Jake 'The Snake' Roberts Opens Up on Tony Khan and AEW, Life After Addiction and More

Brent SobleskiDecember 14, 2022

Bleacher Report Photos/Brent Sobleski

Jake Roberts isn't the same man today he once was. He's better. More importantly, he's happier.

"The Snake" rose through the pro-wrestling territories and became one of the WWF's biggest stars during the 1980s into the early '90s. Crowds roared when he attempted his patented DDT or pulled out one of his slithery pals to cover downed opponents.

His career began to fall apart as alcohol and drug addiction overtook his life, as chronicled in the documentary entitled The Resurrection of Jake the Snake. He also bared his soul for the world to see when discussing his father—Grizzly Smith, another former professional wrestler—and broken family as part of Vice's Dark Side of the Ring.

After getting sober, Roberts resuscitated his career. WWE inducted him as part of the company's 2014 Hall of Fame class. He then took the fledgling All Elite Wrestling by storm as the manager of Lance Archer. His promo toward Cody Rhodes during his debut is still one of the company's best in its short history.

Roberts remains All Elite and under contract, though he hasn't been part of creative recently due to a respiratory ailment. Doctors cleared him after five months of rehabilitation, and he can return to his role. Meanwhile, the wrestling icon started a solo podcast called The Snake Pit.

The rejuvenated 67-year-old sat down with Bleacher Report to discuss where his life currently stands, what he's seen in the AEW locker room, his reactions to some shocking moments this year and what comes next—for him and the professional wrestling industry.

Bleacher Report: Thanks to The Resurrection of Jake the Snake and the Vice episode, you aired significant issues which aren't easy for anyone to discuss. How have your relationships with your family changed after addressing those pitfalls of the past?

Jake Roberts: "It's gotten better. My oldest daughter and I are now golden. I have another daughter who's golden. I have twin boys who are golden. But I do have four other children, who are…still holding their ground. I understand it. I'm not trying to shove anything down their throats.

"I'm guilty of everything I did and didn't do. It's more things that I didn't do, because I was never around them when I was messed up or drunk or anything like that. Thank you, Lord. It would have been horrible to have seen me like that. I'm grateful I wasn't around at that time, and it's all because of my wife at the time who made it happen. We divorced because she said she didn't want drugs and alcohol around the children.

"Just to show how powerful drugs and alcohol are, I chose drugs and alcohol over a family. How insane is that? I look back now and wonder, 'What in the hell were you thinking?' I wasn't thinking. Once that addiction has you, the only thing that matters is your drug. That's all."

B/R: Has there been anyone who reached out, told you how helpful your story has been to them and asked for help?

JR: "Literally hundreds of people.

"Currently, I have two or three people that I'm working with—one being Buff Bagwell. We're trying to get Buff on the straight and narrow. It's a process, and it's not easy. It takes time, especially for those who did it long-term. When you do something…religiously…24/7, then you stop, there's a little thing in your brain that goes crazy and says, 'Hey, where's the next drink at? Where's this?' It's a bad habit.

"I've been to jails and I've been to rehabs. I never met anybody at a jail or rehab who said, 'Gee, Jake, when I was growing up, my dream was to become a drug addict and alcoholic.' Nobody dreams of that. It's something that happens along the way. You take a left instead of a right, then you're right in the middle of it.

"Once the hook is set, you're in trouble.

"For me, it took a long time to reach the bottom, because I had money. But I finally got rid of all of it. I got rid of the car. I traded drugs for a car. I've done it all. It wasn't until I was at the very bottom, praying to die, cursing God because I wasn't dead and becoming a hermit more or less…I wouldn't go shopping until 2 or 3 a.m. because I didn't want people to see me. That's how bad I looked and how bad I felt.

"With me, I went to the top. There was nobody any better than me. They may have had belts and stuff, but that doesn't mean you're any better. I was the very best.

