Ex-wrestler Page resurrecting fallen icon Jake 'The Snake'
MAY 15, 2013 10:38a ET
“What was my dream again?” he asked himself, time and time again.
It wasn’t his reality, of that Jake “The Snake” Roberts was certain.
Drugs and alcohol ravaged the body that had helped him become a professional wrestling icon in the 1980s and early 90s. His habits were costing him $250 a day.
“It becomes your oxygen man, it becomes your water, it becomes everything,” Roberts, 57, said. “Your drug is your life. My life, my pipe.”
He never planned on becoming an addict. That wasn’t his dream. But there he was, in a house along the highway in his hometown of Gainesville, Texas, staring at pictures of his mother, his children and his grandchildren. He had ballooned to over 300 pounds and was trying to push his way through the fog of his dependency.
“’This is it. If you don’t get it done, you’re going to die,’” Roberts, who retired from wrestling in 2011, remembered saying to himself. “I mean, when you want to die, you can shut yourself down to that point. There’s no doubt in my mind I could do that to myself to die. Give up.”
He paused, tears filling his eyes as he composed himself.
All The Snake wanted was hope, to again feel wanted, to feel like he did as a WWF superstar. He was a larger than life spectacle and the creator of the DDT, known for having his python Damien draped around him.
Hope would find Roberts, and it came in the form of a friend whom he had helped decades before.
The Accountability Crib is nestled in a metro Atlanta neighborhood that’s like hundreds of metro Atlanta neighborhoods. Around it, smaller houses were being razed and replaced with the modern, and on this day, a concrete truck was pouring a nearby driveway.
The front door of the craftsman-style home swung open and a 6-foot-5 hulking figure, clad in a black T-shirt and shorts stood, clutching a glass of water.
“Jake ‘The Snake,’” he said, extending a hand before he closed the door behind him.
Roberts pointed around the corner where at an ornate dining room table sat Diamond Dallas Page, who was finishing off his lunch, an open MacBook Pro in front of him. He was poring over his latest emails, words of thanks and gratitude coming from another satisfied customer. Page pointed to the screen, beaming.
“Every day, this guy is getting stronger and stronger,” Page said. “He’s like, ‘How is that happening?’”
A three-time world champion and WCW and WWE star who retired in ‘09, Page has become something so very different than the pomp and circumstance of the world where he made his name with his finishing move, The Diamond Cutter, and the self-high five. He is now a fitness guru, the man behind DDP Yoga.
Page broke into wrestling at 35. Trained by Roberts, who took him on as a student after Ric Flair turned him down because he was too old, his career didn’t take off until he was 40.
“I was on top of the world and then …,” he smacked his hands together.
In 1998, after signing a multi-million dollar, three-year contract with WCW, Page ruptured his L4 and L5 discs in his back. Three doctors told him his career was over.
“It wasn’t just about the money,” Page said. “It was about getting there and wanting to hold onto that for at least a couple of years.”
During his rehab, he began doing yoga out of necessity and could feel his strength and flexibility return. He would begin mixing the yoga positions with the rehab.
“I added old-school calisthenics: push-ups, squats, crunches with a slow-burn movement and I noticed, by accident, that every time you’re engaging a muscle, your heart’s got to beat faster,” he said. “As you flex that muscle, your heart has to beat faster to get blood to the muscle.”
He would return to the ring in just three months and at 43, he won the WCW heavyweight championship. The genesis of that workout, which Page continued to tweak, continued with the publishing of a book in 2004’s ‘Yoga For Regular Guys: The Best Damn Workout on the Planet!’ and later becoming DDP Yoga.
“What DDP Yoga is, is kick-ass cardio, will dramatically increase your flexibility with minimal impact (and) maximum core-strength conditioning,” said Page, who says he hasn’t picked up a weight in eight years and has shed 25 pounds since his days in the ring. “There’s no other workout like that.”
Page likes to discuss Arthur Boorman, and for good reason. The disabled veteran who was injured as a paratrooper in the Gulf War and weighed 297 pounds, dropped 140 pounds in 10 months doing DDP Yoga. The YouTube video of his transformation has nearly nine million views.
“His (story) is so dramatic, how could it not be like ‘Whoa’ and it makes people cry, it makes people happy, it makes people have hope,” Page said. “That’s, to me, is what this whole workout is about.”
Boorman was Page’s first big viral success story – and Roberts is his next one in the making.
*****This is no rehab center.
Page sees the Accountability Crib, the name he bestowed on the home he moved into last fall, as a place of positive energy and positive attitudes.
“I don’t say ‘You can’t leave here’ and ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that,” Page said. “We have a mutual respect.”
There are others milling around, interns and Linda Leonard, who is described as the “den mother,” taking care of bills and appointments, but only Page, Roberts and fellow wrestler Scott Hall live in the house.
Roberts buzzes around the house, gladly showing off the contents of the refrigerator, the clean, gluten-free fodder that Page makes part of his workout.
“This chicken, it’s air-chilled,” Roberts said, pulling out a small package.
Roberts has become a spokesman for the DDP Yoga way of life, but even getting him to Atlanta was a chore.
