Jake "the Snake" Roberts' pro wrestling career was one of enthralling work with a microphone, a powerful connection with the audience and darkness slashing away at him.
In the ring, Roberts was the predator, but outside of it, his demons did the biting.
Son of pro wrestler Grizzly Smith, Roberts went on to become one of the most recognizable stars of the '80s. His story is one of captivating feuds and mic performances worthy of the Hall of Fame, but it's a story one can't tell without bringing up his failings and the tragedy that has surrounded him.
The Pick Your Poison DVD goes into great detail for those interested, diving into a narrative that sounds like fiction. Drugs, murder and incest have all haunted Roberts.
It's no wonder then that when he delivered a wrestling promo, it was often so chilling. Roberts was a sinister hypnotist and one of wrestling's greatest poets. He so often managed to funnel his own dark past into his wrestling, but it also sunk his career at times.
He will be remembered for inventing and remaining the master of the DDT. He will be known as one of the best in terms of in-ring psychology and one of the greatest wrestlers to never win a championship with WWE.
Before he ever hoisted a snake-filled bag over his shoulder, Roberts' career began in the South's wrestling territories.
A Start in the South
After stints in Florida and Dallas, Roberts had many of his first successes while wrestling for Mid-South Wrestling.
He often wore long, loose-fitting red pants. He wasn't as toned as most wrestlers, instead his wiry frame slinked around the ring.
Despite not looking like the average athlete, Roberts was fluid and compelling.
Fans found that in his battles against Lord Humongous, Ric Flair and his feuds with Dick Slater and Ron Garvin. He and Slater fought over the Mid-South North American title in a rivalry that saw Slater choking Roberts and Roberts hitting a DDT on Slater's valet Dark Journey.
It wasn't long after that scintillating feud that WWE came calling.
In 1986, WWE (then WWF) was on the rise. Vince McMahon plucked stars from territories from all around the country, but few were as big as Roberts.
Playing off his 'snake' nickname, WWE had Roberts carry a python named Damien to the ring.
This was more than a prop; it was an extension of Roberts' persona. He was just as dangerous and unpredictable as the snake in that bag.
Soon after his debut, he attacked George Wells with Damien. Roberts followed his WrestleMania II victory by wrapping the python around Wells' neck and torso. Wells vomited during the attack which only added to Roberts' mystique.
Roberts' first feud was against Ricky Steamboat.
During a match, Roberts hit Steamboat with a DDT on the floor, legitimately knocking him out. When Steamboat recovered, he had plenty of motivation to seek revenge. This led to a number of memorable battles between the two including a match on Saturday Night Main Event where Steamboat fended off Roberts and Damien with a komodo dragon.
Damien remained a central figure either as a weapon lying in wait while Roberts' hosted his Snake Pit segments or as a means to torture his adversaries.
Spreading the Venom
Among the men who Roberts attacked using Damien was Andre the Giant.
Andre's fear of snakes helped balance out their size difference during their feud. Roberts chased off the big man with the snake which at one point gave Andre a kayfabe heart attack.
Their feud culminated at WrestleMania V where Roberts picked up the win when Andre attacked special guest referee Big John Studd.
Roberts later showed why one should never trust a snake when he turned on the Ultimate Warrior. Warrior sought help in facing The Undertaker. At first, it looked like Roberts was out to teach Warrior how to control his inner darkness and how to battle a man as intimidating as Undertaker.
Instead, Roberts suckered Warrior into opening a casket that had a cobra waiting inside.
Roberts laughed as Warrior writhed in pain, venom running through Warrior's veins.
As effective as he was playing the merciless villain, Roberts excelled at being a fan favorite as well. He was the edgy rebel fans could get behind.
That's the role he played in his battles with Rick Rude.
A Nest of Rivals
Roberts' best feud may have been opposite Rude.
The emotion that their story created rubbed audiences raw. It began when Rude hit on Roberts' wife Cheryl. He tried to kiss her, but she slapped him away. Roberts had to come charging down to ringside to save his wife from Rude who looked moments away from retaliating against Cheryl.
To infuriate Roberts, Rude began wearing tights with Cheryl's face spray-painted on his crotch.
Roberts has better and bigger matches than his work with Rude, but nothing felt as personal as this rivalry.
Still, Roberts found a way to make every feud memorable and moving. He nailed his interviews in his feud against Ted DiBiase, took a nasty guitar shot from Honky Tonk Man that led to them battling at WrestleMania III, Rick Martel blinded him with cologne before they battled blindfolded at WrestleMania VII and Earthquake instigated a feud between them by squashing Damien.
Randy Savage served as his other great foe. During this rivalry, Roberts showed off his villainous side, toying with and torturing Savage and his wife Elizabeth.
The two enemies had great chemistry in the ring and both told emotional stories during their battles on Saturday Night Main Event and This Tuesday in Texas. One of the most jaw-dropping moments of their rivalry was when Roberts tied Savage in the ring ropes and had his snake bite Savage on the arm.
WWE president Jack Tunney banned Roberts from bringing his snake to the ring after this incident.
The years immediately following his first WWE run didn't bring as much success. Roberts wandered from various promotions, never able to have the kind of impact that he had against the likes of Savage and Rude.
His biggest WCW feud was against Sting.
The two collided in a Coal Miner's Glove match at Halloween Havoc 1992. It was his only pay-per-view match with the company.
Roberts later briefly wrestled for Mexico's Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion (AAA), Extreme Championship Wrestling and various independent promotions. He was clearly out of shape in some of these bouts and many speculated that he was also intoxicated.
From his unflattering appearance on the Beyond the Mat documentary to his own admission, Roberts' battles with alcohol addiction and drug use were no secret. He told Salon.com, "I started drinking when I was 11 and had my first joint when I was 18."
When he was in his prime, the bright lights helped hide his personal issues, but when he transitioned into his post-WWE career, they were impossible to ignore. Stories like the one TMZ.com reported on of Roberts having a breakdown in the ring were far too common.
Fortunately, Roberts' story has chapters after these disturbing ones.
Whether his recent efforts alongside Diamond Dallas Page lead to a successful return to the ring or not, they have already been a success. Roberts is making a life comeback.
As detailed by Jay Busbee in this Yahoo! Sports story, Page took Roberts in and helped him both to shed off excess pounds and begin the journey back to sobriety. Unfortunately, Roberts, per CagesideSeats.com, suffered a setback on his road to recovery.
Roberts, who the Cauliflower Alley Club recently inducted into their Hall of Fame, has sounded renewed and inspired after working with Page. If he continues to clean himself up, he may achieve his new goal of entering the 2014 Royal Rumble even after stumbling.
For the fans who have followed him since his early days, who have seen him turn wrestling rings into theaters for so long, it would be amazing to see Roberts tag on a moment like that onto the end of his turbulent career.
Roberts' career achievements are so often overshadowed by his demons. One can't help but root for him to defeat these foes the way he defeated his opponents in the ring, for him to dish out a DDT to his addictions.
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