Nova Scotia-born wrestler Rocky (Soul Man) Johnson, father of movie star and wrestler Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, has died at the age of 75, according to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
Born Wade Douglas Bowles, Johnson was originally from Amherst.
Johnson was a WWE Hall of Famer and former World Tag Team Champion, the WWE noted in its obituary.
He made his pro wrestling debut in southern Ontario before rising to fame in the National Wrestling Alliance in the mid-1960s.
He started in the WWE in 1983 with rivalries with the likes of Greg (The Hammer) Valentine, Don Muraco and Adrian Adonis.
Eventually, he teamed with Tony Atlas as The Soul Patrol and the two men became the first black World Tag Team Champions in WWE history when they defeated The Wild Samoans on Dec. 10, 1983.
After Johnson retired from wrestling in 1991, he helped train his son, The Rock — a nickname that was partly in tribute to his father.
The younger Johnson went on to become the first-ever black WWE champion and then transitioned into a successful career as an actor.
Rocky Johnson was inducted by his son into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008.
In 2019, Rocky Johnson published a memoir called Soulman.
He said his father died when he was 12 and that he ended up leaving home when he was 14 after getting into a fight with his mother’s boyfriend.
“I hit him in the head with a coal shovel and then the police came and said one of them would have to go. I didn’t understand because I was young. [My mom] said, ‘You go,’ and I just packed my suitcase,” Johnson said.
“I was determined to do something, so I took off and went to Toronto.”
How Johnson became a wrestler
When Johnson got to Toronto, he started boxing at Trinity Community Recreation Centre.
However, it was a snowy and cold winter night that launched what would become his career in the wrestling ring. He was at the rec centre hitting a punching bag when he was approached by a wrestler.
“He said, ‘Hey, come on in, I’ll teach you a couple of holds.’ I didn’t know then he was using me for a punching bag. He didn’t hurt me or anything … and then I got hooked on it,” Johnson said.