Jake “The Snake” Roberts walked around an Atlanta yard on a recent Saturday afternoon enjoying simplicity.
Texas A&M was on its way to upsetting No. 1 Alabama, so the Gainesville, Texas native was getting his way on TV. But the former WWE Superstar was enjoying his own little unexpected victory. He figures he had walked a couple of miles that day -- just living life -- when months earlier a 50-foot walk would have been an exhausting task due to COPD and he would’ve needed help getting up if he went to the floor to even try and exercise.
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“I didn’t drink today, and I worked out,” Roberts, 57, said. “And I did kind things. And now I’m outside cleaning a big brush pile off and fixin’ to burn it while I’m smoking four chickens and a brisket. And I told the house, you better be ready to eat this because if you don’t I’ll kill ya, I’m so proud of what I’ve done. You better eat it and have a smile on your face and you better eat a bunch. I’ll be worse than a damn woman when it comes to that.”
“The house” includes former WCW World Heavyweight Champion Diamond Dallas Page, and if Roberts’ comment about dinner makes the pair sound like an old married couple, you’re not that far off. Life mates tend to make each other better, even as they frustrate the living daylights out of each other on a regular basis. Page still remembers being a 35-year-old wrestling manager who dreamed of making his own way in the ring despite the snickers of others.
Roberts ignored the naysayers and trained Page.
Two decades later, Page, 56, is returning the favor, trying to get Roberts back in shape for one more run in the ring, chronicling the process for a documentary, “The Resurrection of Jake the Snake.”
Many have given up on Roberts, whose exploits in the ring have been overshadowed by years of substance abuse issues and impaired wrestling appearances that made the TMZ rounds. But four months ago Page called the then- 300-plus-pound Roberts and talked about Roberts using Page’s workout system, DDPYOGA, to get back into shape.
In a recent Newsday story, Page said if Roberts showed progress he would bring him to a house in Atlanta to continue the process. Roberts moved into the home on Oct. 29 and is currently down about 40 pounds.
“Damn I’m thankful,” Roberts said. “And it’s changing the way you look at things because you’re walking differently, you’re eating differently, you’re able to do things you hadn’t been able to do in 20 years. I mean, it feels good, man, to be able to move, you know, like a man, instead of like an old man. I mean, it sucks getting old, but if you do the right things and take care of your body you’ll last a hell of a lot longer. I mean, if you buy a new car and don’t change the oil the sun of a [gun] is going to break down soon. But, we’re changing the oil, we’re changing the headlights, we’re changing the damn tires, everything. And it’s going to be a long journey. But I’m excited.”
That excitement was tempered a week after moving in, when Roberts left the home for an appearance in Rhode Island.
“I was flying back home to Atlanta,” Roberts explained. “I was up in Rhode Island and I had a person with me up there and I was a good boy. But on the flight, when I got to the airport, I ate some oysters and I had two beers. And then I went to Friday’s and had some ribs and had another beer. And after that, to be brutally honest, I don’t remember a freakin’ thing. Because when you’re an alcoholic you get to the point where you have blackouts. I know some people that have had blackouts and missed four or five days of a life. And obviously, my body getting clean and trying to stop all this [garbage], it’s just those four beers, maybe -- I don’t know, I was on an airplane and I know they won’t let you have 10 damn drinks or anything like that. But I know I had some, and obviously it caused my brain to kick off and put me in blackout.”
Up until that point, it was agreed that Roberts could drink a maximum of four beers. But after this incident -- Page and filmmaker Steve Yu have already released Page and Roberts’ tumultuous meeting at the Atlanta airport on YouTube -- Roberts started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings near the home. He also says he’s going to take antabuse, a medication that will make him violently ill if he has any alcohol. He had already agreed to undergo drug testing before going to the Atlanta home.
If Roberts fails in Atlanta, he says the WWE will pay for him to go to rehab, an opportunity he has taken advantage of before. But he says that’s a last resort.
“Dallas doesn’t have to do it this way,” Roberts said. “But as a friend, he wants to change my whole lifestyle. That’s the reason he’s calling it the resurrection of Jake. Because if you go to rehab, brother, you’re going to jail, basically. Yeah, you’re not going to do drugs in there because it’s not available, and you’re stuck in that unit, blah, blah, blah. And they talk to you, and they try to find out what your problem is. Well, my damn problem is I’m a 57-year-old, broken down old man who has no future, and I don’t know where to go with my mind.
“And now I’ve got somebody who’s saying, ‘Let’s try this,’” Roberts said. “And he’s got me to where I can get up and down off the floor. I’ve lost 40 pounds. OK, so what happens when all those things start coming up, it’s like, hey, I’m getting victories here, man. It feels good to win. Hey, I can look in the mirror and say, “You know what, dude, you are changing physically and mentally.’”
