Standing at a huge 6’5” and weighing some 260 pounds, Dwayne Johnson cut a formidable figure during his WWE days. But even before he became a wrestler, the man otherwise known as “The Rock” managed to unnerve people. You see, when the sports star-turned-actor was in high school, he looked considerably older than his years – so much so, in fact, that his classmates apparently believed he was actually an undercover cop.
And you can’t exactly blame Johnson’s peers for that misapprehension. After all, the teenager not only sported quite the mustache back then, but he also arrived at a new school at almost exactly the same time that a hot new Fox show named 21 Jump Street launched on TV. That drama centered on a group of young cops who pose as teens to catch criminals.
Thanks to that coincidence, then, Johnson should perhaps have been in line for a leading role in the 2012 Hollywood big-screen version of 21 Jump Street instead of Channing Tatum. Yet such a part may have only stirred up memories that he’d rather forget. Indeed, Johnson freely admits that he looked distinctly like a “man child” in his youth. As he proudly noted on Instagram, though, he certainly kicked puberty’s butt – for better or worse.
And in the decades since, Johnson certainly seems to have had the last laugh. As well as raking in a fortune and settling down with a wife and two kids, he’s admired – not to mention lusted after – by millions. Here’s a look at how Johnson has used his imposing frame to his advantage – even though it may once have been something of a curse.
Born in the Californian city of Hayward in 1972, Johnson was apparently something of a delinquent in his youth. Yes, that’s right: you may be surprised to learn that, by his late teens, the now distinctly family-friendly star had been arrested on several occasions for stealing, check fraud and violent behavior. Thankfully, though, his love of sport helped him to turn his life around.
Indeed, Johnson’s life seemed to change when he began playing college football at the University of Miami. The future action hero – who was generally a defensive tackle – in fact helped his team to triumph in the 1991 national championship. Johnson showed such promise as a player, moreover, that he would later sign with the Calgary Stampeders. But after the Canadian Football League team ultimately let him go, he switched his attention to wrestling.
And Johnson’s path to fame and fortune began when he signed a deal with the WWE – at that time known as the WWF – in 1996. What’s more, this move officially made him the company’s first ever third-generation star. Johnson’s father Rocky had previously been a professional wrestler, as had his late grandfather Peter Maivia, who had enjoyed a small stint with the franchise.
But, of course, Johnson didn’t go by his own name in the ring. Instead, he became a fan favorite as the cocksure trash-talker The Rock. In 1998, then, The Rock picked up his first WWF Championship title, and he would go on to become a pivotal figure in a growth period for the franchise that was known as the “Attitude Era.”
And by the time he called quits on his wrestling career in 2004, Johnson had cemented a reputation as one of the true greats, with an astonishing ten world championships, a Royal Rumble victory and a Triple Crown all under his belt. His headline appearance at WrestleMania XXVIII, meanwhile, was part of the sport’s most-watched pay-per-view broadcast event in history.
And Johnson soon conquered Hollywood in the same manner that he had overpowered the wrestling world. He made an instant impression, in fact, with his first leading movie role in 2002’s The Scorpion King before enjoying further box-office success with the likes of Hercules, Moana and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Of course, he also now goes under his real name.
But Johnson is perhaps best known on the big screen for playing Luke Hobbs in the hugely successful The Fast and the Furious franchise. The star joined the series for its fifth installment and proved to be so popular that he was cast in his own spin-off, Hobbs & Shaw – also starring Jason Statham. Since 2012 Johnson has also been head of his own production company.
Plus, even years after his sporting career ended, Johnson’s muscular frame continues to impress and intimidate many who come into contact with him. Brad Peyton, who directed the star in Rampage, told Rolling Stone that he was in total awe upon his first meeting with Johnson. Peyton revealed, “I was like, ‘Oh, my God. This guy is frighteningly large.’ I was s**tting myself; he looked so intimidating. It took me, like, 15 minutes to get over it.”
But Johnson shows no signs of slowing down when it comes to his fitness – even as he approaches his 50s. In fact, in 2018 the star boasted in an Instagram post that he was in the “best shape of his life.” The actor also discussed his workout routine in a 2018 interview with Bodybuilding.com – and some may find it exhausting just reading about it.
