Meet Milton: The Man Who Inspires Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

Posted in People on Sunday, February 03, 2013. Written by Paul Guzzo

Meet Milton: The Man Who Inspires Dwayne

To the layman, it would have appeared to be the worst premiere in the film career of the world’s biggest Hollywood star–Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

After all, he is accustomed to red carpeted affairs surrounded by dozens of paparazzi and hundreds of adoring fans screaming for him to show them his trademark pearly white smile as camera flashes pop all around him. On this night, however, Dwayne Johnson’s movie premiere was on the opposite end of that spectrum. A few hundred people stood around the pavilion at TradeWinds Island Resorts during the 2012 Tri-Fitness World Challenge in St. Petersburg, Florida. A projector sat atop a table and a small white movie screen was hung on a C-stand. The film was just as low budget as the theatre setup; it was cell phone footage that had been blown up a few sizes too large to fit the movie screen.

Yes, to the layman, this movie premiere appeared…well…lame. However, those who have known the world’s biggest star since he was considered Tampa’s version of Dennis the Menace as a young boy running around wrestling auditoriums in the 1970s, knew that this was one of his most meaningful films.

The movie was of him wishing Milton McBride Rosen, a man with what many describe as “severe Down syndrome,” a happy 50th birthday. In the cell phone video message, he called Milton his friend and brother and expressed his endearing love for him. Finally, he called him a true champion, one of his greatest inspirations and sung him happy birthday.

“I've considered Milton my brother since I was five years old,” said Dwayne Johnson via email when asked to elaborate on his relationship with Milton. “And when I look back on all the years right up to today, he's always been one of my truest inspirations. Overcoming every challenge in his path, but more importantly than that, for all of us who consider Milton family, he makes our lives better just by being himself…and that’s a very special thing.”

Most who hear about the relationship between Milton and The Rock are shocked. In this TMZ world, how could a juicy celebrity tidbit about one of the world’s biggest stars being close friends with a 50-year-old man with Down syndrome have been kept a secret for so long?

Well, if you find this news amazing, as the old cliché goes, “You ain’t heard nothing yet.” It is not cliché to call the story of “The Rock’s” longtime friend Milton truly inspirational. It is the story of a boy with Down syndrome who struggled to survive the neglectful foster home system of the 1970s, who was labeled a loser, someone not worth the system’s time or money, yet who was rescued and raised by rambunctious twin 23-year-old brothers. It is the story of a boy with Down syndrome who went on to inspire countless professional wrestlers, athletes and entertainers, including Freddie Solomon, Mark Consuelos and, of course, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

All of these factors and more are why Dwayne Johnson had to do something special for his friend’s 50th birthday when his schedule didn’t allow him to attend the party. A simple phone call would not have sufficed. If he could not have been there in person, he needed to do the next best thing to honor a man who most will say has lived the most amazing 50 years of anyone else they know.

This is the story of Milton, those who helped to make his life so special, and those whose lives he touched forever.

 

Bruce Rosen did not appear to be parenting material.

He was a 23-year-old co-owner of a popular Tampa gym–The Boddy Shoppe–by day and a bouncer at a popular Tampa nightclub–The Mad Hatter–by night. He had the build due to the gym and the social status due to the club to pick up most women, he said, and often tried to pick them all up all at once. While he knew that he one day wanted a family, he was far from ready to settle down; he was enjoying the Tampa nightlife as any 20-something in his position would.

However, on May 21, 1977, whether he was ready or not, he took his first step toward becoming an overnight family man when he met Milton’s sister, Pico.

