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Actor Dwayne Johnson started his showbiz career as "The Rock," one of the most decorated champions in the World Wrestling Entertainment and one of its most popular characters, before applying his commanding presence and personal charisma into a successful film acting career. A bona fide pop culture figure, Johnson attracted impressive box office numbers to action and sports-oriented films like "The Scorpion King" (2002) and "Gridiron Gang" (2006), but over time, also proved himself to be an adroit comedic player with a surprisingly light touch. In fact, he memorably hosted "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), which included a hilarious parody of The Hulk called "The Rock Obama." But it was on the big screen that he made his biggest impression with turns in "The Rundown" (2003) and "Walking Tall" (2004). Johnson took a slight detour with the huge family comedy success "The Game Plan" (2007) and the summer comedy hit "Get Smart" (2008), though he endured some ridicule for starring in "Race to Witch Mountain" (2009) and "Tooth Fairy" (2010). Johnson was back on track with his work in the rejuvenated "The Fast and the Furious" series, which confirmed his status as a top action star.
Dwayne Douglas Johnson was born on May 5, 1972 in Hayward, CA, destined for a career in the wrestling ring. His father was African-American wrestler Rocky Johnson and his maternal grandfather was Samoan wrestler, High Chief Peter Maivia. His uncles were professional wrestlers known as the Wild Samoans, and his cousins Rickoshi, Rosey and Umaga were also on the circuit. Johnson attended his first wrestling match when he was only weeks old, and by the time he was six years old, his father was teaching him the basics. But Johnson paid a price for being part of a showbiz family with a peripatetic childhood that involved living in Hawaii, Tennessee and even New Zealand before the family eventually settled in Pennsylvania. At high school in Bethlehem, Johnson proved himself in boxing, track and football, eventually ranking as one of the state's top ten high school football players. With that credit, he earned a scholarship to the University of Miami and the honor of being the first member of his family to attend college.
Johnson played defensive tackle for the University's Hurricanes, and in 1991, helped bring the team to the National Championship. In 1994, he graduated with a degree in criminology and was drafted by the Canadian Football League for a short-lived stint in Calgary. Returning to Miami with no real plans for the future, he called on his father to groom him for a career in wrestling. Rocky Johnson trained his son and used his connections to land him a tryout with the WWF, who were impressed with Johnson but wanted him to get his feet wet for a time with their second-tier wrestling system, United States Wrestling Alliance, where Johnson debuted in 1996. By the end of that year, Johnson was in the folds of the WWF and performing at Madison Square Garden under the name Rocky Maivia, a tribute to his family heritage. A few months into his career, Johnson was winning matches but fans were already tiring of his "good guy" image. Following a knee injury, Johnson took some time to recuperate and work with his management to reinvent his persona.
Johnson returned to the ring in the summer of 1997 as The Rock, a member of the Nation of Domination crew of bad boys, replete with black boots and a menacing stare that drove the crowd nuts. With signature moves like "the People's Elbow" and "the People's Eyebrow" (raising his right eyebrow), Johnson was a breakout star and merchandising goldmine who also brought in a new female wrestling fan base, thanks to his chiseled, movie star looks and athletic build. In 1999, the WWF champion and certified pop culture phenomena made the first of many guest spots on TV comedies playing dad Rocky Maivia on "That 70's Show" (Fox, 1998-2006). The following year, he was seen in "Star Trek: Voyager" (UPN, 1995-2001), but it was a hosting slot on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) that made Hollywood take notice. He showed viewers and the powers that be in Hollywood that he was more than just a muscle man, gamely donning drag, displaying a rather pleasant singing voice, and most importantly, a flair for sketch comedy.
In 2001, after having won his sixth championship belt, Johnson made his feature acting debut as The Scorpion King in "The Mummy Returns." Although his screen time was limited, he displayed a strong, charismatic presence and the studio smelled success, developing Johnson's own starring vehicle with "The Scorpion King" (2002) and offering the first-time lead an unheard of $5.5 million dollar salary. Box office receipts more than made up for it, as audiences flocked to the absurd action fantasy. That same year, Johnson earned his seventh WWE Championship but began to focus more on his blossoming film career and dropping into wrestling events less frequently. He returned to the screen with a witty and charming turn in the crowd-pleasing action-comedy "The Rundown" (2003), playing a relentless bounty hunter in the Amazon jungle who is saddled with an annoying sidekick (Seann William Scott).
Of lesser quality but similar box office appeal was his follow-up effort, a remake of the cult classic "Walking Tall" (2004), in which the real-life Buford Pusser character that inspired the story is turned into special forces vet Chris Vaughn, who returns from the service to clean up his corrupt hometown with a two-by-four at his side. Taking a page from his predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Rock eschewed action to turn in a full-fledged comedic performance in "Be Cool" (2005), the entertaining sequel to "Get Shorty" (1995). Playing Elliot, the openly gay, afro-sporting Samoan bodyguard to music manager Vince Vaughn who dreams of becoming an actor, the Rock played against his established type and provided the film with a steady stream of comedic frisson. After the forgettable video game adaptation "Doom" (2005), Johnson took on a dramatic role in "Gridiron Gang" (2006), as the inspirational coach and founder of a football team in a juvenile detention facility. Critics generally dismissed the film as a rote sports melodrama, but it fared moderately well at the box office.