Apparently, Johnson starts his day at 4:30 a.m. with a cardio session of at least half an hour. He also visits the gym at least five times a week and takes care to work different muscle groups while there. Then, on top of that, he does some basic weightlifting. Thanks to such a grueling regime, then, you can see how he’s in such great shape.
Speaking about his approach, Johnson told Bodybuilding.com, “My workout is constantly changing and adapting. But for the most part, I do four sets of 12 reps with a 60-to-90-second rest. I don’t play around in the gym. I always aim to be the hardest worker, and I make sure I clang and I bang to the best of my ability.”
Of course, there’s more to Johnson’s appeal than his muscles. In fact, arguably one of the reasons why he’s become such a popular Hollywood figure is the fact that he isn’t afraid to laugh at himself. Yes, the action hero has had no qualms about balancing his tough guy image with various self-deprecating photos from his younger days.
In 2014, for example, Johnson opened himself up to ridicule with a throwback photo taken in the 1990s. As well as a questionable haircut, the star sported a black turtleneck jumper, a chain, a leather fanny pack and the kind of high-waisted jeans that would embarrass even Simon Cowell. Thankfully, though, he was at least able to see the funny side of the cringeworthy snap.
Johnson captioned that picture, “Fanny pack and lean take it to a whole other level… #90sRock #WTF #BuffLesbian.” And, unsurprisingly, the image took on a life of its own on social media. A whole host of fans recreated Johnson’s look in various tribute photos – including one by none other than fellow Hollywood star Seth Rogen.
Admirably, Johnson has embraced all the madness surrounding his throwback photo. Indeed, he once shared several images online of fans who had spent their Halloweens cosplaying his unique ’90s ensemble. And in a 2016 interview on The Graham Norton Show, he seemed perfectly happy to discuss his turtleneck and fanny pack combo.
Incredibly, Johnson then recreated the look himself while hosting Saturday Night Live in 2017. And following that appearance, he posted both the original and tribute images to Instagram, where he also reflected on how far he had come. He began, “When I took this iconic absurdity of a picture in 1996, I was one year removed from sleeping on a used mattress I took from a garbage dumpster in the back of an hourly sex motel.”
Johnson continued, “21 years later, I’m taking the same photo backstage hosting #SaturdayNightLive for the fifth time. If you’re going through your own tough times, ‘used mattress’ stage, do your best to have faith things’ll get better. And always be willing to outwork your competition, because you never know where life is gonna take you.”
Plus, for anyone thinking of copying his ’90s style, Johnson offered some important advice. “Always remember to place a soft tissue under your left elbow [so] as to protect the fabric of the cheap-ass, swag turtleneck that had you out here looking like a bad-ass buff lesbian. Oh, and tuck the thumb in the fanny pack. Always tuck the thumb.”
But this wasn’t the last time that Johnson would poke fun at his younger self. In 2015, you see, he uploaded a picture that showed exactly what The Rock had been cooking when he was just 16 years old. And if you hadn’t known any better, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Johnson had mistakenly posted a picture of his father.
Indeed, thanks to his mustache, his suit and tie and his serious stare, Johnson plausibly looked twice his age in the black-and-white photo. Yet the star admitted that he wasn’t exactly a picture of respectability at the time. He began the photo’s caption by saying, “By the time I was 16 years old, I had already enrolled in four high schools across the country due to being evicted and [a] lil’ trouble with the law.”
Yet Johnson went on to tell his followers that his mature look made his classmates believe that he may be anything but a miscreant. “I was 6’4”, 225 pounds, rockin’ a dead caterpillar on my lip (aka the porn ’stache), and all the kids in every high school thought I was an undercover cop ’cause I looked like a mutated, yet handsome SOB of a man child.”
Johnson continued, “Plus, in Nashville, I was already hangin’ out in honky tonk dive bars on Music Row and hustlin’ cars from crackheads. Yup: one of the many reasons why I’m a grateful man for the life I have today and also grateful I straight up kicked puberty’s ass early in life.”
In fact, far from feeling embarrassed about his middle-aged look as a teen, Johnson seems entirely proud of it. And the actor has regularly recalled the story about his classmates’ suspicions over the years. In 2017, for example, he tweeted, “I attended multiple high schools in four years. Hawaii, Nashville and Pennsylvania. Everyone thought I was an undercover narc. True story.”
