Born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1944, Johnson began his wrestling career at the age of 16 and became a top star in the National Wrestling Alliance in the 1970s. He won multiple regional NWA titles, traveling through the territorial system and wrestling against legends like Harley Race, Terry Funk, and Jerry Lawler.
Johnson’s greatest success came from his work as a tag-team specialist, something that also had a personal impact on his life after he performed as a tag team partner with famed Samoan wrestler “High Chief” Peter Maivia, a blood brother of the decorated Anoa’i wrestling family that today includes four-time WWE champion Roman Reigns. It was through that relationship that Johnson met his wife, Maivia’s daughter Ata, with whom he had a son, Dwayne, in 1972.
Johnson’s tag team skills also worked to his advantage when he joined Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation in 1982. While he got started with singles matches against wrestlers like Greg Valentine, he broke through when he teamed up with Tony Atlas to form the tag team “The Soul Patrol.” Together, the two defeated The Wild Samoans — also members of the Anoa’i family — in November 1983 to become the first black tag team to win the WWF Tag Team Championship.
Johnson retired from wrestling in 1991 and trained his son, Dwayne, to be a wrestler despite initial misgivings. Upon his WWF debut in 1996, Dwayne Johnson took the ring name Rocky Maivia in honor of his wrestling roots before reimagining himself as the Attitude Era heel known famously as The Rock. In 2008, Rocky Johnson was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame alongside Peter Maivia by his son.
WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson has passed away. https://t.co/9uxrICJKxb
— WWE (@WWE) January 15, 2020
The National Wrestling Alliance is saddened to hear of the passing of Rocky Johnson.
His legacy stretches across every promotion. He was a champion everywhere he went including holding the NWA Georgia Championship.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his entire family. pic.twitter.com/KTqHZns6Hb
— NWA (@nwa) January 15, 2020
Johnson is survived by his sons, Dwayne and Curtis, and his daughter, Wanda. The cause of death is not currently known.