Three men sit in recliners, with old wrestling videos on the big screen TV in front of them. Remembering the good -- and probably the bad -- old days, they chat about their younger selves, watching matches and interviews from their peak athletic years. They are, from left to right, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, 58; Diamond Dallas Page, 57; and Scott Hall, 54.
Two of them have been on the morbid and even tasteless "wrestling death watch" for years now. Struggling with addictions and personal demons, both Roberts and Hall are remarkably still alive. And for the first time in years, they're not just functional, but actually thriving, which they owe in large part to their friend, DDP.
Tonight at 9:00 pm EDT on HBO, you can see the remarkable turnarounds of Roberts and Hall as they continue to work on beating back their past lives that put them both on the very edge of death -- in pain, beaten by their troubles, and long without any hope.
Frank Deford interviews the three men, starting with Roberts, one of the WWF's major stars in the first "boom period" of the 1980s, when Hulk Hogan ruled a budding empire that would change the professional wrestling industry forever, as the territorial lines were crushed by the worldwide vision of Vince McMahon.
Roberts' problems are well-publicized, both by himself and by others. WWE released a DVD years ago that chronicled his life and career, but there has always been some question as to how "real" his studio interview was, in part because Roberts is, as he admits to Deford, a master manipulator, a man who takes some joy in playing with emotions, getting reactions from those who are either concerned or just plain interested.
The topics, though, were largely not fabricated. In many ways, he's led a genuinely disturbing and disturbed existence, through major family problems and catastrophes, and personal torment. He was also one of three featured players in Barry Blaustein's 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat, where viewers saw him struggling to keep his head above water, seeking a glory that was gone, as well as smoking crack in his hotel room.
"I got rid of the mirrors in my house, 'cause if I seen that, I wanted to punch that son of a bitch," Roberts says. "I begged to die. I begged. I would curse God when I would find out that another wrestler had died. I'd say, 'Why not me, you son of a bitch?'"
Diamond Dallas Page was one of the more unlikely major stars in wrestling history, reaching his greatest fame during WCW's three-year peak from 1996 to 1998, as he entered his 40s. He wasn't a late bloomer, but simply a man who took up the profession at an advanced age, already into his 30s.
Roberts served as a teacher to Page in the latter's early days in the business, when few if any really believed he would make it. Jake says he taught DDP psychology and how to work a crowd. Page credits Roberts' belief in him with helping him stick with a career where the odds were stacked high. Years later, with Roberts somehow remaining alive despite his worst efforts, Page contacted his old friend after drastically changing his own life, looking to help a man who for decades running had been beyond assistance.
"By accident," Page tells Deford, he created DDP Yoga, after his ex-wife Kimberly suggested he add the practice to his repertoire while rehabbing a back injury. Within a couple of weeks, there was a significant difference. When he added the yoga to the rehab and old-fashioned calisthenics, Page had stumbled upon a workout routine that changed his lifestyle -- and eventually, that of Roberts and Hall.
"It's pretty peaceful," he says of traditional yoga. "Not mine."
Describing Roberts as "brittle," "weak," and "feeble," Page took his former mentor under his wing. "When I wake up now, man, I'm excited. I'm happy," Roberts remarks. The two of them then zeroed in on helping another friend: Scott Hall.
Hall's glory days came in the early-to-mid 1990s, first in the WWF as Razor Ramon, then under his real name in WCW, where he was the first man to show up in 1996 and kickstart the revolution that became known as the new World order, as he, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan dominated the wrestling landscape that year and shockingly helped WCW topple the WWF as the No. 1 wrestling company in the world.
"Just pills and booze, it became such a routine. I should've been dead a million times," says Hall. "As soon as I hit that curtain, that guy's life, 'Razor' doesn't have any problems. Scott Hall's life is falling apart. He's getting divorced. His kids don't talk to him. The escape of that fake guy was the only thing keeping me going at that time."
Page and Roberts gave Hall a call, which he says he doesn't remember, but which they have on film. "Drunk out of his mind," Hall repeatedly tells the two, "I'm dying." He could barely walk. He was drastically out of shape. When he made it to them at the airport, he had to be transported in a wheelchair. He was in so much pain that he was trying to kill himself with drugs and alcohol.
Hall has dropped 50 pounds, Roberts losing 60. The two of them are amazingly animated compared to what we've seen and heard of them at their lower points. As they work with Page on their yoga, they no longer look like bloated, near-death shadows of themselves.
To read it is one thing. To see this actually happening is another thing entirely. It's incredible the work that Page has done, and the commitment that the two men have shown. They are simply not the same men we've seen on ESPN's E60, where Hall was profiled in 2011, or stumbling drunk at independent shows.
Jake Roberts and Scott Hall are truly alive in 2013, even though they probably shouldn't be. To say that they owe it all to Diamond Dallas Page and yoga would be fair, perhaps, but also would ignore that both of them made their own choices to dedicate themselves to a new start in life. Page deserves a lot of credit, and so do Roberts and Hall. The journey hasn't ended, but there is finally some peace on the paths they've been walking.
Disclosure: The author received an advance review copy of the program.