Shuffling in his socks in a parking lot at the Atlanta airport, his eyes barely open, Jake Roberts slurred his words as he argued with Diamond Dallas Page that he wasn't drunk.
Roberts wasn't convincing in the least. He wobbled as he cursed and yelled at the cameraman to stop filming. The amount he claimed to have had to drink that night kept shifting.
Three beers. Two beers. Four beers.
"I grew up in the bar biz. I can smell it!" Page growled at his longtime friend.
This was a familiar scene during Roberts' arduous climb to sobriety. The legendary pro wrestler desperately wanted to rid himself of his addictions, but setbacks like this were inevitable. Drunken episodes interrupted long spells of sobriety.
Page, a WWE legend and former WCW world champion, stood next to Roberts for much of that journey.
For over a year-and-a-half, their shadows overlapped. Page invited Roberts into his home (which he dubbed "the Accountability Crib") and played the part of coach, psychologist and ally. Page did everything he could to shepherd Roberts out of his own enveloping darkness.
The Steve Yu-directed film, The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, captured that exhausting, spiraling odyssey.
The documentary is in many ways a real-life version of Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler. It chronicles a beaten-down, semi-retired wrestler trying to recapture his glory days. But as the story unfolds, it becomes more than that.
It is a tale of steel-strong friendship. It is an unfiltered look at a man reduced to ashes, somehow reforming into an improved version of himself.
'I Had Life, but I Poisoned It'
In his prime, Jake "The Snake" Roberts was one of WWE's biggest stars. As he collided with Superstars such as Andre the Giant, Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase, he mystified audiences. His presence was second to none.
He turned wrestling matches into compelling dramas of good and evil.
It was when he wielded a microphone, though, that he was most powerful. Rather than yell at the camera, as so many grapplers do, he whispered his threats. Roberts' poetic interviews were haunting, spellbinding and hugely influential.
Page, who didn't get into the wrestling business until his 30s, looked up to Roberts.
The late Dusty Rhodes was a mentor who aided him through the whirlwind business. Roberts was equally instrumental. Page told Bleacher Report, "There is no Diamond Dallas Page without Jake Roberts."
Roberts groomed the rookie Page, helping him learn the nuances of the ring. His lessons included ring psychology and life advice. Many didn't believe in Page, thinking he was starting his wrestling career far too late.
While others dismissed Page as too old, Roberts accepted the challenge of showing the rookie the ropes. Roberts recalled Page recording his matches, bringing them to his place so the two of them could study them together.
Not a barking kind of coach, Roberts was more a man of encouragement. He would ask Page pointed questions about why he did certain things in the ring. Roberts' goal with this approach was to help get his student to "figure it out himself."
Page told HBO's Real Sports (Warning: Link contains NSFW language), "Jake Roberts [was] the guy that gave me the knowledge when no one else believed in me."
As much as Roberts was a teacher to Page, he was also a friend. The two became travel partners and drinking buddies.
The wrestler famous for carrying around a python in a bag with him to the ring would need that friendship most, years later, when addiction threatened to ruin him.
Roberts' substance issues are well-documented.
A 1999 film, Beyond the Mat, exposed fans to an unsettling side of him. It showed him stumbling to the ring at a wrestling show. It showed him smoking crack in a hotel room.
It's a movie that Roberts said hurt his family. He called it "complete lies and ripoffs." (Warning: Video contains NSFW language.)
Stories emerged beyond what Beyond the Mat showcased.
When you're knee-deep in drugs and booze like he was, there is no hiding. Roberts' reputation plummeted.
At an indy show in Lakewood, Ohio, in 2008, Roberts was so messed up that it took him several tries to get his foot over the ring rope. He could barely move in the ring. At one point, he pulled out his penis.
You could almost hear the sound of him hitting rock bottom.
"I had life, but I poisoned it," Roberts said in The Resurrection of Jake the Snake.
