the name. And there was a TV show at the time called "Dallas." It was really hot, and the top guy's name was JR. Jake Roberts.
That kind of went into work, because I wasn't Jake Roberts at the time. So, I just kind of changed everything over.
I had tried to get the snake involved years before, but it was kind of brutally pushed aside, and I took a lot of grief over that with Bill Watts, who was a promoter at the time.
It felt good to make him wrong, because obviously when the snake did come out it did make quite an impact on wrestling. It's what really shot me up the ranks, so to speak, and put me out there at the forefront, because it was so entertaining.
I think kids liked the snake thing, because mom and dad were freaked out over it. ... They have a good time with that.
JM: What did they do with the snake when you guys were on tour? Who was in charge of keeping track of it?
Jake Roberts: I was.
JM: You were? No kidding.
Jake Roberts: Yeah, I carried it from city to city, man. From airplane to airplane, lugging a hundred-pound snake along with my luggage; it really sucked. (Laughs)
Jake Roberts: I had to take it to the hotel room. Put it in the bathroom. And go into the bathroom at 4 o'clock in the morning, trying to use the restroom, and there's a snake wrapped around the toilet coming at you. Oh, it was a real treat, man. (Laughs)
JM: It sounds like it. ... Here's the next thing I'm curious about. The DDT. One of the best finishing moves of all time. Whose idea was it for you to do the DDT?
Jake Roberts: I invented it, so it was mine.
JM: You invented it? How did that happen?
Jake Roberts: Yeah, it was an accident. I was in the ring wrestling. I had a front facelock on a guy. He stepped on my feet and we fell backwards. He went on his head. I went on my back. And the fans went "OOOOHH." I went, "Wait a minute; I've got something here." And I started working on it, and come with it, and named it after the poison that everybody outlawed. I picked up the paper one day, and the front page was "DDP outlawed." I was like, "Wait a minute. Very cool." They had ... "DDP poison to the brain." I said, "Way cool."
JM: People loved you, even though you were a villain a lot of the time. What did it mean for you to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame?
Jake Roberts: It's something that I didn't think was ever going happen, because of some of the things I've done outside the ring. And for the McMahon family and WWE Nation to forgive me for those things, and to look past them, and to induct me, was an awesome, awesome moment.
And to have some of my children there was great, because I was building those relationships again. Trying to get our family back together. It's something I continue to work on, and it's going really well. The kids and I have a great time. We're constantly with each other or around each other; we're talking to each other. So, that's a great thing, too, man.
My life is just so blessed in the last four years since I got sober.
JM: You didn't win a title in the WWF/WWE, but in a great article I read, I understand you have the title of "Favorite Grandpa." I'm imagining that's probably better than any belt?
Jake Roberts: Hell yeah, man. Hell yeah, man. It's fun as hell. My grandkids, thanks to WWE, they break it on the (24-hour network) and dial me up and watch my old stuff.
I'm getting a whole new fanbase through that, and I certainly appreciate that, because it makes it much easier at these cons when you have young kids come up. I haven't been on television in 15 years, and yet I'm still one of the guys that everybody wants to talk to and see.
I'm so grateful - so happy. And I can't wait to see what happens the next day. That's the way I live my life.
Keep up with Jake "The Snake" Roberts on Twitter @JakeSnakeDDT.
Watch a preview of "The Resurrection of Jake the Snake Roberts":