"To go from there—not to the bottom of the barrel, but under it—that's where I was at. The opportunity to come out of it, I'm forever grateful to Diamond Dallas Page for saving my life. He saved my life by giving me the opportunity to get sober."

B/R: After getting yourself right and doing everything you needed to do over an extended period of time, you finally returned to an on-screen role with AEW in 2020. What did that moment mean to you?

JR: "That was one of my golden moments. I'll never forget it.

"Having that opportunity in Salt Lake City was more than I ever dreamed of. When they asked me to come in, I thought it would be a one-day deal. After the Salt Lake City thing, they decided it was worth a couple of years.

"Redemption is what it was.

"To go back out on a major stage, be the focus of what's there and still being able to deliver, it was incredible. I know when I touched the ring I thought my hands were going to catch on fire. It was…hot. I just felt something coming through me.

"It was just an incredible feeling. I can't explain it, until you've had that moment."

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 26: CM Punk in the ring during AEW Dynamite - Beach Break on January 26, 2022, at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

B/R: You had stepped away for health reasons during the time of September's All Out pay-per-view, yet CM Punk's post-match press conference continues to dominate the discourse around professional wrestling. When you heard what he said, what was your first impression?

JR: "Disgust. The whole thing disgusted me. Other than that, my feelings…you don't want to hear what I think and I'm not going to tell you."

B/R: Well, you did spend time in the locker room with Matt and Nick Jackson (The Young Bucks), as well as Kenny Omega. All three were reportedly involved in a backstage altercation with Punk after his comments to attending media. What are AEW's executive vice presidents like behind the scenes that could lead to such an incident?

JR: "I don't think they did. I think it's all on [Punk]. That's my own personal thought."

B/R: From a personal standpoint, what has the backstage reaction been like since joining AEW?

JR: "Y'know, the one thing I'm not real happy with is that the younger talent—I don't know if they're intimidated by me or what—don't come to me and ask for advice. They don't come to me and ask for help. A few have. If the shoe were on the other foot, I'd be right up in the middle of it. That's what I'm there for. I'm there to help them. That's my job. And I can help them so much."

B/R: It's not just about wrestling, though. You have other experiences in an industry notoriously hard on its workers. Has there been any progress on that front?

JR: "I have been able to help a couple of fellows dealing with addiction and alcohol. … I can honestly say that I saved one guy's marriage. We got him on the straight-and-narrow. I just talked to him again the other night and he told me, 'Life's better than it's ever been before.' That's the same way I feel.

"My life today is 10 times…100 times…better than it was at my peak, because I'm enjoying it. I'm not carrying around a lot of garbage and guilt and shame. Man, you start carrying all that stuff around and it gets heavy. It's always knocking…hitting you in the head. Slapping you, telling you that you're not worth it.

"You are worth it."

B/R: Is there a legitimate problem with the younger generation not taking advice from longtime veterans of what to do in the ring, in general?

JR: "I think it is. It's a double-edged sword. The business today isn't what it was 20 years ago. It's different. These kids are under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform. They go out and take risks that are (shakes head in disbelief) insane. Tossing their bodies around and flying. But they're missing so much when it comes to character. Who are you? You can put 10 of them into a room, and all 10 will do the same thing. They need to work on character. They need to work on timing. They need to learn how to connect with the fans. I don't know if they'll ever get that opportunity.

"There are a few who take it: Mox [Jon Moxley], Bryan Danielson, Chris Jericho and several others. They know what to do out there. Yet there are so many who aren't getting it."

OSAKA, JAPAN - AUGUST 07:  Lance Archer enters the ring during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling - G1 Climax 32 at Edion Arena Osaka on August 07, 2022 in Osaka, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

B/R: From a creative standpoint, were you happy with Archer's direction after introducing both of you as a tandem?

JR: "Gosh, no. Why would I be? Not for me, for Lance. Lance is an incredible athlete. He's a monster, for Christ's sake. He's 285 pounds and doing flips and all sorts of stuff that he doesn't need to be doing. But he's so hungry to get that spot up above.