As the club was closing that night, Pico was on her way out the back door and caught Bruce’s eye. He rushed over to her, scored her number and a few days later they went on a date to the movies to see Rocky. The date went well and a second was in order. When Bruce inquired if she would like to do something that Saturday, she explained it was her youngest brother’s 15th birthday. Her brother Milton, she said, was born with Down syndrome. Their parents had passed away years ago and he was sent to live in foster care, as none of the family’s siblings could financially afford to look after him. Since it was his birthday, she was planning on doing something very special with him. She was taking him to Circus World, a year-round amusement park near Orlando. She told Bruce, however, that he was more than welcome to go with her and Milton. Wanting to come off as loving and caring to score points with Pico, he agreed.

Bruce, however, quickly learned that he did not have to pretend to love Milton to score points–he actually did fall in love with the teenage boy.

Milton took to Bruce right away. He was drawn to his powerful physique and outgoing personality and would not stop staring and smiling at Bruce, begging with his expression for Bruce to pay attention to him. Milton was so innocent, so excited about everything he saw and did at the amusement park and so happy to have people to share his birthday with that it was impossible for Bruce to not want to reciprocate that love.  Milton spent most of the day at Circus World being carried on Bruce’s shoulders. Of course, that didn’t take too much strength. The 4’11” Milton weighed only 60 pounds. His shirt was as thin as paper and hung off his famished and malnourished frame like cheap curtains. Shocked that someone could be so unhealthy, Bruce fed Milton from morning to night, buying him whatever his heart desired–from cotton candy to corn dogs. By day’s end, Bruce had fallen in love with Milton.

“He seems to have that effect on most people,” said Al. “That is why I can’t understand how he was treated so badly at his foster home. How could [his foster mom] not have wanted to treat him better?”

When Bruce and Pico had picked Milton up that day, Milton was waiting for them at the end of his foster home’s driveway. But when they dropped him off that night, Bruce lovingly carried Milton inside. He was dismayed at what he saw. The foster home was in shambles. A handful of other foster kids were crammed inside of it. Out of space, Milton slept on a mattress on the floor and didn’t have any sheets to keep him warm.

On the way home, Pico told Bruce the rest of the dismal story. The woman housed foster kids simply to collect the government checks and did not use the money to care for the kids as she was supposed to. And, sadly, this was as good as Milton’s life would get, she explained. His foster mom had tired of housing a teen with Down syndrome so she had requested that the state find him a new one. The state had lamented that would be impossible because of his “condition” and age, so they had begun the process of shipping him off to a mental hospital, where he would spend the rest of his life.

Bruce was heartbroken. Milton was a sweet and loving boy. He deserved a good life. So when Bruce returned to the four-bedroom rental home he shared with his twin brother Al and their four dogs, he told his twin brother about Milton and said he wanted him to come live with them.

Most people would have told Bruce he was crazy. The twin brothers were only 23. The Boddy Shoppe, while popular, was still a new business. Al had just launched a career as a professional wrestler that would soon take him on the road and Bruce was moonlighting as a bouncer to help cover the bills until the gym took off. They had no time for a child, let alone one with Down syndrome. Just as importantly, they had no parenting experience. Like Bruce, Al is not most people. Though he had never met Milton, he said yes.

The following day, Bruce picked up Milton from the foster home and explained to the foster mother that he would be living with the Rosen boys from then on. She did not flinch, readily giving him up on the spot, telling Bruce to contact the government about Milton’s relocation.

When Bruce brought Milton home, Al knew he had made the right decision. The site of the emaciated boy broke his heart. And when their four dogs rushed to Milton to greet the stranger in their home, rather than cowering in fear Milton showered the dogs with love–he was so happy to hug and kiss the animals and receive kisses in return that he purred. From the moment he met Milton, Al did not just see a boy with Down syndrome, he also saw a boy who needed love and who had endless love to give.

The next day, Bruce informed the state of his decision and they readily made available the proper paperwork to make him Milton’s official foster dad. Bruce and Al were taking a boy off their hands who the state considered a lost cause, saving the state the money it would cost to care for him in a psychiatric ward. They did not seem to care if he was going to a good home, as long as they did not need to tend to him any longer.