Johnson poked fun at his own image when he took on the role of an action film star in Richard Kelly's satirical, futuristic tale of urban chaos "Southland Tales" in 2007, but made a wider impression with an ensuing string of comedy releases. Following a hilarious cameo in the big screen version of "Reno 911" (2007) Johnson scored his biggest hit yet with the family comedy "Game Plan" (2007), which best utilized his assets playing a tough guy pro football player who unexpectedly finds himself in charge of an eight-year-old daughter he never knew he had. Again, Johnson gave a surprisingly understated and effective performance, offering natural comic timing and an easygoing rapport with other actors, with none of the giant, expressive, mugging for a reaction that was always the basis of the wrestling performance. Based on his solid comedy showings, Johnson was cast opposite Steve Carell in the adaptation of the 1960s spy sitcom "Get Smart" (2008). Playing Agent 23, a character invented for the film, Johnson promised to be a perfect comic foil for the nebbish Carell as an imposing senior agent and big brother figure for the bumbling Smart.
Maintaining his image as a positive role model for kids, which led him to choose light, campy roles that often riled critics, Johnson served as the host of "Nickelodeon's 22nd Annual Kids' Choice Awards" in 2009, which he followed with an appearance as himself on an episode of the supernatural tween series, "Wizards of Waverly Place" (Disney Channel, 2007-11). In March 2009, he guest-hosted an episode of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), where he starred in a memorable sketch called "The Rock Obama," playing the angry, Hulk-like version of Fred Armison's President Barack Obama, who deals with political opponents by throwing them out of a White House window. He reprised the character in a special cameo later that year; this time ripping the arm off Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Will Forte) for opposing health care reform. Back in features, he starred in the mildly successful "Race to Witch Mountain" (2009), a retelling of the 1975 family film, "Escape to Witch Mountain." For the animated "Planet 51" (2009), he voiced Capt. Chuck Baker, a human space explorer who lands on a strange planet inhabited by little green people who are eager to turn him into a permanent museum exhibit. The family comedy "Tooth Fairy" (2010) did little for Johnson's acting career, but a return to basics role in the taut action thriller "Faster" (2010) showed that he knew where his strengths were, while a slyly self-parodying role in the Will Ferrell comedy "The Other Guys" was a much stronger use of his comedic gift.
Johnson joined the aging "The Fast and the Furious" franchise with "Fast Five" (2011), a rejuvenating entry whose energy largely came from his kinetic portrayal of the mysterious Hobbs. Johnson returned to the role in the blockbuster hit "Fat & Furious 6" (2013) and its sequel "Furious Seven" (2015). "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (2012) brought back the lovable family-adventure Rock, while the gritty "Snitch" (2013) and "Empire State" (2013)sated his action thriller audience. Michael Bay's quirky crime comedy "Pain & Gain" (2013) allowed Johnson to stretch his comic chops, while "Hercules" (2014) was a big-budget summer blockbuster attempt. Also during this era, Johnson entered the reality television arena as the executive producer and star of "The Hero" (TNT 2013), a reality competition series that focused on the self-confidence of the contestants. This was followed by "Wake Up Call" (TNT 2014- ), a similarly uplifting series that featured Johnson visiting and mentoring ordinary people who needed to make major changes in their lives. After the worldwide success of "Furious Seven," Johnson played a steely helicopter pilot in the CGI-heavy disaster film "San Andreas" (2015).
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Spent one year with Canadian football team Calgary Stampedes
Hosted "Saturday Night Live" (NBC), sang in skits as well as donned drag
Appeared at both Democratic and Republican National Conventions
Starred opposite Seann William Scott as a bounty hunter in "The Rundown"
Played a former U.S. Army Special Forces who returns home in "Walking Tall" opposite Johnny Knoxville
Cast as a a bodyguard-singer opposite John Travolta in "Be Cool"
Played a probation officer who forms a football team of juvenile inmates in "Gridiron Gang"; film inspired by a 1993 documentary
Played a pro quarterback who meets 8-year-old daughter he never knew he had in comedy "The Game Plan"
Co-starred in Richard Kelly's ensemble film "Southland Tales"
Voiced NASA astronaut Captain Chuck Baker in animated film "Planet 51"
Played title character in comedy film "The Tooth Fairy"
Played a federal agent in "Fast Five," the fifth film in "The Fast and the Furious" film series
Starred in adventure sequel "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island"
Starred in action drama "Snitch"
Co-starred opposite Mark Wahlberg in the Michael Bay comedy "Pain & Gain"
Executive produced and starred in "The Hero," a self-improvement reality competition on TNT
Starred as the title character in the big-budget adventure "Hercules"
Starred as a heroic helicopter pilot attempting to save his estranged wife and daughter in the earthquake drama "San Andreas"
Starred on HBO series "Ballers"
Co-starred with Kevin Hart in action comedy "Central Intelligence"
Reprised earlier role in "The Fate of the Furious"