WWE sent him to rehab three times. The wrestler couldn't shake himself free of his dependency.
Promoters didn't want anything to do with him. His kids didn't speak to him. Roberts was trapped in a dark pit. "Nothing was right in my life. I was trying to die," he said.
Page believed in him in spite of all that, though.
Seeing it as a way to repay Roberts for what he did for him as a young wrestler, Page opened up his home to him. He told him he would help him train, help him diet and support him through the process of getting clean.
"Everyone thought I was nuts," Page remembers.
Steve Austin was among those who had doubts about Page's mission. Austin had traveled with Roberts; he had seen him at his worst, and as Page put it, "He's seen where Jake's been."
The ever-positive Page had seen enough stunning metamorphoses in his second career to know that one was possible with Roberts. He wouldn't be deterred by the difficulty of helping a man fight off his demons.
'One Last Try or He Was Going to Die'
After his own wrestling career ended, Page found himself racked with pain. Damaged vertebrae caused several specialists to tell him his only option was surgery. Page instead found yoga.
He has since crafted his own brand of exercise that borrows heavily from yoga but is its own species—DDP Yoga.
DDP Yoga (once called YRG or Yoga for Regular Guys) is a faster, more adrenaline-fueled version of yoga complete with calisthenics and the wrestler's famous high-voltage energy. Page says DDP Yoga is for those who would never be caught dead doing yoga.
This fitness program helped transform Arthur Boorman, a former paratrooper who once couldn't get around without a crutches. The video of him shedding pounds and improving his strength until he could run again went viral.
Page sent Roberts that video. "If I can help him, I can help you," Page told him.
Roberts resisted at first. Page offered his sales pitch, but the wrestler didn't bite. Page said Roberts was "too prideful" to accept the offer.
Eventually, thanks to Page's persistence and Roberts' desperation, The Snake agreed.
He entered Page's house with a pained gait, much of his 300 pounds sitting in his gut. Roberts had suffered through a hip replacement, neck issues, concussions and a variety of painful remnants from his days in the ring. He had managed to stop smoking crack, but alcohol remained an anchor tied around his ankles.
He needed change, and Page would help lead him there. DDP said he felt he had to give Roberts' recovery "one last try or he was going to die."
The Accountability Crib soon became Roberts' home base. DDP Yoga practitioners filled the busy house. And eventually so did former WWE star Scott Hall, who joined Roberts there to begin his own transformation.
The hive-like home was filled with people who served as a vital support system for Roberts—keeping an eye on him, encouraging him, training right alongside him.
When Roberts started the workouts with Page, he would strain himself as he went down to one knee and then fall onto his back like an overturned turtle. When Page asked what the hell he was doing, Roberts told him, "That's how I get down."
He soon progressed well beyond that.
Page had him on a food program that had him dropping weight in a hurry. Each trip to the scale revealed that a good chunk of pounds had fallen away.
The DDP Yoga and the meals Page prepared were key to Roberts' recovery, but so was the mental aspect. Page recalled that Roberts most notably showed a change in confidence. People were believing in him again.
Page said Roberts told him he had helped him achieve "win after win after win."
Roberts badly didn't want to let Page down. He had nightmares about disappointing the man he once showed the ins and outs of the wrestling craft.
The Snake attributed much of the changes he saw to Page. DDP pushed him. He worked to help him eradicate self-hate.
"Him getting me to forget myself was key," Roberts said.
This was more than about fitness and sobriety; this was about hope. And Roberts had little of that thanks to sexual abuse he suffered during childhood, to drugs and alcohol eating away at his soul over the years.
He and Page formed a brotherhood that had Roberts poised to overcome all of that. But that didn't materialize without setbacks.
'Cravings Hit You; It's Not a Choice'
The Resurrection of Jake the Snake is no sterilized, photoshopped narrative. Its power lies in its authenticity. The audience sees Roberts up close with an unfiltered look at his failures along with his triumphs.
