On April 7th, 1986, my friend and I went to Kitchener Memorial Auditorium to watch Wrestlemania 2 on a “Big Screen Television”. Ridiculous by today’s home entertainment standards, this was kind of a big deal in the mid-eighties when most people’s rec rooms still housed 4:3 CRT televisions, often dressed up as furniture, and 27” was considered “big”. In fact, that big screen television at the city arena was likely not much larger than the projector TV screen I currently watch in my basement but to a fourteen year old in 1986 that big screen was worthy of awe. It was also the closest to a live wrestling show I was ever going to get. I was stoked!
Nowadays, children watch their superheroes as larger than life “real” people on movie screens but when I was a kid those famed crime fighters were still relegated to the pages of comic books and Saturday morning cartoons. I wasn’t into comics and the original Spider-man series, while fantastic, not mention disturbingly psychedelic, wasn’t “real”. No, in the eighties my “real” superheroes came courtesy of Maple Leaf Wrestling and Saturday Night’s Main Events thanks to what was then called (and always will be to me) the WWF.
Wrestlemania was quickly becoming a huge event and this second time around was the first one to be available nationally/internationally on pay per view. It was held in three separate venues, each with a Main Event and a small undercard. Those main events were the gimmicky boxing match between Mr. T and Rowdy Roddy Piper, the equally gimmicky Battle Royale between the WWF and NFL players, and finally the heavyweight championship match between Hulk Hogan and King Kong Bundy. The match that garnered the greatest pop from the audience I was part of was the Tag Team Title championship where The British Bulldogs defeated The Dream Team. I recall that ebullient reaction startled me since I didn’t much care for the The British Bulldogs nor did I realize they had become so popular. No matter, I was there to see someone else entirely.
I haven’t paid much attention to wrestling in over twenty years now. Sure, I know some of the big names like Austin, Rock, Cena, Bautista but I don’t follow it anymore let alone watch it, but when I was a kid I LOVED professional wrestling. That first golden age of the WWF, sorry WWE (blech), remains in my mind the high water mark for wrestling. It was fun, mostly kid friendly, gimmicks ruled, and the wrestlers weren’t yet all juiced up musclemen. They were nonetheless superheroes and though some certainly looked like the real deal others looked not unlike your favourite, fat uncle. “Big” simply meant “not average” and certainly wasn’t limited to just muscle mass. It gave a nation of future Cheetos-eating couch potatoes hope.
The biggest names at the time are familiar to us all; Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Andre The Giant, etc. I, however, was not one for following the crowds. My loyalties wholly and unequivocally lay with the man billed as from Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts was never elevated to full-fledged superstar but was far from a lowly jobber. He was part of several high profile feuds over his career but never really got the superstar push he so richly deserved. He became a legend to many anyway. While Hogan, with his ridiculous eat your vitamins shtick, bouncing arm on the two count, and lame atomic leg drop, was everyone’s darling from ownership to preschoolers, I was obsessed with Jake. Jake was a hero unlike the others. An anti-hero of sorts, and ahead of his time in that respect, he was neither a true face nor a genuine heel, was a master of the promo, and had the greatest finishing move in wrestling history; the DDT. Oh, and there was also his snake, Damien. As a young man struggling to find my confidence and place in life, Jake represented something I desired. He was a strong loner who garnered respect and instilled a little fear but wasn’t a villain either.
Of course, Jake “The Snake” Roberts was just a character. I’m sure I understood that as a kid, certainly by 14 I did, but it is all too apparent now that I’m all grown up myself. Behind the act, the superhero, was a real man with all the strengths and faults of the rest of us. Time has not been kind to that man. My childhood superhero, once a tall, lean master of head games and mat technique, has been ravaged by time, drugs, and alcohol.
It’s weird to watch your heroes become human. Superman never ages, but wrestlers definitely do. Time is crueler than any hardcore match the Japanese can dream up. Toss in alcoholism, drug addiction, and ghosts of a nightmarish childhood and you easily end up with the bloated, broken, defeated man found at the beginning of The Resurrection of Jake the Snake.
I sat down to watch this documentary, now showing on Netflix, with plenty of trepidation. It’s not pleasant to see your childhood heroes exposed as “real”, let alone at rock bottom. I was also skeptical, I’m ashamed to admit. As much as I was keen to see a revitalized and straight Jake, I was concerned it might all be a work. After all, these men have spent their entire adult lives in a world of fiction. Neither am I naïve enough to believe they are all saints, so the potential that this entire exercise was a scripted infomercial for DDP Yoga worried me. I don’t think my inner child could handle more hero destruction.
