Now seems like a perfect time to take a look back at the life and career of Jake Roberts. It’s nearly Easter, after all, and few pro wrestling resurrections have been as dramatic as that of Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Roberts has had a turbulent, troubled career (even by wrestling standards), but along the way, he established himself as one of the true originals in the business. A one of a kind, impossible to duplicate figure who has nonetheless served as inspiration for countless other wrestlers. He was a mulleted, mustachioed regular Joe and a simmering, smooth-talking American psycho all in one improbable package.
Here’s a few things you might not know about the baddest of the bad guys…
1. Jake Roberts comes from a wrestling family. It was rarely, if ever, mentioned on TV, but Jake Roberts (real name, Aurelian Smith, Jr.) wasn’t discovered by Vince McMahon at some particularly spooky truck stop. He was actually part of a wrestling family. His father was the massive, 6-foot-8 hillbilly wrestler Grizzly Smith, and his half-brother and sister were pretty-boy cowboy Sam Houston and late-80s WWF staple, Rockin’ Robin.
Luke Brown, and not-so-dear old dad, Grizzly Smith.
2. Jake’s dad never told him that it was fake as a kid. There’s a reason Jake never mentioned his family. By most accounts, Jake’s father (Aurelian Smith, Sr.) was not a good man. According to Jake, Grizzly not only didn’t wise up his children up to his line of work, he went to great lengths to fool them, often coming home wearing fake bandages and neck braces to sell his “injuries.” Unsurprisingly this was more than a bit traumatic for young Jake…
“To see him wrestling, and getting hurt, or so I thought, I thought it was very cruel. I thought my father was very cruel because he never wisened us kids up. He played it out at home, or whenever we’d see him. He’d have cuts and stuff. I had no idea he was the one doing that. I didn’t know that it was a business. I would cry myself to sleep at night, a lot of times, thinking my dad was not ever going to be able to see me because he was going to die in the ring.”
Even darker stories have been told about Grizzly, including allegations that he may have sexually abused Jake’s sister, Robin. Needless to say, we won’t be writing up any nostalgic pieces about the exploits of Grizzly Smith any time soon.
3. His true dream was to become an architect. If young Jake wasn’t a fan of wrestling, what did he actually want to do with his life? Well, Jake got good grades in school (he was the first in his family to graduate high school) and wanted to become an architect. “Jake Roberts, the architect” actually sounds kind of fitting.
Those are the mournful eyes of a failed architect.
So, why did Jake give up his dreams and get into wrestling? To earn his dad’s love, of course.
“I was at a wrestling show watching [my dad] wrestle and decided in my idiot of a brain, mixed with a little beer, that if I was to ever get my father to love me, I would have to go in there and challenge one of those wrestlers.
Well, it didn’t happen quite the way I wanted. I was pretty much humiliated, went back to the locker room and proceeded to piss myself, puke, and everything else. I walked back to the locker room and my dad said, ‘You’re gutless, I’m ashamed of you, and you’ll never amount to anything.’
That’s when I gave up my dream of being an architect and chased my father’s dream. I’m still chasing it because I’ll never hear him say the words I want to hear.”
The most incontrovertible fact of this whole article: Grizzly Smith was a towering asshole.
4. He was an original member of the Legion of Doom. Don’t worry, I swear that the rest of these facts won’t be quite so heartbreaking.
When the Legion of Doom is mentioned today, most of us think of the Road Warriors, Hawk and Animal, but the Legion of Doom used to be a full-on stable. Debuting in the early ’80s in Georgia Championship Wrestling, the group consisted of Hawk, Animal, King Kong Bundy, Arn Anderson, Iron Sheik, the original Sheik, The Spoiler, Matt Borne and, yes, a young Jake Roberts. The original Legion of Doom didn’t survive long, but it had one hell of a lineup while it lasted.
Even when he was young, Jake Roberts still looked like your dad.
5. The invention of the DDT was an accident. Roberts has a lot of classic matches, promos and storylines to his name, but his most wide-reaching, enduring legacy will probably be the creation of the DDT. Well, it turns out that Jake didn’t so much “invent” the DDT as literally stumbled into it.
It all happened one night in the mid-80s while fighting masked wrestler, The Grappler. Jake had The Grappler (also known as Len Denton) in a headlock, and Grappler attempted to bull Jake back into the corner. As they fought for control, Grappler stepped on Jake’s foot, causing him to topple over backwards and inadvertently drive his head into the canvas. Jake’s opponent was knocked out cold, and the idea for a new signature move was born. Man, imagine if Ryback created a new move every time he stumbled over his own feet.
Jake has come up with various “creative” answers for what DDT stands for (Demonic Death Trap, Damien’s Dinner Time), but it was probably just named after the pesticide that was banned in the ’70s for being harmful to wildlife. Just listen to some old Ramones music. Folks were pretty fixated on DDT during the ’70s and ’80s.
6. Jake “The Snake” Roberts was afraid of snakes. One of the most distinctive things about Jake Roberts is how seriously he took his “snake” gimmick. He’d slither into the ring, pepper everything he said with snake references and him and his pet python Damien really seemed like a tight unit. Well, it was all bullshit.
The snake gimmick was was a Vince McMahon brainchild, and Jake went along with it, even though he was no snake lover. In fact, Jake may have been more afraid of his own snake than most of his opponents were. Here’s Jake “The Snake” succinctly summing up his thoughts on snakes…
“I hated the sons of bitches. I’m terrified of them.”