The Rosens’ family and friends told them they were crazy and that attempting to raise Milton would not end well for any of the parties involved–Milton or the brothers. Bruce and Al scoffed at such accusations, boasting that they were more than capable of raising Milton and explaining their theory that all they needed to do was shower Milton with love.

In the end, their theory proved correct. However, during the first few months they realized that besides love they also needed patience. It was a tough adjustment.

Milton was 15 but might as well have been a baby. Besides being mentally slower than others his age, he had never been taught a thing. He could not talk; he only grunted specific noises for yes and no. He could not dress himself, brush his teeth or wipe his butt. Al and Bruce Rosen, twin brothers who just a week earlier would spend nights out at the bar picking up women, suddenly found themselves bathing a teenage boy.

On one occasion, Milton was playing with the phone and accidentally called someone. The man on the other end thought Milton’s grunting was a prank call so he hung up and dialed 911. When the police arrived at the Rosens’ home, they understood but told the Rosens they had to keep a better eye on Milton.

They didn’t listen.

A month or two after Milton moved in with them, Al was on the road wrestling and Bruce had to run a quick errand. Rather than bringing Milton, he figured Milton would be safe for such a short period of time. Less than an hour later, Bruce returned to a couch with a large hole in it. Milton had actually successfully made himself scrambled eggs by perfectly mimicking how he saw his foster dads cooking for him each morning, but he had placed the pan on the couch while he waited for them to cool down. Luckily, the couch did not catch fire; the pan only burned a hole in it.

While this incident almost turned catastrophic, it also proved to the brothers that they were on the right track in terms of developing Milton’s abilities. When they first brought him to their house, he didn’t even know that frying pans were cooking utensils, yet just months later he knew how to crack an egg, turn on the stove, fry the egg with a spatula and then turn off the stove. The Rosens believed that they needed to give Milton the benefit of the doubt that he could take care of himself, believing his inability was not due to stupidity but because no one ever asked him to take on self-responsibility. They would show him how to care for himself and wait for him to mimic them. Within months of moving in with the Rosens, Milton was able to shower, brush his teeth, dress himself, go to the bathroom on his own and feed himself. “Sandwiches, though,” laughed Al. “No more eggs.”

He was even given chores around the house–he had to let the dogs out and clean up after them in the yard. “We wanted him to have responsibility. When we met him, he had the ability of a baby,” said Al. “Just months later, he had the ability of a seven or eight year old, which is a long way for a boy like Milton to go in such a short time. He was so much smarter than others gave him credit for. He even learned a few words during those first few months–yes, no, more, and some others. I think if we had gotten him at a younger age he would be able to talk full sentences today rather than just one word here and there and grunts.”

The Rosens, much to the shock of their friends and family who originally told them they were crazy to become foster parents for Milton, were turning out to be tremendous parents. However, they are quick to say that they did not do it alone. Milton’s sister and other siblings helped out as much as possible. And the members of the Rosens’ gym became Milton’s extended family; each of them looked out for Milton as though he was their son.

 

The life of a professional wrestler in the 1970s was akin to that of a gypsy. This was pre-WWE days, before major wrestling companies existed. Wrestlers back then worked the “territory circuit,” spending a few months to a year in Tampa wrestling for Florida Championship Wrestling, for example, and then heading to Tennessee to become part of Memphis Championship Wrestling before moving on to Texas to compete in World Class Championship Wrestling. Moving from territory to territory meant that one group of fans never staled on a wrestler’s act; he would move on before they bored of him. It was also the only way to obtain national exposure as a wrestler in those pre-cable days; national exposure was necessary if a wrestler was ever to realize his dream of becoming the world champion.

While the lifestyle could sometimes be grueling, it was also fascinating, as they were always meeting interesting people in interesting places. Once a wrestler was on the road for years, it was hard to shock him.