All documentaries are contrived to some extent. They may be non-fiction but a narrative needs to be established and a story arch still needs to be followed in order to capture and maintain an audience’s interest. Unsuspecting people don’t typically react so casually when you show up at their door with a camera crew in tow. Still, by about the twenty minute mark, there was absolutely zero doubt that The Resurrection of Jake the Snake was very, terrifyingly, real.
The Resurrection of Jake the Snake chronicles the rehabilitation of Aurelian Smith Jr., aka Jake “the Snake” Roberts under the compassionate yet stern care of “Diamond” Dallas (DDP). Page is another retired wrestler who transitioned to normal life a hell of a lot better than many of his peers. Now a fitness entrepreneur, he uses his DDP Yoga to stay fit and help others do likewise. Jake was DDP’s mentor when he first got into the wrestling business and his loyalty towards his friend and former teacher spurred his desire to help get Jake straight.
As we discover in the first few minutes of the movie, Jake is in rough shape. Overweight, unshaven, drunk or hungover, and wearing a ratty white tank top at his unkempt home, Roberts retains almost no semblance of his once imposing presence, save the trademark moustache. Over the next ninety minutes we take a front, and often uncomfortable, seat as we watch DDP and a dedicated crew of filmmakers, friends, and family struggle to get Jake not only straight, but healthy and engaged with the world again.
Alcoholism is a bitch. I have no personal experience upon which I base that statement, but after watching The Resurrection of Jake the Snake it becomes abundantly clear. This is where the movie shines, in an ironic sense, as it pulls no punches in showing the devastation alcohol (and drug) abuse has had on Jake physically, mentally, and emotionally. We also witness the desperate measures an alcoholic will employ to hide a relapse and the havoc that wreaks upon those around him.
Halfway through, as optimism creeps into our psyche that maybe Jake is going to triumph, we are greeted with another unexpected blow to the side of the head as Scott Hall (aka Razor Ramon) is brought into the DDP household. Another former wrestler who at one time reached the very pinnacle of the sport, the former “Bad Guy” is in worse shape than Jake. Regularly abusing alcohol, Hall can’t even walk when we are introduced to him. To see such a formidable athlete relegated to a wheelchair by demons and injuries is a humbling experience. It’s easy to want to make fun of these guys; to cynically berate them for throwing away all that they had. That’s what social media likes to do and too often we jump right on board the character lynching. But in the context of this documentary, you can’t help but empathize with them and ultimately cheer them on. Fan or not, you want to see these broken people fixed.
I think that’s what I liked best about The Resurrection of Jake the Snake Roberts. Not just the humanity of the film, but the humanity it forced me to embrace. It pulled back the curtain on a unique class of celebrity, pulled back the fiction, the kayfabe, the fakeness and thrust reality into our chests like a flying dropkick from the top rope. It’s an inspirational movie starring a bunch of people whom we don’t often view as inspirational or even likable a lot of the time. Wrestlers, hell the entire sports entertainment industry, are too easy to mock. We don’t take them seriously as athletes, as actors, or as entertainers, but they are all three and they sacrifice a great deal for our enjoyment. Behind all the glitz and over-the-top production are real people and like we real people, they sometimes fail. Dramatically.
The Resurrection of Jake the Snake is not the best documentary you’ll ever see. There are a couple slow spots where momentum gets stuck. A couple conflict moments struck me as a little too staged. That aside, it remains a film I highly recommend to everyone. You don’t need to be a wrestling fan, former or current, to enjoy it. It is not about wrestling. It’s about a person and a life and addiction and redemption. That person just happens to be a Hall of Fame professional wrestler.
DDP’s stoic determination to help his friend is admirable. Jake’s heartfelt desire to regain his family’s trust and once again be part of their lives is touching, as is his genuine glee at learning he’ll be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll do all the clichés. Filmed throughout 2012 – 2014 not only did Jake get healthy, lose weight, regain his swagger, and most importantly get straight, by all accounts he remains so to this day (he’s currently busy touring around the continent doing a stand-up comedy/story-telling show), so it even has a happy ending.
I highly recommend you watch The Resurrection of Jake the Snake and I give it a well-deserved 4.25 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. See a man who has fallen far lower than most of us ever will but had the guts, with the help of some wonderful people – family, friends, fans, and strangers – to crawl back up into the sunlight, slowly regain his self, and once again stand tall. To do that, to stay clean, to keep all the demons at bay all while firmly in the relentless glare of the public eye is far more heroic than anything my childhood superhero Jake “the Snake” Roberts ever did. Just like in the movies, most superheroes get a sequel; so far Jake’s is a thing of inspirational beauty.
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