Ed. Note – the following interview contains some coarse language and has been edited for length and clarity
Jake “the Snake” Roberts is a professional wrestling legend, and not just for his accomplishments in the ring. The WWE Hall-of-Famer has used his profile and his own public battle with addictions to reach out to others struggling with similar problems. In 2015 he was the subject of an award-winning documentary called, “The Resurrection of Jake the Snake,” by Steve Yu, which chronicled those struggles. Although he’s in his early 60s, Roberts still gets into the ring from time to time, as he did during a show with Canadian Wrestling’s Elite (CWE) on Dec. 30 in Prince Albert. Following the show, Roberts sat down with the Daily Herald to talk about life, addictions, inventing the DDT and his love for the original Snake, Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler.
DH: First off, apologies for the weather. It’s not normally this cold in Prince Albert. I saw video of you getting off the plane in Winnipeg and I thought, he’s really not going to like it up here.
Roberts: (Chuckling.) It’s winter. I used to live in Calgary, so I’ve felt the cold before and I don’t like it one bit.
DH: When people look back on your career they think of two things: snakes and the DDT. How did you come up with that move?
Roberts: It was an accident. I was working a front face-lock on a guy, and he went to push me into a corner but he stepped on my foot and we fell back. That’s when I came up with it and I worked on it and came up with the name. I picked up a newspaper one morning and the government was talking about outlawing DDT because of poison in the food system and I thought, ‘perfect name.’
DH: What about snakes? Where did that idea come from?
Roberts: I hate snakes. I can’t stand them. I was just a big fan of Kenny Stabler, who used to play for the Oakland Raiders and he was the original Snake. I was drinking beer and smoking pot and I came up with that idea. Trust me, if I’d have been sober I wouldn’t have come up with it because I’m scared of snakes, but when the McMahon’s offered me a contract that had some extra zeros on it, I got over my snake stuff.
DH: You’ve got a chance with Canadian Wrestling’s Elite to mentor some younger wrestlers. How important is that in the wrestling business?
Roberts: To me it’s an obligation that I share with the people who taught me, who took the time to teach me to make a better product. The whole bottom line for me is to do the very best in that ring, you know, something I can be proud of, so I can stand tall at the end of the day and say ‘man, that was damn good and I’m glad these guys are working.’ Not only do I talk to them about in the ring, I talk to them about outside the ring. I went through some really bad times, fought addiction for years, and failed miserably for years. Around six-and-a-half years ago I finally got sober and clean. I’ve been that way since and my life is so friggin awesome man. I can’t believe I waited this long to do it.
Since I did the movie, “The Resurrection of Jake the Snake,” it is such a joy for me to run into somebody that it’s helped, and not only does it help the addict, but the movie’s also helped the people who’ve had to deal with the addict, because they see the other side. We took time in the movie to explain what was causing the problem, and how frustrating it was for the addict. Trust me, people who are addicts, they’re not enjoying it anymore. You quit enjoying it once you become an addict, because there is no end. There’s no ‘call it an evening.’ It just keeps going and going and the day never stops.
DH: During those dark days, did you ever thing you’d be where you are today?
Roberts: Absolutely not. No. I was trying to die. I had already given up. I’d been to several rehabs and failed miserably. The only thing that kept me from committing suicide was that I didn’t want to hurt my family more than I already had and believe me, there were times where I was thinking, ‘I should just go ahead and do it.’ I wanted to die. I really wanted to die and for some reason, I didn’t. Diamond Dallas Page, a good friend of mine, a guy I’d helped early in his career … he came back and returned what I’d given him and it was quite a journey.
DH: Wrestling can be hard on the performers. Do you think the demands are too great?
Roberts: Nobody makes you do drugs. Nobody makes you do that shit. The worst thing about wrestling, and I think this is where all the deaths come in, is it’s not a sport, a real sport. It’s entertainment, and therefore you could be the very best there is, but just because some guy in a suit doesn’t pick you, you don’t have a job. I know a lot of guys who died had been guys who had been there, to the top, but the writers got bored with writing for them and just tossed them to the side. If you worked 20 or 30 years to hone your craft and to get to that point of having everything absolutely perfect, and you get told, ‘we can’t think of anything to do with you,’ that seems like I should fire you, not me, (but) guys get tossed to the side. All of a sudden, after 20 years of fighting for something, it’s taken away from you and you can’t get it back, no matter how hard you try and so you’re sitting at home thinking, ‘what the fuck, man?’ My chosen profession has been taken away from me because somebody doesn’t like me, and that’s personal.
DH: What advice would you give to someone struggling with addictions right now?
Roberts: Never give up. That’s the bottom line. Never give up. The first thing they have to do is they’ve got to change their friends and the places they go. You can’t hang out with the same people anymore, because they’re partying. Just never give up. Keep reaching out. Do whatever you’ve got to do. Trust me, some things work for some people. Some things work for other people. Yoga helped me because it got me to keep my mind off of (stuff) and it made me start thinking of my body saying, ‘get healthy again.’ That was hope. It gave me hope back, so you’ve got to find something that gives you hope.