Rocky “Soulman” Johnson, a WWE Hall of Fame wrestler who became better known as the father of actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has died. He was 75.
WWE issued a statement on Johnson’s death Wednesday night. Johnson and Tony Atlas became the first black world tag team champions in WWE history when they defeated The Wild Samoans on Dec. 10, 1983.
“A loss for every fan of @WWE, Rocky Johnson was a barrier-breaking performer. Our thoughts are with his family at this time,” WWE executive and wrestler Paul “Triple H” Levesque tweeted.
Rocky Johnson spent the bulk of his wrestling career in the National Wrestling Alliance and made appearances in the 1970s in Portland with Pacific Northwest Wrestling, a regional affiliate of the National Wrestling Alliance.
Johnson later helped train his son, who adopted the Rocky moniker from his father. Johnson came to his son’s aid after a match at WrestleMania in 1997. The Rock inducted his father into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008.
After investing in Portland-based ice cream chain Salt & Straw, Dwayne Johnson tweeted last month: “I lived in Vancouver, WA when my old man wrestled for Portland based wrestling promoter Don Owens.”
Former professional wrestler Brian Blair, another 1980s WWE star, was friends with Johnson for decades and they still went to church together in the Tampa, Florida area.
Blair told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Johnson had complained of an unspecified illness of late and had missed church that he attended with Blair and other former wrestlers. Blair said Johnson’s wife, Sheila, was distraught over her husband’s death.
“He was just under the weather, he thought he had the flu or something,” Blair said by phone. “I said, ‘You, need to get checked out, Rocky.’ He said he’d be OK. Then he missed this Sunday, a few days ago. When I talked to him again, he said he still wasn’t feeling good and he still missed church. He still didn’t get checked out. I talked to Sheila and she said he was just being stubborn. He died at home, today.”
Johnson was born Wayde Douglas Bowles and started his wrestling career in the mid-1960s.
After his stint with the National Wrestling Alliance, Rocky Johnson joined the then-World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s. He formed a tag team with Atlas known as “Soul Patrol” and became of one the popular teams of the era. Johnson retired in the early 1990s, but helped introduce his son to officials at WWE.