Jake “The Snake” Roberts has come a long way since March 29, 1987 when he strode to the ring at the Pontiac Silverdome with his 15-foot python Damien in a burlap sack, and wrestled in front of 93,000 fans at the WWE’s “Wrestlemania.”
Today, you’ll find him at events like the recent “Infinity Con” in Lake City, Fla., where he signed autographs, posed for pictures and relived the glory days of his WWE career, as well as a local appearance Saturday at 1811 Comics (56 E. Spring St., Williamsville). While many might consider it a fall from grace, Roberts sees it quite differently.
In his mind, grace is why he is alive, and though he may never hear the roar of the crowd the way he did that day in Detroit, he has a sense of peace and purpose that eluded him for most of his 40-year career in the squared circle.
Though Roberts stepped into the ring more than 2,500 times in his WWE Hall of Fame career, his biggest opponent was never the wrestler in the opposite corner. It was the one who made poor decisions when it came to his family, his friends and his career. It was the one who jumped headfirst down the rabbit hole of addiction, and today, seems just as surprised as anyone that he emerged alive.
Nearly four years clean and sober from the drugs and alcohol that were once a daily necessity, Roberts travels the country with his daughter Codi, making appearances and amends for a lifetime of bad decisions. He will be here Saturday as part of his “Unspoken Word” tour where he will tell tales from his wild life on the road and, he hopes, inspire people who may be struggling the way he did for so many decades.
Question: You have been through some well-documented struggles with drugs, alcohol and your health. How are you doing today?
Answer: I’m doing absolutely great, man. I’m so happy I can hardly stand it sometimes. It amazes me just how different my life is now than it was three and a half years ago. Being clean and sober has opened up so many doors as a businessman and as a family man. I’ve got my family back together and, you know, I was a lousy father but I’ve got nine grandkids and I’m getting the chance to be a great grandfather and I’m just so blessed.
Q: One of your mantras is, ‘My history is not my destiny.’ Talk about how that has helped you in your recovery.
A: I’ve been to a few jails and a lot of rehabs and I’ve never met anybody in either place that said, ‘You know, when I was a young man my idea of success and happiness was to grow up to be a drug addict or an alcoholic.’ Nobody dreams of that and it certainly isn’t what I set out to be, but you make a few bad choices, you get yourself in a bad spot, and the hooks are in you. I just want everyone out there to know, you don’t have to go like that, there are ways out, and no matter how bad your past is, your history doesn’t have to be your destiny.
Q: Give folks a sense of what they can expect Saturday.
A: It’s gonna be a great time, man. I tell a lot of the funny stuff that happened back stage in the locker rooms, and on the road. It’s about all the stuff the fans never heard about, and there is some pretty insane stuff that the wrestlers do to each other – you know, practical jokes that are a little edgy. There are gonna be a lot of fun stories, whether it is about Hacksaw (Jim Duggan) or Andre (The Giant) or Rick Rude, any of those guys, I’ve got something to say about all of them. I’m gonna blow you out of the water, I can promise you that. You’re gonna leave their shaking your head saying, “Oh my God.”
Q: When this opportunity came up, were you apprehensive about being in such a close, intimate setting with your fans as you share your life story?
A: It really wasn’t that hard for me because that’s one of the first things you do in A.A., is stand back and say, ‘Let’s throw some salt in there and get this over with.’ The pain I faced when I was drinking and doing drugs is 1,000 times worse than anything I face today. Had I known that living sober felt so good, I’d have done it a long time ago. So no, I enjoy meeting my fans and talking with them, and sharing stories together. I think when you get in trouble is when you try to lock the bad stuff away and not talk about it.
Q. I read on your Twitter page that you’ve been working on a book that you hope to have out by October. Can you talk about that project?
A. I’ve got about 95 percent of it done, about 600 pages and I wrote every word myself. It goes very deep into not only my wrestling career, but also some of the turmoil in my life that turned me into what I became. So when I put this book out, not only do I hope people that read it will understand more about wrestling, I hope they’ll learn a bit about life.
Q. You were one of the biggest names in wrestling. How do you compare the adrenaline rush you got in the ring, with the feeling you get now, sharing your story and helping people who are struggling the way you were?
A. The high I get now is so much more fulfilling. Being in the ring, you do something, it’s bang bang and you’re out of there. You might be charged up in the ring, but once you walk out of that arena, you can still hear them chanting your name, but you know that when you get back to your hotel room, you’ve got a big down coming. When I come up to Buffalo and speak, I’m there to tell stories, but I’m there if people need me. I’m there to pay it forward. Sometimes all it takes is a smile and I want people to know, if there is someone that comes to the show and they are struggling, let me know. I’ll stick around and talk to you, and listen, and do what I can do. The highs may not be as high as they were in the ring, but that was a super-charged thing that lasted for a split-second, and this lasts so much longer.