The process is multifaceted. When Roberts moved in Page had him trash T-shirts he brought with “Wasted Youth” and other negative messages. Before the daily workouts can even start, Roberts gets in a hot tub to limber up before undergoing what he called on that day a “workout from hell.”
“He’s trying to get all my body parts moving,” Roberts explained of Page. “We’re trying to break up a lot of scar tissue, especially in my feet.”
How far had a man who once moved so smoothly in the ring regressed? Even regular walking became challenging after a 1989 surgery in which part of his big left toe was amputated. The result was a longer second toe that made the foot easier to catch in carpet, resulting in further fractures. Roberts rattles off his litany of past and current ailments (compound arm fracture, knee replacement, shoulder woes) like a grocery list.
Roberts admits he abhors a lot of the icing he has to undergo along with the heat to deal with inflammation.
“A lot of it is just making my parts work again,” Roberts said. “A lot of it is very painful, a lot of it is, well, in my mind, freakin’ [BS], hurts like hell. I’m like, ‘Is there a better, cheaper, easier way?’ Of course not. Where the magic wand, man?... But that’s not the way it is. You have to work at it.”
Roberts has worked to straighten out his life before, most famously in a real-life religious conversion that was incorporated into his WWE story line when he returned in 1996.
“I think that my faith, obviously the bottom fell out of it,” Roberts said. “It wasn’t God failing, it was me not doing the right things. And it was not a good thing doing that thing with WWE. Because the devil’s a funny bastard, man. When you start doing good things he will come after your [butt]. You know, he will set you up because he knows exactly what will tear you down and get you going in the wrong direction. And that’s what happened, I was not strong enough to go out there and do that. When the limelight came on me and when that pressure came on me I was not able to handle it. I did not have the right support system around me, I did not do the right damn thing. OK. And a lot of that failure then made me want to give up. You know, then me and my wife split up. Everything I worked for was gone. I mean, uh, I understand divorce court is tough, but Jesus, man, do you have to take everything but my freakin’ toothbrush?”
Roberts still embraces his Christianity. But if this physical/emotional rehabilitation goes well, don’t expect him to hit the church/religious TV channel lecture circuit like he did in the past.
“My relationship with God has gotten better and stronger for the simple fact that I understand it a lot better,” Roberts said. “You know, to me God’s my best friend. I’m not really into religion, OK. I saw a lot of things I did not like when I got into organized religion. I think a lot of people abuse it, I think a lot of people use it, I think a lot of people make it what they want. And me, my faith and my relationship with God is very personal. And it’s not anybody’s damn business how we talk. Because for a long time I should have called myself GAT -- God’s amusement toy. Because I would do something stupid, and to me I felt like I was a top on a table. And that top would spin, and I would get close to the edge and God would reach out there and push me back to the middle. He didn’t let me come off the edge, but boy I got real close. And I know that God’s got something out there for me to do.”
Roberts gushes when talking about his enjoyment and aptitude refinishing furniture and guns. He says Page has agreed to put a wood shop on the property so he can engage in something that gives him fulfillment. Page knows Roberts is a talented person, waxing poetic about being in Singapore -- he believes in the summer of 1992 -- watching Roberts and Bob Orton Jr. go 48 minutes and leave the crowd in awe despite taking a grand total of about six bumps.
How does someone who has talent feel talentless? Roberts said it’s pretty easy.
“As good as I was at wrestling, I never thought I was any good,” Roberts said. “That comes from the way you grow up. I just wanted my father [former wrestling star Grizzly Smith, who died in 2010] to be proud of me. That was not something he could do. Toward the end he finally said it. But all my life he wouldn’t say it. He would tell other people he was proud of me, but he wouldn’t tell me. And I guess in his mind his reasoning was, ‘This is what keeps him going.’ But man, I just wanted to be patted on the back. But Jake the Snake was something I created because I didn’t want anybody to know just how weak I was inside, how I felt about myself.”
Roberts, who last wrestled in January 2011, wants back in the ring to he can close that chapter the right way.
“It may just be one freakin’ match, man. I just know that I want desperately -- and my life does not depend on this, remember that -- to get myself back in the physical shape to where I can go out there and stand tall and perform at a level I feel acceptable in what I used to do,” Roberts said. “I will never be able to go out and perform at the level I was when I was 25 years old... But it does not stop me from wanting to go out there and be in shape instead of some fat 310-pound guy that blew up coming to the ring because I’ve got COPD. Well, a lot of my COPD comes from the fact that I was 310 pounds. Hey, I don’t care what you weigh, throw 50 or 60 pounds on your back and walk around the block and tell me how you feel.
“You’re [freakin’] dying. OK. [Now] I ain’t having to do that,” Roberts said. “I mean, three months ago walking 50 feet was like [makes huffing sounds]... Now I just come out here and walk around and here and there. And I’m just cleaning up this big brush pile, walking back and forth, back and forth -- and I’m digging it. Why am I digging it? Because it’s something I haven’t been able to do for a long freakin’ time.”