It’s thrilling to think of actually meet your childhood heroes in person, but people often recommend against it—they say that the real, flawed person may leave you disappointed. But sometimes they leave you with a memory that will last a lifetime.
It turns out that one of the best stories of a childhood celebrity encounter comes from a superstar himself.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson recently recalled a hilarious memory about a run-in with one of his wrestling idols.
Johnson is one of today’s most-liked Hollywood celebrities, famous for his charismatic personality and way with fans. Currently promoting his new Jumanji reboot, he recently sat down with film critic Kevin McCarthy (no relation to this article’s author), who brought along an old ticket stub to the original film from 1996.
This inspired him to ask Johnson if he had any similar keepsakes from his childhood—and his answer didn’t disappoint.
Many of us first became fans of Johnson as kids when he was WWE superstar “The Rock.” However, back in the ’80s Johnson was just a young wrestling fan himself. It helped that he was the son of pro wrestler Rocky Johnson, who took him to a match he was competing in at Madison Square Garden.
Happy Birthday to my dad Rocky "Soulman" Johnson aka the original Rock! The man who broke color barriers for blacks in the world of Pro Wrestling in the 60's, 70's and early 80's – back in the day when wrestling was not the global commercialized business it is today, but rather an extremely hard core cut throat business where he and other wrestlers would be paid in cash nightly and carry guns on them just case "things got a little out of hand" in these small towns all across the U.S. He started kickin' my ass on the wrestling mats and in the gym when I was around 10yrs old and would always say, "If you throw up go outside and if you want sympathy go home to your mother.. but either way you're gonna work your ass off to earn your respect." The more experienced I become, the more grateful I am for my pops and all the defining DNA tools he's given me. #HappyBirthdaySoulman #FirstBlackWWETagTeamChamps #NoSubstituteForHardWork #Ever #AndNoGoingHomeToMama 💪🏾
While it must’ve been exciting to see his dad in the ring, the real rising star at the time was Hulk Hogan, who was also wrestling that night.
“Hulkamania running wild,” Johnson recalled of the excitement surrounding him.
The crowd went wild as Hogan made his entrance, and Johnson, watching the matches from the front row, got to see all the action up-close.
As if that wasn’t enough, things got even better: Hogan threw one of his trademark headbands into the crowd, and Johnson was the lucky fan who caught it.
“It was a big nerd-out moment,” Johnson said. “It was amazing.”
Johnson excitedly showed the “HULKSTER” headband to his dad, who told him he should keep it.
But then things took an unexpected turn when Johnson saw Hogan in person.
Waiting in the locker room with his dad, he saw Hulk getting ready to hit the showers, and knew he had to take the opportunity to say hi and tell him what happened.
“So I went over to him,” Johnson recalled. “And I was like, ‘Mr. Hogan … I caught your headband.’”
But he regretted it once he heard Hogan’s response.
“And he goes, ‘Oh man! That was my last one! I didn’t want to throw it out! Thank you so much!”
Hogan evidently thought the kid was returning the headband to him. Johnson understood, but he was disappointed at having to surrender his keepsake.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, okay. You’re welcome, Hulk,'” Johnson said.
“He didn’t know how bad I wanted it.”
But then a few weeks later, he heard from Hulk Hogan again.
Hogan stopped to talk to Johnson’s father and told him he had something for his son.
It turns out, Hogan needed that one last headband in order to create more copies … and he appreciated Johnson helping to make that happen.
“Hey, I signed this for your son,” Johnson quoted the Hulk saying as he gave him a headband. “He gave me my only one back, and I needed that one, as one to make a thousand other copies.”
“Give this back. Give this to him.”
And so he gifted the young Johnson a brand new, autographed headband. Johnson was thrilled, and decades later that surprise still means a lot to him.
Years later, Johnson became a wrestling icon as big as Hogan—and even took on the Hulkster at Wrestlemania.
But there’s no rivalry between the two—at the end of the story, Johnson gives a sincere shout-out to his fellow wrestler:
“Hogan, if you’re watching, I appreciate it, brother. I still have it.”
And when Hogan heard the story, he even replied on Twitter.
Yo Rock, your dad took care of me so that is just how I was taught to treat people, my brother. Only love HH https://t.co/vDdmrdlzSV
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) November 30, 2017
Yo @TheRock, if you need another head band this time you need to give me my rematch then see if you can take it brother!! Lol. Only love but I’m serious about the rematch brother HH https://t.co/IDpN7h6uIb
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) December 1, 2017
They might be tough guys in the ring, but it seems like they really do care. Maybe in that moment years ago, Johnson learned firsthand how powerful a good celebrity encounter can be, and he is paying it forward now that he’s an idol to a new generation of kids.
Watch the video below:
This is an amazing story!
When I interviewed @TheRock for JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, I brought him my original JUMANJI ticket from when I saw it in January of 1996.
— Kevin McCarthy (@KevinMcCarthyTV) November 30, 2017