7. There were multiple Damiens, and Jake never really owned any of them. Okay, so Jake hated snakes, but he put all that aside for Damien, right? He and that snake were a team, dammit!
Best interspecies friends 4eva.
Brace yourself, folks. There was no Damien. Not really. WWE rented the snakes for Jake, and he usually got a new one at the beginning of each tour because they didn’t tend to do particularly well on the road.
“What a miserable damn job that was, carrying a 100 pound snake in a box and carrying my wrestling gear and clothes. Back then, we’d go on the road for a month to six weeks at a time. Carrying all that shit was just really, really brutal, man. It really tore my ass up.”
Man, I hope those snakes didn’t literally tear his ass up. Jake’s contentious relationship with snakes took a darker turn in 2004, when one of the snakes he was renting died from neglect. Most news outlets reported the story as if Jake had let the Damien we thought existed as children die. That wasn’t the case, but it was a deeply unfortunate incident nonetheless.
8. He was a member of the prestigious “André the Giant farted on me” club. The hard knocks came from all directions during Jake Roberts’ career, including out of André the Giant’s butt.
André liked to pin his opponents down and fart on them. It proved that he liked you, or it maybe proved the exact opposite. It was kind of hard to tell with André. Either way, Jake was, uh, lucky enough to receive a particularly potent present from the giant.
“Him sitting on me and farting on me was a horrible experience. I did not realize how long a giant could fart. So, it was like 25 seconds of just brutal gas. There’s something about vodka and wine with not much food that really gives a man a nasty potion to inhale. I know I thought I had a birth mark on my arm but it was just a wine stain from his ass.”
What? Jake said it. I’m just reporting the facts, people.
I’m going to fart on you so hard, dude. So hard.
9. Honky Tonk Man legitimately injured him with a guitar shot. One of the most memorable angles from Jake’s classic ’80s run with WWF was when Honky Tonk Man waylaid him with a guitar during an episode of “The Snake Pit,” The shot looked more brutal than any guitar shot I’d seen before (or any since), and there was apparently a good reason for that.
According to Jake, Honky whacked him with real guitar, which knocked him loopy and injured his neck. The neck injury was one of the chief reasons Jake would never end up winning the Intercontinental title from Honky Tonk Man. Now, Honky denies having injured Jake, but Jake and Honky’s manager Jimmy Hart claim otherwise. Mick Foley also told the story in his first book. Also, just look at the shot for yourself…
That’s no gimmick balsa-wood guitar. Honky swings it full force, and the thing barely cracks. If Jake was wrestling during today’s era, he’d be out with a concussion at the very least.
10. His ’90s Bible-thumping character was real. Jake Roberts had a storied career, but the biggest money thing he ever did was get chewed out by a brash up-and-comer named Stone Cold Steve Austin at the 1996 King of the Ring tournament. The infamous “Austin 3:16” quote was originally directed at Roberts, who had returned to the WWF in 1996 as bible-preaching good guy.
Jake’s new character was actually based on real-life, as he’d become a born-again Christian during this period and was preaching around the country. Austin’s reaction was also based on real-life, as most people backstage weren’t buying Jake’s transformation into a man of God. Sure enough, Jake would soon fall off the wagon and would find himself fired from the WWF less than year after Austin’s infamous King of the Ring promo.
11. Jake never held a title in either WWE or WCW. Despite being one of the most influential talents in wrestling history, Jake would never taste championship gold in either WWE or WCW. In fact, the only member of his family to win a title in a major promotion was Rockin’ Robin, who was WWF Women’s Champion from 1988 to 1990.
Suck it, big brother.
12. Jake taught Diamond Dallas Page to wrestle before DDP taught him to live. Diamond Dallas Page started in the wrestling business in the late-80s, and he didn’t get much of anywhere until he sought the training and advice of a friend named Jake Roberts, who taught him psychology and how to work within his limitations.
With Roberts’ training, DDP would shoot up the card, eventually becoming a three-time WCW Champion. It would take nearly two-decades for Page to repay his mentor properly, but when he did, he did so in a big way.
A savior in a dorky hat.
After not talking to him for five years, DDP called up his old friend out of the blue in 2012. Jake was at his lowest point, mired in drug addiction and depression and unable to even stand up without help. Page, sensing how low his mentor had fallen, offered to send him his DDP Yoga program. DDP later visited Jake and personally helped him work out, and even allowed him to move into his Atlanta home. Roberts put up blocks, but Page used the same techniques and mind games that Jake had used on him decades earlier during training.
“Of course he did, the prick. He turned my shit on me. He used some psychology on my ass, I know.”
Today, Jake is sober, happy and healthy enough that’s he’s even been able to make sporadic wrestling appearances. On May 30, Jake will celebrate his 60th birthday, a milestone that he very well might not have reached if a friend hadn’t turned his old tricks back on him.
13. He almost ruined Topanga’s sweet sixteen party.
If this isn’t evidence Jake was maybe the most dastardly heel of all-time, I don’t know what is.
There you are, some sad, amazing, ridiculous facts from Jake Roberts’ sad, amazing, ridiculous life. Know any Jake “The Snake” stories I missed? Were you a cool kid who always like Roberts more than Hogan and Warrior? Hit the comments and discuss Roberts’ career in a very calm, sinister sort of way.