Rocky Johnson broke into the wrestling business in the 1960s and retired in 1991, spending the first few decades of his career as a territorial wrestler before hitting it big with the WWF in the 1980s. His ex-wife, Ata, was born into professional wrestling royalty. Her father was WWE Hall of Famer “High Chief” Peter Maivia. Between Rocky and Ata Johnson, there are few places in the United States they did not visit during their time as part of the national family of professional wrestlers. They met tens of thousands of colorful characters throughout their travels, yet they both place Milton at the top of their list of most intriguing people they have ever met, a list that includes a who’s who of professional wrestlers and athletes, a list that includes Muhammad Ali, with whom Rocky used to spar.

They met Milton during Rocky’s first stint in Tampa that began in late 1977. Through his circle of professional wrestler friends, he learned that the Rosens’ Boddy Shoppe was where the local wrestlers worked out. When he first walked through the Boddy Shoppe’s doorway, it was the same gym he had been in in every other territory he’d visited–a typical muscle head gym. Nothing stood out about it, until he met Milton.

“I’d met quite a few kids with Down syndrome, but had never seen one at a gym,” said Rocky. “When someone as unique as Milton is in a gym like that, he stands out.”

Milton attended a school for the mentally handicapped by day and was then dropped off at the gym by the school bus in the afternoon to begin his day as an athlete-in-training. The training was Al’s idea. As a Jewish child attending a school that employed an anti-Semitic teacher, Al was often treated badly. One teacher went so far as to kick Al in the ribs when he talked during class. This poor treatment filled Al with anger and this aggression was leading him down the wrong path in life. Fortunately, he said, sports provided him with an outlet for that anger and it provided him with a reason to stay on the straight and narrow. While Milton did not have anger issues, Al felt Milton needed to find a purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

However, while Milton was full of love, he was shy, afraid to get involved with an entire roomful of people. Al would get Milton to work out here and there, but he was not taking to it like he hoped. In the early days, Milton preferred to sit in the corner of the gym and watch the members rather than join them.

Rocky Johnson realized early on what Al was up to and agreed with the plan. Rocky too had a tough childhood and was “saved” by athletics. He would watch Milton shyly sit in the corner each day at the gym, nervous to engage the gym members as they laughed amongst themselves. Finally, one day he called to Milton and asked him to bench-press with him. Milton was apathetic at first, not sure how to react, but after gently asking a few more times Milton was coaxed to the bench. He took part in Rocky’s entire workout that day.

Milton was a big wrestling fan, often attending matches in Tampa. He had seen Rocky wrestle a few times and looked to the “good guy” wrestler with the Adonis build who rarely lost as a hero. When that hero took interest in him, it made his day. Working out suddenly went from an afterthought to his only thought, determined to impress his wrestling idol. Other professional wrestlers and athletes took note that Milton was breaking out of his shell and joined in. Besides Rocky, Milton’s closest friend was NFL star Freddie Solomon, who had been one of the Rosen brothers’ best friends since college. If both Rocky and Solomon were at the gym, Milton would bounce from one to the other, taking part in both their workout routines. If they arrived at different times of the afternoon, Milton would work out twice. And of course he always found time to exercise with his two dads. On some days, he would work out for hours straight.

There are few more colorful characters in the world than professional wrestlers. They get paid to be larger than life in terms of their physique and personality. Just as Milton would mimic Al and Bruce at home to learn to care for himself, in the gym he began to mimic the over-the-top personalities of the wrestlers. Gym regulars included Rocky Johnson, Steve Keirn, Tonga “Haku” Fifita, Les Thornton, Scott McGhee while future WWE Hall of Famers who popped in on occasion included “Superstar” Billy Graham, Pedro Morales and “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

“They all took interest in Milton,” said Ata. “They all seemed to compete for his attention, doing whatever they could to make him laugh. It was so good for his confidence.”

