No one ever said that living your dream would be easy. Just like any type of dream job, professional wrestlers have had to pay their dues just to have the opportunity to compete in front of a large crowd. It’s actually a lot like the world of entertainment, where actors, comedians and musicians have to make huge sacrifices while pursuing their dream. Celebrities like Drew Carey and Steve Harvey spent time living without a home while trying to make their dreams come true. It’s the ultimate investment anyone can give, but it has worked out for a select few. Just like the folks whose names have been cemented in the sidewalks of Hollywood, many of the best professional wrestlers have also made that kind of sacrifice.
Many wrestlers invested all of their time and energy into becoming one of the best professional wrestlers. Working on the independent circuit doesn’t always cover the essential bills, like renting an apartment.
For some wrestlers, being homeless was a way of life. Like many other successful people, some wrestlers grew up with a difficult childhood. Their parents struggled to make ends meet and sometimes couldn’t even hit that mark. Additionally, there are also wrestling stars who fall on hard times and lose their homes. Maybe their personal addictions led to them not being able to afford their houses or even a hotel. Stories like theirs remind us that even the biggest names in professional wrestling, or any industry, have had humble beginnings and endings. They’re all human and there will always be a story to tell from their rise to success or their fall from grace. The following are 15 of those stories.
15 The Missing Link (Dewey Robertson)
Professional wrestling had a lot of interesting characters that were bizarre. Dewey Robertson was behind one of the more unique gimmicks during the 1980s as The Missing Link. After more than 20 years of wrestling throughout North America, Robertson shaved his head, painted his face and debuted the character in 1984. It even led to a brief stint in WWE in 1985.
But drugs would become a problem in his life, including addictions to steroids, cocaine and amphetamines. In his autobiography published in 2006, Robertson admitted that his drug use eventually led to becoming homeless at one point. While spending years wrestling on the independent circuit, his health declined to a point where he lost a battle with cancer in 2007 at the age of 68.
14 Michael Tarver
If it weren’t for the brief time on WWE television as a member of the original Nexus faction in 2010, WWE fans might not remember Michael Tarver. He was one of the contestants competing in the first season of NXT earlier that year and was able to benefit from The Nexus having a big impact overall. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get a return to the main roster after being sent back to Florida Championship Wrestling.
But before he was initially signed to a developmental contract in 2008, he was homeless and living through a very tough situation. Tarver’s story is commendable, as he was working three jobs while trying to train for both wrestling and bodybuilding. With that kind of schedule, it’s no surprise when he admitted he wasn’t sleeping at all. Money he could have used for an apartment went towards his children through child support payments. At least he’s now working regularly with the National Wrestling Alliance.
13 Willie Mack
One of the more interesting talents on the independent circuit is certainly Willie Mack. He was introduced to hard times at an early age when he was placed in foster care because his mother was addicted to drugs. Professional wrestling was something he viewed as an escape from those hard times. From his debut in 2006, he worked his way up the ranks that led to some interest from WWE talent scouts.
But the contract fell through due to health concerns like low blood pressure and knee problems. Mack said they pulled the contract a week before he was to report to NXT. The sudden halt left him homeless for a period of time and depressed from the entire situation. Luckily for Mack, he was able to land on his feet with a contract for Lucha Underground.
12 Haiti Kid
Raymond Kessler might have dealt with dwarfism growing up, but he wouldn’t let that stop him from being able to compete in the WWE. He made his debut with the company back in 1971. Stints were brief during the 1970s and 1980s, which also included an appearance at WrestleMania II and III. But wrestling fans from years past may have also seen him compete for various promotions that included the American Wrestling Alliance, the National Wrestling Alliance as well as several territorial companies across the United States.
After leaving wrestling in the early 1990s for World Wrestling Council in Puerto Rico, there were many fans who thought he died in 2001, but those rumors were quickly debunked after he was found living in the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y. He told fans that he hopes to eventually make one more return to professional wrestling, but that was more than seven years ago.
11 Rich Swann
While several professional wrestlers have come from tragic upbringings, there aren’t a lot whose upbringings were as rough as Rich Swann. Long before joining the WWE’s Cruiserweight Division, he was a teenager who lost both of his parents. While growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, his father was murdered and his mother passed away due to poor health. On his own, he unfortunately developed an addiction to cocaine.
When his usual dealer died from a heart attack, Swann quit drugs and was able to get help from his aunt to find an apartment and earn his high school diploma. It still hardened him, but gave him a better appreciation about life. After years with promotions like Combat Zone Wrestling and Drago Gate USA, Swann was able to develop into one of the better Cruiserweights today.
10 T.J. Perkins
Wrestling fans are starting to learn more about T.J. Perkins, the newest WWE Cruiserweight Champion. Sure, he competed all around the world as Manik in TNA Wrestling and other promotions, but the WWE made him a big star and the rest of the world took notice of the hard times he went through to get to this point in his career. Despite having debuted at the young age of 14, he spent time in his 20s without a home.
He noted that he still carries the key to the first home from which he was evicted during his wrestling career. It was a reminder of how far he had come as he competed in Ring of Honor, TNA and in various parts of the world before coming to the WWE. It’s been a great feel-good story for Perkins, even if there was some heat backstage since there’s been a lot of attention about him being homeless.
