When Dwayne Johnson repays a favor, he likes to pay it back big. That’s what one man found out when “The Rock” donned his Santa hat and asked him to come visit the set of his sitcom Young Rock. And the gift that he had for his very good friend left them both wiping away tears.
On New Year’s Day 2021 the superstar ex-wrestler took to Instagram to share his appreciation for a friend who was there for him when he was at rock bottom. Johnson also left no one in any doubt that now he’s at the very top, the actor is still the same generous guy that he’s always been.
Johnson’s philanthropy is actually well known – particularly during the Christmas period. That’s when the superstar dons his Santa hat and puts the famous red suit under some serious strain when he becomes “Dwanta Claus.” And 2020 was no different as Johnson popped up in character on John Krasinski’s web spot Some Good News.
Dwanta had stepped in after hearing that a widowed dad was struggling to get the cash together to buy Christmas gifts for his kids. And Johnson didn’t just offer a trip to Hollywood to visit the DC Universe set. Oh no, the star was so moved by the man’s story that he gifted him a signed script and got FedEx to donate $5 million to the Toys for Tots charity!
Johnson clearly loves the Dwanta Claus persona, and he posted a video to Instagram of him working out in his Santa hat. The star tells his fans in the clip, “Dwanta Claus is coming tonight, on his way.” And Johnson’s followers know that any one of them could be the recipient of a special gift from the big man.
A week earlier, a young woman called Hannah Sumner had received the shock of her life when she watched a video on her computer that was very special. In it, Johnson paid her tribute as his biggest fan. The actor noted that she had been putting up films on TikTok featuring a cardboard cutout of the superstar. He then finished up with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” that had the youngster squealing.
The Rock then posted another video as Dwanta – this one delivered amid a backdrop of constant hiccuping. He hailed oncologist Jennifer Novak at the City of Hope Cancer Center, whose work he lauded. She also had a GoFundMe running, which likely benefited hugely from Johnson’s many followers.
But perhaps Dwanta’s finest moment came when he gave his most heartfelt present. This time, the recipient was a man Johnson knows as “Downtown Bruno.” And it turns out that he has a very special place in The Rock’s heart. But when the two had first met, Johnson was far from the huge success that he has become.
Johnson began life in California in 1972, and it may have seemed that he was fated to become a wrestler. After all, both his father and granddad were successful in the trade. But young Johnson had other ideas: his focus was on football. Injury, though, proved a constant enemy to his progress.
His hopes in football dashed, Johnson took up the family business and became a WWF wrestler. His career began against the delightfully named Brooklyn Brawler, and he was good enough to get signed up. At first, he was known as Flex Kavana, but before too long he was wrestling under a name that would soon be known worldwide: The Rock.
Johnson was much loved by the fans – not least for his clash with Steve Austin. The Rock was subsequently dubbed “The People’s Champ” and scored many titles. But the wrestling ring could not contain him, and in 2001 he could be seen on the big screen in the blockbuster The Mummy Returns.
Yet Johnson wasn’t satisfied with just playing the bad guy, and he popped up in a couple of comedies in the same decade. Though he really broke through when he took on starring roles in action films – such as 2010’s Driver and Fast & Furious 6 three years later. Though he didn’t entirely ditch the wrestling. For instance, he showed showed up at WrestleMania 30 in 2014.
By the late 2010s The Rock was a legit superstar of the big screen – reeling in viewers for each performance. Furious Seven and San Andreas were followed by Central Intelligence, a voice part in Moana and a Baywatch reboot. He even lit up the small screen in dramedy Ballers.
Yet it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Johnson, as the star revealed at an award ceremony in 2018. When he was only 14, the future star found himself homeless when he and his family were booted out of their home in Honolulu, Hawaii. The star then trekked to Nashville, Tennessee, to find somewhere that he could hang up his hat.
Johnson left Hawaii in the belief that he was set to find a new home with his father. But things took an unexpected turn when he arrived in Nashville. There, the actor was informed that he would not be living with his dad, but instead he would share a motel room with a man introduced to him as Bruno.
This was Bruno Lauer, and amazingly he didn’t simply boot Johnson to the curb. No, as The Rock noted on Instagram on New Year’s Eve 2020, “Bruno could’ve (and should’ve) said, ‘Hell no, I’m not takin’ in some kid who I don’t know.’ But he didn’t.” And right then and there, a lifelong friendship was born.
Though life wasn’t easy for Johnson. The actor explained at that 2018 award ceremony that he’d had some really tough times. The Rock even ended up turning to theft – stealing meat from a nearby store so that he’d have something to eat. Yet even that hadn’t gone well. It turned out that the motel room didn’t offer any means to cook meat.
Some years later, Johnson turned to Lauer again when the former was setting out as a wrestler in Memphis, Tennessee. The future star had become homeless once more, and he called on Lauer for shelter. This time, the older man let Johnson stay in his trailer, which was parked on a site in Walls, Mississippi. Lauer was operating as a manager in wrestling at that time, but he wasn’t making the big money.
Johnson reminisced about the time that Lauer had given him his last $40. This was apparently to buy The Rock’s first car. And even then, the two of them had needed to “hustle” the vehicle’s owner at a Nashville honky tonk!
Johnson shared in his Instagram post how fortunate he felt to have met Lauer. The former wrote, “My life… has been full of the wildest twists and turns. Yet God and the universe had always found a way to put a few people in my path that would change the trajectory of the road I was going down.”
