There are few names in professional wrestling that carry as much weight as Jake “The Snake” Roberts. From his all-time great finishing move to his pet snake and his classic soft-talking interviews, Roberts is one of the true superstars of the 1980s WWF, and an all-time great of professional wrestling in general. His very public struggles with substance abuse threatened to take his life away, just as it has so many wrestlers of that era.
His friend, Diamond Dallas Page, had other ideas about how Roberts’ story would end. Page helped him get his life back on track, as shown in the documentary The Resurrection of Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The film features the troubled wrestler getting his health and his addictions under control, while also rebuilding his relationship with his family and himself. He’s a true pro wrestling success story and, instead of riding off into the sunset, he’s building on it. He’s currently touring the country with his “Dirty Details” tour, which covers the wild times of wrestling that he made his name in.
In advance of this Saturday’s show at Club Garibaldi, Milwaukee Record spoke with Jake about his illustrious career, why he’s helping others with addiction issues, and what to expect from his candid live show.
Milwaukee Record: As far as I can tell the last match you had in Milwaukee was King Of The Ring in 1996.
Jake Roberts: Okay, I’ll take your word for it. [laughs]
MR: That was a pretty famous night. The birth of Austin 3:16 and everything. I know you’re close to Steve. Was helping him get to that next level something important to you at that point of your career?
JR: It was important for me because Steve had came to the WWF and, you know, he was kind of treated poorly a couple of other places and not been given the shot. You know, to make himself known, really. You know, he was Stunning Steve for awhile and he was with DiBiase as the Ringmaster.
And I was writing television at the time for Vince [McMahon] and I told Vince, “That’s your guy right there” and he’s like “Are you kidding? No way, Jake. That guy is middle of the card.” And I’m like, “Really?”
From that point on, I started getting with Steve every night. If I wasn’t in the same town with him, he would call me. I’d go over his match. I’d go over and talk to him about doing different things, and saying different things, and creating, and we put it together. He just had to be himself, basically. That was the problem. They let him be himself and he became Steve Austin.
The Austin 3:16 thing, everyone was like, “Oh, that must have really upset you.” Are you kidding me? You know how many people opened the Bible just to check that out who had never even opened a bible before, you know? Yeah, I’ve got my relationship with God. He knows where I’m going, I don’t, but he does. So that didn’t offend me at all.
The only thing that kind of upset me is they didn’t put the money maker out there which would’ve been Austin’s 10 commandments. You know: Thou shall not kill unless thou are pissed. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife unless she’s really hot. Thou shall honor thy mother and father unless they’re jerks.
You know, right on down the line. You could’ve had a lot of fun with that. That would’ve been a great seller, no doubt. Steve Austin, that was a…you know, a lot of guys can help themselves in this business. But to me, the people that mean the most are guys that can help everybody, and that’s what I prided myself on. And that was my job in the WWF.
Basically, once they realized that I wasn’t going to be able to wrestle [Hulk] Hogan because the fans weren’t chanting Hogan’s name, they were chanting DDT. That kind of ended my chance of getting a title run. They weren’t going to have that because they weren’t going to mess up the marketing, that’s for sure.
My job was getting people ready for Hogan, so I would wrestle them in the building and the next time they were wrestling within that building, it would be the person that I just wrestled against Hogan and that’s how they made the money. So it worked for me. I just never got that title run.
MR: It definitely seemed like maybe they didn’t like money back then because that would’ve been a big deal.
JR: It would’ve been a huge deal, but it would’ve messed up the marketing and the marketing is billions of dollars, not millions. So that’s the problem.
MR: There was another Milwaukee event that I wanted to ask about. This one is a real blast from the past, it was in County Stadium where the Brewers played. You wrestled Rick Rude, and you were probably one of the most popular guys on that show.
JR: Yeah. Good times, man. Just good times, you know what I mean? Over the years, I’ve had so many big moments, it’s impossible to pick one. You remember bits and pieces throughout your career and, yeah, that’s one of them.
It’s just so good to go to an area that loves wrestling, and Milwaukee certainly loved wrestling. Milwaukee and Chicago, you know, they have a wrestling history for a long time and it’s always great to go to those venues.
MR: Today, it seems like whenever you have a wrestler turning on their friends—like Becky Lynch or Dean Ambrose—they get the biggest cheers of the night. Do you think when you put the snake on Macho Man that that would go crazy today or do you think you could still be a heel in today’s environment?
JR: I could still do it. Yeah, I could still do it. That’s the problem today. Nobody can do much of anything because guys aren’t allowed to be their own characters.
You know, when you have people writing television that also write the interviews, it doesn’t work because that person cannot put out there what this guy would say. They don’t know him from inside and out.
That’s one thing that we had with this group here is that we did our own interviews, man, and we were able to get our characters out there. You can’t get a character out if you’re having five or six different people write interviews for you. It just doesn’t work. They should see that and move on, but they can’t take the time to teach all these guys how to do interviews. You know, or write interviews. I never wrote an interview in my life, but when that camera came on, I was able to do one.
MR: Yeah, you were certainly one of the best.
JR: No, I was the best. By far. Now I’m doing this show and seeing the fans, talking to them and hearing their memories. They’ll have a memory of them and their dad or them and their grandpa going to wrestling or doing wrestling at home or wherever.
MR: I just wanted to ask you about the live show. What can people expect?
JR: They can expect…I’m gonna hit you with stories that you thought you would never hear. One thing they’ll do is they’re gonna laugh their butts off and walk down the stairs. We’re gonna hit all the points, man. We’re gonna wake ’em up, we’re gonna set ’em down, we’re gonna toss them around.
I encourage anybody that is struggling with [addiction] to come on out because I’ve got time for you. If you want to talk to me after the show, get together, sit down, and we’ll talk and see if I can’t get you on the right road with alcohol and drug addiction because it’s a horrible place to be, and nobody deserves to have to live that way. There are ways out. It’s not easy and recovering from it is hell, but it’s not near the hell that you’re living in. Let’s have a good time…take some photos. I’ll be there before the show to do it. Let’s have a good time.
MR: The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake documentary, that was a really great story about surviving that. Do you think that being on the road and doing this live show helps with that, and that it’s kind of therapeutic for you?
JR: No, I’m at a point now, man, that I feel very comfortable if I don’t do stupid things. I don’t go anywhere alone. I shore up my defenses, man. Alcohol and drug addiction is not something to play with. You don’t test it because it can kick your butt. So, do the right thing and doing these shows doesn’t affect me at all in anyway. I enjoy the shows and that’s the best thing about them.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts’ “Dirty Details Tour: Tales From The Pit” show will come to Club Garibaldi on Saturday, November 24. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show begins at 8:15 p.m. Advance tickets are $20 ($25 the day of the show), with a $50 meet and greet package available.