9 AJ Lee
While she was a very petite athlete at five-foot-two and only about 110 pounds, AJ Lee was a fiery competitor in the ring throughout her wrestling career. She found a lot of success wrestling throughout the independent circuit before she was eventually signed to a WWE developmental contract in 2009. She was able to win the WWE Divas Championship three times and also become extremely popular with storylines involving Daniel Bryan and CM Punk in 2012. Lee has since married Punk and focused on a number of personal projects.
Before all of her success, she lived a tough childhood as her and her family spent time without a home. It happened twice, according to an interview she did with an Atlanta radio show in 2012. Because of her success in WWE and beyond, she’s been able to provide for her family.
8 Perry Saturn
Perry Saturn was a recognizable name during the 1990s as he competed for Extreme Championship Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling. He would eventually go to the WWE in 2002 and spend a few years working on the independent circuit. After 2004, he went missing for several years; leaving fans to assume he may have passed away quietly, but Saturn resurfaced in 2012.
It was during media interviews that he talked about drug additions that led to him spending time homeless. The time he was gone from the public eye was a period of time in which Saturn was living on the streets for more than two years. Saturn admitted it took a few attempts, but he was finally able to turn things around with rehabilitation and a new lease on life.
7 Tony Atlas
Professional wrestling was a different type of industry in the 1970s and 1980s when Tony Atlas was competing for various promotions like Jim Crockett’s World Championship Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance. Early in his wrestling career, he decided to make a move to Los Angeles, but Atlas developed a drug addiction that made things pretty hard for him financially. He admitted in an interview that he became homeless in 1989.
For the year and a half he slept on park benches, he went from 280 pounds to only 190. Luckily, Vince McMahon wanted to reach out to him to come back as Saba Simba. It gave Atlas the motivation to get back to a better physical condition at 240 pound. Atlas claims that the character saved his life.
One of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era was Chyna. While most women were being promoted for their looks and in-ring abilities, Chyna was someone who was tough enough and willing enough to face any male on the WWE roster. She even defeated Jeff Jarrett for the Intercontinental Championship. But fans are also very aware of the issues Joanie Laurer had with drugs and alcohol in the years after being released from WWE in 2001.
Sadly, her issues can be linked to a rough childhood. For example, her father apparently took out student loans in her name and put her thousands of dollars into debt. At age 16, Laurer was kicked out of her family home by her own mother. This led to a big divide between Laurer and her family for about 30 years.
5 Roddy Piper
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was one of the greatest villains in professional wrestling during a time when WrestleMania was first developing history in the 1980s. If there was ever someone who best personified the perfect heel, Piper was that wrestler. He might have never won a single World Championship during a career that started in 1969, but Piper was the best at being the bad guy.
Piper also had a rough childhood.When he was a teenager, he ran away from home and attempted to live on the streets. Piper barely talked about his childhood, but he hinted that his father was an abusive alcoholic during an interview with the Huffington Post. It taught him to be a fighter, which was a characteristic that stuck with him through his wrestling career. From a frail teenager, he was able to develop into one of the best brawlers in the ring.
4 Daniel Bryan
Similar to other professional wrestlers who had to work through the independent circuits before making it to the big stage, Daniel Bryan attempted to save what he could for his career. When he first decided to become a wrestling student through Shawn Michaels’ Academy in Texas, Bryan had to make the decision to sleep in his car. There were other times he would spend the night at the wrestling school.
He also did this when he made the move to train in Japan. Before finally getting the chance to come to WWE in 2009, Bryan was giving everything he could to be the best. While there were ups and downs, he was able to become a highly decorated champion that culminated at WrestleMania XXX with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
3 Mick Foley
Whether you know him as Mankind, Dude Love or Cactus Jack, Mick Foley was one of the toughest men in professional wrestling since his career began in 1983. The one thing many folks have noticed in recent years is how frugal he is. While he’s obviously made millions of dollars through the time he spent in WWE, he rarely invests a lot in his own clothing and how he drives around town.
Maybe that mentality is ingrained in him from how frugal he had to be early in his wrestling career. Early in his career, Foley was someone who would save his money by sleeping in his car or on donated cots instead of investing in a home. Being a family man today, he’s obviously invested in a home where he can rest easier, but this was not always the case for him.
2 John Cena
Each era of professional wrestling has at least one superstar who is able to transcend into popular culture and become the perfect representative for the industry. It was Hulk Hogan in the 1980s, The Rock in the 1990s and it is currently John Cena. The man seems to forget what the term “day off” means. He’s either working on WWE television or filming/promoting an upcoming movie or television show.
If he’s not acting or wrestling, Cena is with children and younger wrestling fans as an inspiration and a role model. During a 2011 visit to Baker High School in Syracuse, N.Y., Cena told students that he was once homeless early in his career. This forced him to make more responsible decisions. Sometimes, you learn from your mistakes.
1 The Rock
While more people know him as Dwayne Johnson, The Rock first established himself as the most electrifying man in entertainment through professional wrestling. But like many wrestlers, his childhood was filled with a lot of struggles. When he was a teenager, he and his mom were evicted from a home they shared. They were unable to afford the $120 per week rent and came home to a padlock on their door.
The fight against homelessness was a constant battle in his childhood and it led to him finding ways to support himself and his mom. The Rock was also motivated to train for sports as a way out. Luckily, it led to him receiving a scholarship to play football for the University of Miami. Football didn’t pan out, but he found wrestling and then his new career in acting. All of his hard work did eventually pay off and he has paid it forward to his mother since then.