And those failures came often.
Typically, they coincided with when Page left the Accountability Crib for a few days. Page was Roberts' guiding light. When he was on a business trip or on a vacation, Roberts couldn't seem to find his way.
Page couldn't babysit Roberts 24/7, however. Him leaving, in his words, was "a part of the recovery."
At first, that part of the process didn't go smoothly. Left alone, Roberts would wander off somewhere and break off communication with everyone at the house. He would show up later with alcohol affecting his speech, lying about having anything to drink.
Roberts grew testy when he drank. The Snake's charisma fell away and belligerence took its place.
He remembered almost coming to blows with The Resurrection of Jake the Snake director Steve Yu. Yu had to play a bigger role than one that involved simply capturing this story. When Page left, in Roberts' words, the filmmaker "had to be the bad guy." (Warning: Video contains NSFW language.)
It didn't matter whether Yu or Page or someone else acted as his caretaker.
Roberts would still slip out and have four or five drinks. He would then end up angry at himself, tears filling his eyes as he looked for a wall to punch. His weakness clearly frustrated him. It was the poison that kept crawling up his limbs.
"Cravings hit you. It's not a choice," he told the camera.
Page often got angry with Roberts, but it was clearly out of love. He had to be a drill sergeant as much as he was his friend. And getting through to Roberts that people cared about him, getting him to put away the bottle for good, was a Sisyphean task.
Just when it looked like Roberts had cleared a hurdle, he tumbled over another one.
When Page sought some much-needed rest in Costa Rica, Roberts suffered another relapse. Page had begged his friend to stay clean while he was gone. He didn't.
Roberts found himself buzzing from several drinks, frustrated and angry with himself. "What the hell have I done again?" he asked himself. Roberts thought he screwed up one too many times at that point.
"I thought it was over," he said.
Page saw this coming. He said, "I knew there were going to be times when he was going to fall."
Foreseen or not, guiding Roberts out of his own hell was maddening at times. "There were times I was ready to crack," Page said. But the master of the Diamond Cutter is an uncannily persistent man. Determination has been the key to his success in wrestling and in business.
The philosophy he tried to get Roberts to subscribe to was: "We are the story we tell ourselves."
Roberts' story had been one with ample tragedy and shame. Page wanted him to change that narrative. But the lure of intoxication kept yanking Roberts away from his upward path.
As Page put it, addicts are always after that "next drink, next coke, next crack." When Roberts found his fix, the process of healing would have to start all over again.
At one point, it was a bum shoulder that slowed Roberts' momentum.
He had become far more flexible throughout the training. He had begun to move quicker and without grimacing after getting into each new position. Then his shoulder blew out, and he tumbled over like a decrepit tower in a storm.
The surgery was going to cost about $9,000.
Page set up a fund at Indiegogo to help cover the costs. "What we didn't raise, I would pay," he explained. Roberts sat down and, in a single take, shot a video asking his fans for help:
Overnight, the audience members long mystified by Roberts' act in the ring sent him thousands of dollars. Floored by the show of appreciation, Roberts said on film, "You busted me. Thank you."
Page explained this served as proof to Roberts that people cared about him. It didn't matter that for years, crowds roared his name and nudged each other aside for his autograph. Roberts still fell victim to his insecurities.
The cure for Roberts' ills included Page helping him realize how much love others had for him. It was like he opened the blinds to prove to him that light did indeed shine in.
'It's the Repetition of Affirmations That Leads to Belief'
Roberts went from out of touch to a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. He went from bloated and limping to a far healthier, more vibrant version of himself.
Near the end of The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, WWE invited him to appear on Raw. He sauntered down the aisle with his trademark snake-filled bag. Gone was the sneering, chilling face he wore throughout his career.
Instead, Roberts beamed.
The fact he was even alive at this point was surprising. Drugs and alcohol had long threatened to add him to the list of wrestlers who died too soon.
