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Rocky Johnson was a Canadian professional wrestler. During his wrestling career, he became a National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Georgia Champion and a NWA Southern Heavyweight Memphis Champion, as well as winning many other championships. Along with his partner Tony Atlas, he was part of the first black tag team to win the World Tag Team Championship in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Moreover, he was the father of actor and former professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Rocky Johnson was born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Amherst, Nova Scotia, where he was raised, the fourth of five sons of Lillian (née Gay) (since 1919-1996) and James Henry Bowles (1888–1967). Further, a Black Nova Scotian, he is descended from Black Loyalists who immigrated to Nova Scotia. Further, after escaping from a southern plantation in the United States after the American Revolutionary War, and also had a small amount of Irish ancestry. Similarly, at the age of 16, Johnson moved to Toronto where he began wrestling and worked as a truck driver.
Professional wrestling career in National Wrestling Alliance (since 1964-1982)
Johnson began his career as a professional wrestler in 1964, in Southern Ontario; soon after his debut, he legally changed his name to his “Rocky Johnson” moniker. Since 1969 he wrestled for the World Wide Wrestling Federation.
He was a top contender in the National Wrestling Alliance in the 1970s, receiving title matches against then-World Champions Terry Funk and Harley Race. Moreover, he was well-suited for tag team wrestling, winning several regional tag team championships in the NWA. Johnson wrestled off and on in the Memphis promotion, often feuding with Jerry Lawler, winning Lawler’s crown at one point. He also wrestled under a mask as “Sweet Ebony Diamond” in the Mid-Atlantic area.
Johnson recounted in his autobiography Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story that he met his first wife Una Sparks at a dance while he was training to become a boxer. Una was from Cherry Brook, Nova Scotia and a devout Jehovah’s Witness. While married to Una, he became romantically-involved with Ata Maivia. Moreover, she was the daughter of wrestling legend “High Chief” Peter Maivia. Ata met Rocky after Maivia and Johnson were tag team partners in a match on the independent scene. Maivia disapproved of the relationship—not because of anything personal against Johnson, but because of Johnson’s chosen profession, as he knew first hand how hard it was for wrestlers’ families who were at home while they were constantly on the road.
Johnson died on January 15, 2020 at the age of 75 in the Lutz, Florida home Dwayne had bought for him.
- Birth name: Wayde Douglas Bowles
- Date of Birth: August 24, 1944
- Birth Place: Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada
- Date of Death: January 15, 2020
- Aged: 75
- Death Place: Lutz, Florida, United States
- Spouse(s): Una Sparks (m. 1966; div. 1978), Ata Maivia (m since 1978; div. 2003), Sheila (m since 2019)
- Children: 3, including Dwayne Johnson Michele Nagle
- Family: Anoa’i
- Ring name(s): Sweet Ebony Diamond, Drew Glasteau, Rocky Johnson
- Height: 1.88 m
- Nationality: Canadian
- Spouse: Dana Martin (m. 2004), Ata Johnson (m since 1978–2003), Una Johnson (m since 1966–1978)
- Books: Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story
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Reference Rocky Johnson