Going Ringside Ep. 13: Jake “The Snake” Roberts

Perhaps no professional wrestler in history has been as public with their personal struggles and demons as Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The wrestling legend who started in the 1970′s joined “Going Ringside” to discuss his decades in the business along with battling drug and alcohol addiction to finally be clean and sober in 2023. He now works for Jacksonville-based All Elite Wrestling. Roberts plans to attend the huge River City Wrestling Con event which is taking place at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds on June 10-11.

He’s actually terrified of snakes

Even more than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin with beer, Ric Flair with Rolexes and John Cena with chains — Jake Roberts is closely associated with snakes. For years in the national spotlight he would bring his snake Damien to the ring. The Burmese python would regularly terrify his opponents and provided Roberts with one of the best wrestling gimmicks of all time. But in real life, Roberts would travel with his snake from city to city for much of the 1980′s and 1990′s. Damien truly terrified him.

Roberts said he originally had no interest in working with a snake. ”I didn’t want to, but there were some numbers on the contract that convinced me to do it,” said Roberts. “I’m terrified of snakes. I hate snakes. Yes, I am. It’s so strange. I’d be terrified 24 hours a day. But when the bell rang I became somebody else. Jake Roberts was not afraid of anything.”

Despite his fear of Damien he would travel with the snake from city to city and said he would have the snake sleep in the bathtub of the different hotels he stayed in. He said all the other wrestlers he would threaten with during matches were also terrified of the snakes. “They were s****ing themselves,” said Roberts.

Everyone but Andre the Giant. Roberts had a high profile feud with the now-late Giant in the late 1980′s. “He wasn’t scared of that snake,” said Roberts. “No, no, no, no. He just did a good part.”

The “Macho Man” Randy Savage incident

During a match in 1991 on a taping of “Superstars of Wrestling” Roberts was in a match with “Macho Man” Randy Savage. It was one of, if not the most high profile feuds Roberts was ever in. For years Roberts would wield his snake Damien but there would never be an actual snake bite, that was until this night. One this episode, Savage famously gets tied up in the ropes. And Roberts, now with a King Cobra attacks Savage and has the snake literally bite down into his bicep. The pain on Savage’s face looked excruciating, likely because it was. The snake actually bit him.

To make this work and still not be dangerous to Savage’s health, Roberts said the snake was “fixed”. That meant it had all its venom removed.

“So for him to do it I had to let the snake bite me first,” Roberts said. “So, I let it bite me on the leg and he was satisfied with that. Of course, I hooked him up on his arm and he wouldn’t let go.”

Roberts said even after being bitten by the snake he was still afraid of snakes. “I was still scared of him the second the second bell (to end the match) would ring,” he said. “When it was over I got scared again.”

He wrestled to prove something to his father

Roberts started his career in 1974 much to the protestation of his father Aurelian “Grizzly” Smith. Roberts was immediately up front in saying that life with his father who was also a pretty well known wrestler who started in the 1950s wasn’t easy. “We didn’t get along too well. He was an absentee father,” Roberts said. “Not a very nice man. But I wanted to prove something to him and wasn’t getting it and with alcohol and youth and ignorance I got into it. I got into it for all the wrong reasons. I just wanted to prove to my dad that I was tough.”

Roberts went onto recount some extremely personal aspects of his family history saying his father, now deceased, was a “pedophile,” something he didn’t learn until later in life. He says his father “raped” his mother when he was a 12-year-old and she gave birth to him when he was 13. He said that along with other aspects of his upbringing led to difficulties with drugs and alcohol as he got older. Roberts also said it caused a lot of difficulties for him with other wrestlers who would often make crude comments. “My dad was still around through most of this and I was still having to deal with his demons,” Roberts said. “A lot of people knew what he was and wrestlers aren’t really kind when it comes to jokes and stuff. So it would be thrown in my face quite a bit.”

Roberts father was never criminally charged over allegations of sexual contact with a minor but the allegations have been very public for several years including in a documentary called: “Dark Side of the Ring: In the Shadow of Grizzly Smith”.