And when an article or tweet about the photo appears online, Johnson generally seems to respond to it. In 2017, for one, he retweeted a post from History Lovers Club with the words, “Haha, it’s that damn 16-year-old, slightly creepy but well-manicured porn ’stache I was rocking back in high school. Good Lord.”
However, this particular photo seems to leave some of Johnson’s social media followers in disbelief. “You were 16? You look like you were running for mayor in your hometown,” posted one incredulous Twitter user. “My theory is you were born a 35-year-old man and time just had to catch up,” offered another.
Furthermore, there seemed to be some debate on just how reputable the younger Johnson appeared to be. “This looks like the ‘What could I say to get you into a pre-owned 2014 Ford Focus?’ Dwayne Johnson,” noted one commenter. Another follower, by contrast, thought that he looked far more trustworthy, writing, “16?! Looks like you could have helped my entire family file our taxes.” But Johnson certainly doesn’t seem to be too offended by such quips. In fact, by continuing to repost the pic, he seems to indicate that he enjoys inviting such messages.
And in 2019, following a video post by Page Six, Johnson again discussed his look as a teenager. He retweeted the video with the words, “Nice trip down memory lane. And yes, very true story: when I moved from Hawaii to Nashville, I was already 6’4”, 225 pounds with a pornstache at 15 years old – and the students in my new high school thought I was an undercover cop.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, too, Johnson’s 30-something mustachioed man look wasn’t exactly a hit with women. The star admitted as much in his tweet, adding alongside a crying emoji, “All the lovely ladies stayed far away from me.” But, of course, that’s hardly a problem Johnson has today.
After all, the actor now lives with wife Lauren Hashian and their two children, Jasmine Lie and Tiana Gia. He also has a teenage daughter, Simone, from a past marriage. Johnson and Simone’s mother, Dany Garcia, walked down the aisle together in 1997 but separated almost exactly a decade later.
Johnson hasn’t been afraid to show what he looked like as he entered his twenties, either. In 2015, you see, the star uploaded yet another throwback photo – this time from his college football days – to Instagram. And it’s fair to say that, once again, he could have easily passed for a man twice his age.
Featuring Johnson once again wearing a suit and tie, the picture was captioned, “22 years old. 280 pounds. Ran a 4.69 [second], 40-yard dash. Never accomplished my dreams of playing in the NFL, but I sure as hell never missed a meal.” Alongside that explanation, moreover were self-deprecating hashtags such as “#LegsOfARaceHorse” and “#FaceOfAManWhoLivedOnFriedChicken.”
And in a 2015 post on his Facebook page, Johnson revealed how he had managed to build up such an imposing stature at a young age, telling fans that he had first started working out aged just 14. But the future Hollywood star wasn’t primarily motivated by getting a six-pack. Instead, he had used training as a tool to deal with personal problems at the time.
Indeed, Johnson remembered a period when he and his family had been left homeless after being issued with an eviction notice. “I reeeeaaaaalllyy hated that feeling of helplessness and never wanted that to happen again,” he wrote on Facebook. “So I did the only thing I could control with my own two hands in hopes that one day my family would never worry about being evicted again. I trained.”
When speaking to Square Mile in 2017, Johnson also revealed how such workouts had kept him on the straight and narrow. He said, “I was getting into a lot of trouble early on in high school, and I was arrested multiple times when I was 15 and 16. I was mixed up, and sports are what turned my life around and gave me something to focus on and gave me some purpose and direction in life. All kids need that, and I was lucky enough to find that.”
In May 2019, though, Johnson posted a high school photo that struck a very different chord. The image in question was uploaded to Instagram and showed him hugging his daughter Simone following her graduation from Florida’s NSU University School. Simone may have noticed, too, that her old man still appeared to have a fondness for high-waisted jeans.
And Johnson captioned the momentous – and undeniably adorable – father-and-daughter pic with an equally touching message. “And then your babies graduate,” he wrote. “Very proud of my first daughter graduating high school, kickin’ ass and is now NYU-bound. I love you, and one day you’ll stop pulling away from my beastly arms and kisses.”