Alcoholic, drug addict, failure, a lost cause, those were just some of the words I had read in print and heard wrestling fans use to describe the twice-divorced, estranged father of eight, Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The unflattering descriptions were a far cry from how fans felt about the man on March 29, 1987. On that day, at Wrestlemania III, in front of an estimated 93,173 people at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, with his python, Damien, in a sack draped over his shoulder, accompanied by rocker Alice Cooper, made his way to the ring for his match against The Honky Tonk Man. In that moment, he was at the height of his wrestling career, receiving adulation and cheers from an appreciative public. Fast forward, twenty-five years later, Jake’s career wasn’t just bottoming out, but instead it was his entire life. The tragic ending, to one of the most creative and popular sports entertainers the industry had ever known, an outcome that had been predicated by countless wrestling fans, seemed to be a foregone conclusion. The only thing that kept Jake holding on was his love for his children. By his own admission, he had put them through so much misery, that he wanted to give changing his life around one more try. Like any comeback story, even when someone has the best of intentions, there are a tremendous number of ups and down along the way, and Robert’s path to not only getting clean and sober, but shedding the unhealthy weight off of his 300 pound frame, was not going to be an easy task. (As an aside: Jake “The Snake” Roberts real name is Aurelian Smith, Jr. In addition, Jake’s father Aurelian Smith was also a professional wrestler known as Grizzly Smith).
Fortunately for Jake, he had a friend in Diamond Dallas Page, a former wrestling star in his own right. Dallas, since retiring, has worked as a fitness instructor, and started a very successful yoga program, called DDP Yoga, which I have read not only helps individuals lose weight, and regain mobility, but also works toward helping people attempt to build a more positive outlook on life. Dallas travels to Jake’s home in Texas to assess the situation. When he gets there, he finds that his old friend, trainer, and mentor is a shell of his former self. In fact, the disheveled Roberts is barely mobile. Any hint of the once charismatic, compelling individual, who never felt the need to scream during his promos, but instead filled them with soft-spoken dread, while holding his reptilian companion, had all but vanished.
After putting Jake through some basic yoga exercises, talking with him, and seeing the condition he is in, Dallas knows that a lot of work needs to be done to get Jake back on track. He convinces Jake to move to his home in Atlanta; a place he has dubbed ‘the accountability crib,’ where he will work with him to not only get Jake healthy, and his body back into shape, but also, to try to help Roberts beat his addictions. Joining Jake and Dallas, on the former’s road to recovery, is first time director, Steve Yu.
Steve Yu doesn’t sugar coat the 93 minute film, which originally premiered on January 23, 2015 at the Slamdance Film Festival. Instead, he focuses his camera on the subject of his documentary, which was filmed over a period of two years, and captures a gamut of emotions emanating from the man. In one instance Jake can be angry and belligerent, only to become, a short while later, an apologetic, teary eyed person, who is sorry for his actions. (As an aside: Providing commentary throughout the film are wrestlers, such as: Steve Austin; Edge; Ted DiBiase; Chris Jericho; and Scott Hall, who, during the film, also moves into Dallas’s house in Atlanta to address his own substance abuse issues, as well as a crippling problem with his hip.)
While Jake is in his care, Diamond Dallas Page doesn’t hold back. While he gives Jake a clean slate, and doesn’t judge his friend on his past actions, he lets him know the road ahead isn’t going to be easy. Dallas puts Jake through a tough program that focuses on all facets of health. A daily exercise regimen is strictly adhered to, along with a restrictive diet, as well as mandatory yoga classes – regardless of how banged up Jake feels. Additionally, Jake will be required to attend AA meetings, and seek medical help for the lingering problems he has with his shoulder. Throughout their time together, Dallas maintains a positive, encouraging, but at the same time, no nonsense attitude, when it comes to Jake, which as a viewer will learn, is exactly the kind of support he needs.
Unfortunately, Jake relapses numerous times, spurred on in part, as the viewer will learn, by childhood demons. Through the course of the film, it is learned, that Jake was the victim of sexual abuse by his stepmother, who threatened to kill him if he told anyone. His relationship with his father was also anything but loving. Jake couldn’t recall a single time in his life where his father had told him he was proud of him, or offered him words of encouragement. For instance, when Jake told his father that he been accepted to college, he merely replied ‘good luck’ and walked away. (As an aside: Jake for all intents and purposes at the time of filming the documentary was financially broke. The shoulder surgery he required was going to cost $9,000 out of pocket. Jake didn’t have medical insurance, but once his fans learned that he had started an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds, within the first few hours, they contributed over $7,000 dollars, and in the end he got the full amount, and had his surgery).
Considering this is not a film that showcases Jake “The Snake” Roberts past glory days in sports entertainment, this is a documentary that can be appreciated by more than just wrestling fans. At the heart of the film is a story of one man’s determination to better himself. Jake Roberts is someone who openly admits his past transgressions. A person who desires, above all else, to repair the seemingly irreparable damage his actions have caused, especially when it comes to his children, who he attempts to reconcile with, in order to make amends. The journey Jake “The Snake” Roberts takes from the start of the film, up until its conclusion, is at times a sad one, but through his hard work, and the efforts of a group of people, who were willing to give him one last chance to turn his life around, it also winds up being a rewarding one.