The in-depth feature about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine fittingly raised my eyebrow. Not because he's still open to one more match, as a bout with his most likely opponent, Brock Lesnar, has only become much more marketable since The Beast Incarnate ended The Undertaker's legendary streak at WrestleMania 30.
No, it was his decision to broach the controversial topic of steroids by suggesting that he had only ever experimented with them once whilst in college and quickly stopped using them when he saw first-hand that they had no effect:
"At 18, he won a full football scholarship to the University of Miami and was ecstatic when he was the only freshman chosen to play, a rarity in college football. He was in love with the game and even dabbled in steroids, thinking that might help, though only for a while, as he didn't see the desired effect. "I tried them when I was 18, me and my football buddies. Nothing happened," he says."
Of course, it's hard to believe a gargantuan man with mountains of muscle, biceps that bulge like a balloon, hardened and honed arms, a chest as big as a Brahma Bull's, and who's more ripped at 42 years old than he was in his athletic prime that he never touches the stuff unless he regularly pisses in a cup and proves that he's clean.
It's an especially suspicious claim coming from someone who has had a history of ailments and injuries that are common amongst steroid abusing athletes. Maybe it was due to his Samoan heritage, but The Rock had cosmetic surgery for gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue) in late 1998, which can be caused by estrogen buildup after completing a cycle of anabolic steroids. It's worth noting that during this time period, WWE didn't routinely drug test their performers and it's believed that many wrestlers took advantage of the lack of testing to use steroids for bodybuilding purposes.
More worryingly, The Rock suffered muscle tears in both of his last two WrestleMania appearances, partially tearing his right hamstring in his first match with John Cena and in their second match together he tore his abdomen and abductor muscles right off the bone.
Apparently, The Rock returning in early 2013 to headline WrestleMania again and looking like a walking WWE Wellness Policy exemption whilst doing so led to resentment within the WWE locker room. In particular, there was unhappiness that he looked very muscular in a way they believed they could not achieve and it was hurting his performances in the ring, meaning his opponents had to work extra hard to make him look good.
We can now add depression to the long list, which withdrawal from steroids can make someone more prone to, although the repetitive head trauma from over a decade as a college footballer and full time professional wrestler would also be a more obvious risk factor, as in The Hollywood Reporter article, Johnson discussed how early career setbacks and his 2008 divorce led to three severe bouts of depression.
For whatever it's worth, his ex-wife Dany Garcia is a competition bodybuilder and her new husband, Dave Rienzi, who shares her passion for muscle posing, is The Rock's conditioning coach.
The Rock's recent choice of leading man movie roles that demanded a superhuman physique, like playing a bodybuilder in Pain & Gain and Hercules in the soon to be released movie named after the Greek hero, means that the steroid suspicion will continue to follow The Rock, no matter how strenuously he denies usage. Ironically, The Hollywood Reporter themselves last year exposed how performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) was becoming endemic in Hollywood, particularly amongst older male actors:
"With its fountain-of-youth promise, HGH quietly has become the substance of choice for Tinseltown denizens looking to quickly burn fat, boost energy and even improve complexion. The drug costs up to $3,000 a month. Taken along with steroids ($50 to $150 per month), to help build muscle, the results can be startling.
Hollywood trainer Happy Hill, who has helped sculpt Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Phillippe, estimates that some 20 percent of actors use PEDs to bulk up and define. "HGH is on the scene now more than ever before," says Hill, who frowns upon PED use and stresses that none of his clients partake. "It's hard not to use. Some people, especially the older ones, are looking for that perfect gym body, and they want a shortcut."
As Hollywood struggles to groom a new generation of box-office draws, the 40-plus male star remains at the top of studio wish lists and is expected to doff his shirt like he did a decade or two ago. In fact, the shirtless shot has become de rigueur for tentpole campaigns. The trouble is that six-pack abs are difficult to maintain after the age of 40, "unless you are extremely genetically gifted," notes Hill, who points to the well-showcased frame of one 40-something leading man in a recent studio film as not plausible without a cycle or two of steroids....
USC professor and steroid expert Todd Schroeder says the human body can indeed accomplish some phenomenal results naturally, particularly in one's 20s, when natural testosterone production peaks. But for older actors, especially when they nab a role and are expected to get a ripped body quickly, the temptation to use may be too great. "If someone says, 'Hey, add [PEDs] to this workout,' you can get substantial changes very quickly," says Schroeder....
But director Vlad Yudin, who immersed himself in Venice Beach's bodybuilding scene for his documentary Generation Iron (Rourke narrates), out Sept. 20, is less alarmed. "The more actors learn about it, the more they tend to use it," Yudin says. "It comes down to how you use it and who can guide you. Without a proper guide, it can be dangerous. And again, it takes a lot of hard work regardless."
Yudin's take reflects that of the bodybuilding community, which is more laissez-faire about PED use and doesn't test for such substances in competition. Schwarzenegger became a user when he was earning such titles as Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia, which helped launch his movie career."
The problem with The Rock's comments wasn't that he denied steroid usage outside of experimenting with them once as a teenager, which is what he has to say in his position, it was the denial that they're even effective. The whole reason why athletes and bodybuilders take PEDs is that they work, and pretending that they don't is disingenuous. There's plenty of plausible excuses for denying PED usage like having a strong moral stance against them or being frightened of the possible side affects (which as a former pro wrestler he should be), but arguing that they didn't help him put on muscle mass in college is one that is very hard to buy.