Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts on WWE’s A&E Biography, redemption

Jake “The Snake” Roberts once had a dream other than becoming one of the biggest professional wrestling stars ever.

Before Aurelian Smith Jr. ever stepped in a ring he hoped to be an architect, having a love of working with wood and buildings. But at 18, he decided to give wrestling a try to prove his toughness to his infamous father Grizzly Smith. Roberts was expecting a triumphant night before heading to college, but instead was embarrassed during his match and scolded by his dad. It led to him “praying to the devil” to help him one day become a bigger wrestling star than his father.

Being a traditional architect was out the window.

“I’ve built crossbows. I’ve built guns, I’ve built all sorts of things,” Roberts said on Zoom call sitting in front of a wooden china hutch he built at 18. “I built a house full of furniture for my first marriage, but I loved working with wood. I think I would have been very successful, but I’m very fortunate that I did fall into the wrestling because I think I’ve been an architect in many ways because I helped build a lot of people.”

After a childhood lived under a cloud of sexual abuse, that night set him on a path to creating one of the best personas in wrestling history while helping build some of the company’s top stars in the process. There were also the lows of being away from his family and drug and alcohol addiction that left him wanting to die before getting help in 2012. Roberts, who has been sober for 10 years, now wants to show others you can come back from anything.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts

“That there’s hope,” Roberts said when asked what he wants people to take away from the documentary. “That no matter how far down somebody is there’s hope. We went to great lengths to show how far down I went and the road to recovery.”

All of it is covered in the latest documentary in A&E’s “Biography: WWE Legends” series airing Sunday at 8 p.m. It provides an inside and very raw look at Roberts’ life. It is the first time we hear some of his kids’ feelings about the pain his absence caused and the healing that has brought him back into their lives. The documentary opens with Roberts, who has eight children, fishing on a boat with two of his sons, Derek and Dustin. It’s a moment he doesn’t take for granted.

“Me and the boys, we go fishing and all sorts of things,” Roberts said. “I try to get involved with the grandkids and I’ve just truly been blessed.”

Roberts, 67, said there are still moments “where I get really down on myself when I realize how much I missed” because he was on the road wrestling and later in his life battling addiction. At one point in the documentary, Derek says “I can’t imagine as a father not doing that [everything] for your own kids.” His daughter Brandy tells a story about how she drove her and her dad from Texas to Georgia in 1993 while he smoked crack the entire time. She says things were so bad in 1998 she “was grateful when he stayed away.” Roberts, who still has four of his kids who currently don’t want him back in their lives, said it was a gradual process getting accepted back by the other four – starting with asking for forgiveness.

“You start getting involved, go to church with the kids, do this with the kids, and become involved in what they’re doing and not what you’re doing,” he said. “Because it’s not about me anymore, it’s about them.”

Roberts always had a complicated family reality because his father was a pedophile with young women. His half-sister Robin speculates in the documentary that their dad likely pushed Roberts’ stepmother to molest and beat him as a child. He said “you were constantly on guard” and “try to read that person you were afraid” was gonna hurt you.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts turns the snake on Earthquake.

“It’s hard to hide in a small house,” he said. “So you go to find things to do. You got to have outlets and when the time comes and you know things are gonna happen then you just try to go through that and find a hole to hide in within yourself while it’s going on. Afterward, you just got to know that it’s not you, it’s them that’s sick.”

In wrestling, Roberts got to be someone else when he walked through the curtain and the documentary gives you a look at the journey, which did not include going to a wrestling school. After the ill-fated night at 18, he learned the business through trial and error and got his “ass handed to me” often by veterans over his first two years. He said that often instead of following his partner’s lead he would try something at the wrong place and time during a match.

Once he began coming into his own, he stumbled into his famous DDT when “The Grappler” stepped on his left foot and he fell “flat on his ass.” The accident became one of pro wrestling’s most devastating and protected finishers and changed Roberts’ career.  

“That first time I knew that son bitch was gold,” Roberts said.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts

While working in Mid-South in 1986 he caught the eye of Vince McMahon and WWE – then the WWF. McMahon wanted to add a live snake to his persona. The only problem was Roberts was deathly afraid of them – and still is today. Somehow he overcome that when he stepped out into an arena.

“I don’t think anybody can say they ever saw me scared of that damn snake,” Roberts said. “Because something would just happen because when I would walk out of that damn locker room, it was like a switch being clicked and, I was no long Aurelian Smith, I became Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts then and Jake ‘The Snake’ didn’t give a f—k about anything.”

It led to a persona that Roberts agreed was ahead of its time in the 1980s with the shock value of a live snake moving around in a bag and on opponents – including the famous scene of one biting a tied-up “Macho Man” Randy Savage in the ropes. Roberts’ slow, methodical and intense promo style was the opposite of the loud and boisterous ones of that era.

“People were looking for somebody who they couldn’t see through,” Roberts said. “Being as good and great as Hulk [Hogan] was there was some corn in that, a little too much in believability. I always kept it very, very real. You couldn’t see through my s—t.”

One of the big avenues the documentary gets into is Roberts as wrestling’s first anti-hero. It likely happened before the industry was ready for one. The WWE Hall of Famer never won a singles title in WWE, partly Roberts said he believes because McMahon was “afraid” of relying on him because of his issues outside the ring. The reactions he was getting in the ring didn’t help either. Roberts does believe he may have played better during WWE’s “Attitude Era.” That famous period of wrestling popularity was led by the anti-hero “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who Roberts helped create at King of the Ring 1996.  

“I probably would have been able to go further with it [during the Attitude Era],” Roberts said. “But at the time, whenever the fans started chanting ‘DDT’ and I was with Hogan that was not a good thing and it cost me a lot of money. It’s pretty impossible to invest in somebody that might not be there in the end, that he’s a loose cannon, who can’t guide him, you can’t control it.”

Jake “The Snake” Roberts

After Roberts’ second run in WWE ended in 1997, he would pop up around the industry from time to time in ECW, WWE and TNA. Roberts attempted to go to rehab, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he hit rock bottom. He described it as “living in a s—thole” and you’re not sure if you have enough money to eat for the week or pay the rent. You don’t have a car because you’ve already sold it and you “don’t give a f—k.” 

“All you think about is where you’re gonna get your next hit and you didn’t care what you did to do it,” Roberts said. “Does that mean I got to sell some furniture? OK, f–k it. But when you get to the bottom, brother, it’s a lonely cold place. I stayed there for some period of time. … I was trying to die at the time.”

That led to him reaching out to his friend Diamond Dallas Page and living with him for the next two years. Roberts finally got sober, all of which is chronicled in the “Resurrection of Jake the Snake” documentary. He said the most important thing was creating new habits to replace his destructive ones, something he didn’t feel traditional rehab provided.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts

It’s allowed him to truly feel good about himself for the first time in a long time. There is a point in the A&E documentary where he happily says, “I’m that guy that’s doing the right thing.” Being able to do so without “lying” has been freeing.

“It’s so good,” Roberts said. “That’s the thing about me now, I don’t have to lie. I don’t have to walk around the corner and hide something. I can wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and go, ‘You know what dude, you’re a bad son of bitch. You got your s—t right.’”

It’s why Roberts, who is currently working backstage with AEW after a run as Lance Archer’s on-screen manager, wants his story to be an inspiration for others trying to break their own cycle of addiction and help them rebuild their lives.

“Hopefully I’m building a lot of people as we speak, showing them a way out of their alcohol addiction or your drug addiction,” Roberts said. “It’s showing them that things are possible.”

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