Jake "The Snake" Roberts fought his way to the top of the pro wrestling world, making a name for himself in the late 1980s alongside superstars such as Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.
But late last summer, following what Roberts calculates as more than 35 years of substance abuse (mostly cocaine and booze), the legendary wrestler had lost that will to fight.
“I was in such a dark place mentally at the time, man. … I was going to die. I didn’t want to live anymore,” he tells Sun Media in a candid phone interview from the Atlanta area. “I had no purpose, no hope, no dreams. Everything I had done in my life, it had just been wasted.
That was in August. Roberts was living in Gainesville, Texas. His weight had ballooned to 307 pounds at six-foot-five, while his drug- and alcohol-ravaged body was quickly deteriorating.
“I let my health go so badly,” recalls Roberts, 57. “I had some issues with my brain getting bounced around in my head too many times from chair shots or what have you. My toes were curling in. Whenever I’d walk, my toes would go under my feet and I’d step and break them. My hands, I couldn’t open them and they hurt like hell. So I was a real mess, man.”
And then one fateful day, Diamond Dallas Page called to see how he was doing. Roberts told his old wrestling buddy that everything was fine.
“That’s what addicts and drunks do, we lie,” he adds. “I didn’t want him to know how bad off I was. I was ashamed of how I looked, how I lived and where I lived.”
But Page, who credits Roberts with helping him to become a wrestler, persisted. He knew Roberts needed help.
The three-time WCW heavyweight champ affectionately known to his fans as DDP eventually convinced Roberts to try out DDP Yoga — the fitness system Page created several years ago, which includes his favourite yoga positions blended with “rehab moves, old-school calisthenics and dynamic resistance exercises.”
Roberts was skeptical but finally agreed to give it a go just so he could get his friend “off the damn phone.”
As promised, Page sent Roberts a DDP Yoga package, which included a nutrition guide.
“I looked at it … I thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll try that.’ Lo and behold, 10 to 12 days later, I’d lost 10 pounds,” Roberts says. “I was like, ‘Holy shit! How’d that happen so quick?’ ”
Soon after, Page visited Roberts and convinced him to move into his home — also known as the “Accountability Crib” — in the Atlanta suburb of Smyrna, Georgia, to continue his progress. Six months later, Roberts has dropped more than 65 pounds.
Most importantly, he says, he feels great.
“My body’s changing. I’ve got a clear head,” he explains. “I don’t have the inflammation in my joints. The pain is going. My toes are straightened. My hands, I can straighten. I’m off the meds I was taking.”
Roberts, who prefers his ring name to his legal name of Aurelian Smith, Jr., recently celebrated 100 days of sobriety and claims he has no desire to return to his venomous lifestyle.
While he currently recovers from shoulder surgery, Roberts continues to exercise his lower body and eat right.
“This is a life change, man,” he adds.
WWE legend Scott Hall, 54, recently joined Roberts at Page’s Accountability Crib, arriving in a wheelchair with his own substance-abuse issues.
“He’s on his way,” Roberts says, noting Hall has been sober for 20 days. “We’re here to support each other. We’re going to do whatever it takes, man, just keep doing the right thing.”
Roberts has designs on returning to the squared circle for a swan song and then retiring on his own terms.
Whether or not that happens, he knows the biggest fight of his life is happening right now. And he plans to keep fighting.
However, Roberts can’t help but snicker at the thought of completing his comeback.
“This world is not ready for the new Jake,” he says. “You guys couldn’t handle me when I was screwed up. Imagine what you’re going to try to do with me now?”
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