Being part of the iconic “Austin 3:16″ promo

By 1996 Roberts had returned to the WWF. At this point he was actively working to get sober and beat his past addictions to drugs and alcohol. He returned with a very unusual gimmick for the industry, an evangelical Christian. Roberts would regularly do interviews talking about his faith in Jesus and quoting scripture. Roberts said that was not all for show, in many respects it was his character mirroring his real life. “It was my life at the time,” said Roberts. “I was struggling so hard to stay clean. And I turned my life over to Christ and it takes so much to be clean. You’ve got to change everything about you. I’d given up and I had to reach out to God because I couldn’t do it.”

During this run Roberts entered the WWF King Of The Ring tournament. Roberts faced “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in the main event at the pay-per-view in 1996 where Austin won. In potentially the most famous wrestling promo of all time Austin said:

“The first thing I want to be done, is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. Don’t just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF because I’ve proved son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain’t got what it takes anymore! You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16 … Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”

“Yeah, I knew it was coming. I was one of the only people that believed in Steve Austin,” he said. “And had been schooling him and talking to him to help him get a big break. Vince McMahon said he was not a main eventer.” The impact of that promo was detailed in depth on episode four of “Going Ringside”.

But the above quote wasn’t the only part of that promo. The second half of that promo is something Roberts said stung:

“All he’s gotta do is go buy him a cheap bottle of Thunderbird and try to dig back some of that courage he had in his prime,” said Austin.

That last quote was a dig at Roberts’ ongoing struggles with drugs and alcohol. “I didn’t like that. But I’m sure Vince (McMahon) had something to do with that,” said Roberts. “Vince is a coldhearted bastard man. They did this storyline with Jerry Lawler and he threw whisky on me and stuff and called me a drunk. That dug in pretty hard man.”

Roberts said he has no relationship with Vince McMahon anymore. He said the only time he’s seen him in the past decade was in 2014 when he was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame.

Getting sober thanks to Diamond Dallas Page

Roberts said his fight with addiction continued for several years following this stint in the 1990′s. But in the past few years for perhaps the first time he has finally found sobriety. He did that with the help of fellow wrestling legend Diamond Dallas Page. Page started DDP Yoga in Georgia several years ago and helped several wrestlers get clean and sober. Among Page’s success stories include Roberts, Scott Hall (who passed away in 2022) and Marcus “Buff” Bagwell. “My life is free. I am free,” said a jubilant Roberts talking about the subject of his sobriety.

“I lived with Diamond Dallas Page for almost three years,” he said. “Dallas was our guardian. We were in a compound. They watched us like hawks.” Roberts added that he was totally cut off from any drugs or alcohol during that time and it changed his life.

In fact, Roberts said if it hadn’t been for Page’s intervention he likely wouldn’t be alive today. “I wouldn’t be if I hadn’t gotten clean,” said Roberts. “I’d had been dead a long time ago.”

Another wrestler who keeps in close touch with Page is former wrestler Marc Mero. He spoke in depth about his friendship with Page on Episode 10 of Going Ringside.

Coming to AEW and Jacksonville

Since getting clean Roberts has returned to the wrestling world. He was hired by Tony Khan’s Jacksonville-based All Elite Wrestling (AEW) in 2019. Roberts works currently backstage and as a manager for wrestler Lance Archer. “It was a gift man. And I’m still there,” said Roberts. “To go back out there after being gone 20 years. It was amazing. What a rush.”

Roberts said he thinks the addition of AEW to the wrestling world as an alternative to WWE has been good for the industry. “I love it. I love it. It’s good for the talent,” he said.

Roberts also will be in Jacksonville for the huge River City Wrestling Con event coming to the Jacksonville Fairgrounds June 10-11. Roberts says he will be there on Saturday the 10th. He said meeting with fans is one of his favorite things in life. “I love talking to the fans. They take me back,” said Roberts. “They’ll come to me and they’re so happy. Sometime they’re so caught off they can’t even speak. I think it’s so funny. Sometimes they like to talk about the first time they saw me wrestle. Who they were with. Grandfather, their dad and special times. Sometimes they tear up because they’re gone now. And I want to tear up because they’ll remind me of a match that I’ve forgotten about.”

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