"For whatever reason, it's not happening. It's back to the old thing, you're not the chosen one. In WWE, if you weren't Hulk Hogan, you weren't Hulk Hogan. That was it. That's where he finds himself. He's not the guy.

"Whether that changes or not, I don't know. Is it right or wrong? It's hard for me to say it's wrong, because if I was in their shoes, I'd want to do what I had in mind.

"Myself, I'd make him a champion. He's a killer."

B/R: When you do return to your onscreen persona, is the plan to work with Archer again or move in another direction?

JR: "It's with him or not. I won't go anywhere else. I love Lance. He's a great man. He's a solid guy. I wish to hell he'd been around when I was wrestling. Maybe he could have helped me. Maybe he could have forced me not to go down the roads I went. I have that kind of respect for him. You have to respect somebody before you follow them. I respect him."

B/R: Your final line to Rhodes was, "A wise man once told me to never turn your back on somebody you respect or you're afraid of." You then turned your back on him and walked to the backstage. Obviously, you don't feel that way personally about him. How much did he help in bringing you into the company?

JR: "It was huge. He's very tight with [Diamond Dallas Page].

"At the time, AEW wanted people to make a splash to get some attention. Who better than me? Nobody, not any more than me. Sting? Sure. I like to think the impact I had coming back for them was just as good as Sting."

B/R: Brodie Lee seemed to be another massive influence in the AEW locker room. His sudden and unfortunate passing two years ago rocked the industry. How big of a presence was he backstage?

JR: "Brodie was a great influence. He was one of those guys still young enough to be associated with the younger group and they looked up to him.

"It's a shame what happened. Nobody saw that coming. I commend AEW for what they're doing for his family. They'll never have to worry because Tony Khan is a man of his word. He's golden. He's such a good guy, man.

Tony Khan, founder, co-owner, president, and CEO of the All Elite Wrestling attends an NFL football game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton

"I just hope these bad moments don't sour him. They certainly could. He might eventually get tired of having s--t thrown into his face. He just pushes it off, but I don't know how long he can do that. I pray that it's never an issue.

"As he gets more salt under his feet and gets focused…he has so many things going on. It's not just AEW. He's got ROH, the NFL…I don't know how in the hell he does it. To me, it would be impossible. I wouldn't even attempt it."

B/R: On the opposite side of the spectrum, you worked with Vince McMahon for a very long time. When he resigned as chairman, CEO and head of creative for WWE, what was your first thought and how big was it for professional wrestling?

JR: [immediately claps] "If it was real. Do you think he stepped away? You don't think he has anything to do with their product? He's the f--king boss."

B/R: What are your initial impressions of HHH leading WWE creative?

JR: "They're doing good. I think HHH is righting the ship. It's going to take time for people to forget what Vince did. Dirt finally washes off or fades away. Wrestling fans are very forgiving. Thank God. But I think HHH is doing a phenomenal job right now."

B/R: Let's shift to the in-ring product. As the master and creator of the DDT, how does the move's continued evolution, with all of its variations and usage, make you feel?

JR: "It's great. People often ask how I feel about it being used as a high spot. Go ahead, it just makes me look stronger. People now say, 'Damn, that's a DDT. But when Jake Roberts did that, you didn't get up.'

"You're right. You didn't get up because you couldn't."

B/R: Finally, you get one young wrestler to take this industry to the next level, who is it?

JR: "Hangman [Adam Page]. He's rock solid. He's got a good look to him. Handsome guy. I think he can do it. Hell, Hook could do it. So could Sammy Guevara. Sammy could be a big player, if he doesn't get busted up. Unfortunately, I feel he'll be busted up.

"That's what I hate for these guys. Here I am at 67 years old. It's been 30 years since I've been in the ring wrestling. Yet I still make a lot of money doing signings. That's because I got over. Everybody knew my name."

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL and professional wrestling for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.