In the video accompanying the post, we see the story of how The Rock gave back to his friend. And he’s plenty complimentary about the man he likes to dub “Downtown Bruno,” telling him in the video that he’s been “such a big part of [my life].” Indeed, the guys wear their hearts right on their sleeves as the video opens.
It’s clear that the two are great buddies when we see them meet in the first minute of the film. It’s all arm bumps and smiles as the boys greet each other – faces full of the delight of meetings. The two echo the words “I love you brother,” and that’s plain to see. Johnson then shares the story of how Lauer had helped him acquire his first car.
The Rock subsequently explains to Lauer the depth of gratitude that he feels. He says, “It means so much to me that you [took me in] because it actually changed the course of my life.” And when Johnson thanks him again for buying his first car, Lauer has no clue that the former wrestler is about to return the favor in spades.
Yes, Johnson unveils a gift for his former roommate. The former says, “I have the opportunity to tell you this is your new car.” And it’s not quite $40 worth of a lemon either. The Rock has actually bought his buddy a brand new Ford F150 truck. No wonder Lauer gives the wrestling superstar a hug!
The former wrestling manager is clearly blown away by the kind gift. And all he is able to squeeze out is, “Oh my god.” Lauer is plainly taken aback by the incredible gesture. Almost unable to speak, we can see him wiping away the tears as he struggles to express his emotions.
The man who once shared a motel room with a teen Rock gasps, “Nobody’s ever done anything like this [for me] before.” But Lauer is clear that even without this gift, he would have huge regard for Johnson, adding, “I love you so much. Without this.” And he’s not alone, it seems.
No, Johnson is very quick to share his feelings, and the lovefest is mutual. He says, “I love you too, man. I just wanted to show my appreciation to you… It’s a little thing.” But this is clearly not a little thing for Lauer, who is simply overwhelmed with emotion at the generosity that The Rock has shown him.
As he sits behind the wheel of the F150, Lauer exclaims, “I love you, man. Not because of this. Because of who you are.” And he’s ready to explain what Johnson means to him personally. He explains to The Rock, “There’s about five people in my life I’d die for, and you’re one of them.”
But modest as ever, Johnson brushes off the compliment – assuring Lauer that there’s no need to give up his life for him. The star explains instead that he feels that Lauer just deserves the gift. He says, “It felt like such a cool full circle thing.” Though the truck wasn’t all that he had to offer his friend.
When Lauer eventually gives up on the wrestling world, he’ll find somewhere to turn if The Rock has anything to do with it. He wrote on Instagram, “And when you’re ready to retire from ‘the business’ you just say the word. I got you covered. We’ll go ‘downtown.’ Enjoy your new ride and give Walls, Mississippi, my love and gratitude.”
The Instagram post proved incredibly popular and quickly reached viral status. More than 3,600,000 people viewed it within three weeks of its upload. Plus, 600,000 of those viewers were willing to click the like button. And fans of the superstar of screen and ring were quick to flood him with positive comments.
Fellow wrestler Sarona Snuka – known in the ring as Tamina – was effusive in her praise for the post. She wrote, “Cuz… What a surprise. This is the best thing ever! I love Bruno [Lauer], and his reaction is priceless. He always does so much for everyone and is always there when needed. Beautifully done.”
Equally impressed was a user who shared their view with a focus on the car involved. They wrote, “The Rock always come through with the big boy trucks. Love this! Happy New Year big guy!” Another account on the platform summed up their feelings simply by posting, “This is beautiful.”
Incredible as it may seem, this wasn’t the first time Johnson has laid a truck on someone to say thanks. The Rock showed his gratitude for his stunt double Tanoai Reed when the latter suffered an injury in the course of his duties. And he showed that gratitude in the form of a truck. But what was the make? You guessed it: a Ford F150.
Reed didn’t hold back when he posted on Instagram about the gift in July 2018. He wrote, “I’m still in complete shock from the surprise and so very humbled by his gesture of gratitude.” He then continued to praise The Rock, who as well as his employer is also a cousin. Reed went on, “I’m truly blessed with the most amazing brother/boss/friend.”
The Rock’s kindness goes further than just his pals, as we saw earlier. But he’s also willing to give his time to good causes that have meaning to him. For instance, the Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation brings hope to hospitalized children – among other things. He also works as a director for The Beacon Experience, which focuses on helping kids stay in education past high school.
In 2018 at just one of the many charity events that the wrestling legend attends, The Rock received an Inspiration Award at the L.A. Family Housing Awards. But Johnson wasn’t just there to grab yet another accolade. No, he was also helping to raise money. And the organization – which combats homelessness – walked off with $1.65 million from the fundraiser, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
As for Lauer, he drove off back to Mississippi, where he still lives. These days his job is in the backstage area of the wrestling world, but back in the day he was more visible. Then, he played a “heel manager” in the WWE under the name of Harvey Wippleman.
Meanwhile, at the time of writing, Young Rock – a sitcom all about Johnson’s early days – is set to run on NBC. The slightly older Rock shared a trailer with fans on Instagram, writing, “I can’t wait to make you and your families laugh a little and share some life lessons I’ve learned along the way.”
And if you couldn’t get enough of The Rock, a big, bold action movie with some laughs sprinkled in was set for release at some time in 2021. Red Notice had some problems in production, but the film was all ready for Netflix to stream at the start of the year.