Last summer, Page called Roberts, checking in on his old friend and after a few minutes, they hung up. But knowing Roberts wasn’t doing well -- his issues with addiction were first chronicled in the 1999 documentary "Beyond The Mat" -- Page called back and made his pitch.
“I said, listen ‘I’ve got an idea,’” Page said. “If you actually put the work in and show me that you will actually take on this workout and make it a part of your life for just a short period of time -- three days a week -- if you can show some kind of results, dude, I’ve got this idea that’s bigger than big and this is how I can probably help you help yourself.”
Said Roberts: “Basically I agreed just to get him off the phone so I could go get my dope. It was that time of day.”
Page sent his DVDs and an eating program. Roberts adhered to the diet and in a couple of weeks he was below 300 pounds again.
With filmmaker Steve Yu, Page visited Roberts and began chronicling his story. But Roberts’ first workout was a struggle and after five minutes, Page ended the session. An upset Roberts turned angry as Page left the room and began cooking in the kitchen.
“I’m like ‘All right, let’s do it’ and he’s like ‘Do what?’ and I’m like ‘Finish this stinking workout,”’ Roberts said. “I was mad and that’s what I needed. Had it not happened that way, I don’t know if I would have ever done it. I was angry and I had just enough pride to get me through that one workout.”
Page made him an offer: lose 30 pounds and he would move him to Atlanta. Roberts has now lost 50 pounds and counting.
But now he’s not alone in his battle back from addiction since Hall moved in in February.
Page had received a text message from another ex-wrestler, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, saying “Scott sounding not good at all. He’s talking about getting a gun.” Page and Roberts called Hall, 54, in February, video taping the entire thing. After going through detox in Florida, he moved to Georgia and following hip replacement surgery – for which they raised money on Indiegogo; needing $80,000 they generated nearly $100,000 – he is easing his way back into the program.
“If you would have told me that three guys in their 50s could all live together and we’ve never even had an argument, not one, and that’s really amazing,” Page said. “Everyone respects each other’s space and so far, so good, knock on wood. But it’s a different kind of mindset.”
There are cameras throughout the Accountability Crib, a voyeur’s dream with lenses mounted into the ceiling and on bookcases. It’s every bit Page, who Roberts says was always “gimmick guy, he had all the new toys.”
They are filming a documentary, which Page is calling ‘It’s Never Too Late: The Resurrection of Jake The Snake and Scott Hall,’ and he offers this warning: “We’re filming a documentary at all times, so don’t say anything you don’t want on film because it’s all over the place.”
*****Roberts says he’s now seven months sober, but he has lapsed since moving in with Page.
A week after heading to Atlanta, he left for an autograph signing in Providence, R.I. Roberts was there for three days and didn’t have one drink. But after arriving early to the airport for his return flight, Roberts had two hours to kill. He ate some oysters and had two beers, then went to another restaurant, where he had some ribs and more beers, along with something else.
“I got a blackout,” he said. “Four beers, man, a blackout?”
After years of alcohol abuse, Roberts had gone cold turkey and the beers sent his body into shock. A doctor would later tell him he was lucky he didn’t have a seizure.
When Roberts came to, he was walking around Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport with one shoe on. He was approached by Page – the incident was filmed and put on YouTube -- who told Roberts that he had been walking around the airport for 2 ½ hours.
“I came back here that night and I was very upset,” Roberts said. “The first thing I wanted to do was what an alchy or drug addict does when confronted: run, get away, screw this, get out of here.”
But Roberts stayed and he’s now safe-guarding himself from repeating that incident, taking Antabuse, a prescription medication that makes someone violently ill if they consume alcohol – or as Roberts puts it “the alcohol will come back up with a force that’s like you’re ripping up your toenails.”
With a trip to Edmonton, Alberta for an appearance -- which he’ll do solo due to the cost of the plane ticket – coming later in the day, he has already taken two Antabuse.
“The old Jake would have thought ‘Oh, you’re a wussy. You can’t do it? You don’t need that stuff. Come on,’” he said. “I feel like when I take Antabuse, all I’m doing is putting armor on, man to protect me.”
These days, a typical day for Roberts includes rising early, hitting the hot tub before eating his new favorite breakfast, a gluten-free waffle with fruit on the top. A workout will follow and then Roberts will tend to his garden.
“Yeah, that’s right, folks,” he said, heavy on the sarcasm. “Jake 'The Snake’s' a gardener.”
As for wrestling, Roberts laments the way it all ended, coming with little fanfare as he defeated Sinn Bodhi at a Pro Wrestling Guerrilla show. It was a day he called “one of the most ugly days of my life.” He was ashamed of the way he looked, weighing 305 pounds and he struggled to get up off the mat.
So he’s making it clear, he’s not finished. Not yet.
“I’m announcing that right now,” he said. “I’ll be in the Royal Rumble next year, count on it… I worked too hard in this business to go out that way. So I guess we’re going to have to take a victory lap. I’m definitely coming back.”
He knows he’ll savor it more, overcoming what he has, and the new Jake “The Snake,” the one born of exorcising those demons that have haunted him since he first stole his grandfather’s liquor bottles as an 11-year-old, knows exactly how he’ll celebrate.
“I don’t know too many people that don’t like a victory party,” he said. “We got one going on here. Damn straight. Toast it with a water bottle, too.”