But now he was someone new, a happier Roberts bursting out of his old skin. He touched the ring apron with the same satisfaction that a sailor touches the sand after a lengthy trip at sea.
The movie's happy ending revolves around WWE making Roberts a Hall of Famer in 2014.
His credentials had warranted a place in that institution a long time ago. The WWE Hall of Fame is a marketing tool and heavily political entity. The company wouldn't have invited Roberts when he was smoking crack or stumbling-over drunk. This honor was a recognition of how much he had wrestled his demons to the mat.
It was Page who inducted Roberts.
And in Roberts' speech, he made sure to talk about what Page did for him. During the ceremony, he said of Page, "Dallas saved my life. I know that. I'm so grateful that he saved it."
The story continues past where the documentary ended, past the credits.
Addiction never ends. Roberts will never truly be free. He's in a match that has no time limit.
As Roberts put it in the movie, "This is a rest-of-my-life project."
Page, meanwhile, continues to teach DDP Yoga. The business has blossomed. There is now a DDP Yoga app for multiple platforms. He has variations on the program for kids, beginners, even people who need to use a chair to hold themselves up to transition between positions.
He built a training center in Smyrna, Georgia, which he refers to as "the house that Shark Tank built," noting how exposure on that show was key to its success.
Within five minutes of talking to him, it's clear he's a hell of a salesman and an astute businessman. Beyond that, he's a missionary of sorts. He is selling a mindset to go along with his products.
Page talked about how much of an influence Muhammad Ali was on him. He admired how much Ali used self-created confidence to achieve his goals.
The Ali quote, "It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief," is one he often repeats.
That philosophy was fuel for him as he rose to the marquee as a wrestler. It helped him lead the way during Arthur Boorman's transformation. It was this kind of thinking that helped a broken wrestler in Roberts lift himself up again.
Jake the Snake did suffer a relapse after the filming wrapped up, but Page described him now as "Straight, straight, straight."
He used to have Roberts send him video updates so that he could check up on him. That's no longer needed. Roberts has continued to put away all the crutches he once leaned on.
The Hall of Famer has moved out of the house that was once his lifeline. He doesn't have Page in his ear every day. He is reborn.
Roberts now lives in Henderson, Nevada, just a short drive away from Las Vegas.
He makes various wrestling-related appearances and is traveling the country on a spoken-word tour. In a few months, he has a book coming out.
In speaking with him on the phone, he sounded at peace. His relationship with his family is far better than it once was. He said he's now all the grandkids' favorite grandpa. When he talked of the mountains surrounding him, the fruit trees near his house and the pool at his new place, there was an air of joy in his voice.
That was even true when he mentioned hitting a wall in trying to build a new wrestling company.
When he faces obstacles today, he responds more positively than he would have in the past. Setbacks used to lead to binges. He said he now sees failure as "an opportunity to do something else."
Page's optimism has apparently seeped into him.
Despite the temptations Vegas offers, Page seems confident his friend will stay clean. Had The Snake moved there years ago, Page said he "would have been horrified." This is a new Roberts.
"I haven't been to the Strip yet. I have no desire to party," he said.
Page wants people to see Roberts' story because to him it is about inspiration. It's about possibility that some might struggle to see at first.
And Page is hungry to help.
He speaks with pride about the men and women in his DDP Yoga videos. "I don't use fitness models," he explained. Instead, he casts real people who have overcome weight issues or physical setbacks by way of his fitness program. These are people he guided much like he did Roberts.
When crack smoke obscured Roberts' face in Beyond the Mat, it was difficult to envision him being anything but a tragedy. Page did, though. He played Sherpa as Roberts took myriad painful steps up a mountain.
Of his efforts with Roberts, Scott Hall and all his DDP Yoga students with the most dramatic of stories, Page brushed off the credit for their change. "All I did was guide them. They did all the work," he explained.
Ryan Dilbert is the WWE Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand or from The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, unless otherwise noted.