No longer did he hide in a corner. Instead, he began strutting about with his chest puffed and head held high. When the theme song from the movie Rocky was blared over the stereo, he would break and begin shadow boxing in front of the mirror or jokingly spar with his newfound wrestler friends. He walked and acted like one of them. Seemingly overnight, Milton went from a shy teen with Down syndrome to “one of the boys at the gym. “

Being one of the boys meant he regularly had his “balls busted.” When his shyness wilted away, Al and Bruce added gym chores on top of his home chores. Milton’s job was to be the gym’s regulator. They had ten rules at the gym: members had to wear shirts, they had to put all their weights back, they had to clean up after themselves in the locker room, littering was prohibited, and so on. Milton was told to make sure everyone followed those rules. Members began purposely breaking them to get under Milton’s skin. Fifita said he would often throw coffee cups on the ground and refuse to pick them up until Milton would grunt angrily at him. Rocky said he would refuse to put his weights back unless Milton forcefully asked.

“He has never been able to speak full sentences,” said Al. “So he would walk up to someone who broke a rule and say the number they broke–four! And he would hold up four fingers. But sometimes, yeah, the guys would ignore him to get under his skin and make him angrily tell them. Sometimes even then they would ignore him until he sulked away, and then they would yell to him and pick up their coffee cup or whatever trash they threw on the ground to bug him.”

“It was all in fun,” said Tonga. “Everyone loved Milton. But that was how we treated our friends and we honestly did not see him as being any different than us. He was part of our family, part of our brotherhood.”

Some of the gym members thought of him as more than family in the brotherhood sense.

“He is a son to me,” said Ata Johnson. “I love him so much.”

“Milton is my son,” said Rocky Johnson.

The Johnsons lived around the corner from the Rosens during their first stint in Tampa and Rocky and Al quickly became best friends. Before Al blew out his ACL in 1979 during a battle royal in Texas that included Andre the Giant and ended his wrestling career, he and Rocky had even begun tag teaming on occasion. The closer Al and Rocky became, the closer Milton and Rocky became.

“I just took to him,” said Rocky about Milton. “I just fell for the boy and wanted to help take care of him. I used to take him out to eat all the time. I wanted to help Al and Bruce in their mission to beef Milton up so I’d buy him a sandwich whenever he wanted to join me, which was often. All he wanted was to be loved and give love, so any opportunity to do both he would jump at. He’s wonderful. I got real attached to him and he got real attached to me. When I walked into that gym, no matter what he was doing he would stop and run to me and give me a hug.”

When the Johnson’s told Milton he could stop by their home whenever he wanted, he became a regular houseguest. Ata said she would often cook him authentic Polynesian dishes.

“It was usually some sort of raw fish. If he liked it, he would just say, ‘good’ and if he hated it he would say, ‘yucky.’ He would also say ‘yucky’ when he was mad at me,” she laughed. “And when he was happy with me, he would say, ‘girl,’ meaning I was his girl. He would call me all the time. Since he couldn’t talk, he would just call and say, ‘girl,’ and I would say, ‘I love you Milton.’ He would grunt happily and then hang up. He always made me so happy.”

Because Rocky and Ata looked at Milton as a son, their real son, Dwayne, considered Milton his brother.

They were ten years apart in age when they met–Milton was 15 and Dwayne was five, which made them a perfect pairing in terms of maturity.

“They were always laughing,” remembered Ata. “All [Dwayne] wanted to do was make Milton laugh and he usually could. Because Milton couldn’t talk, they never really had conversations, but that didn’t matter to them. They learned to communicate through looks and expressions. They were so much fun to watch together. [Dwayne] looked at Milton as a little kid.”

“Dwayne was always looking to get into something and that made Milton happy,” said Al. “We called Dwayne ‘Tampa’s Dennis the Menace.’”

Milton, however, called him “Ewey.” Dwayne’s parents’ nickname for him is “Dewey,” but because of his struggle with speaking it always came out “Ewey” when Milton said it. To this day, Milton refers to his famous friend as “Ewey.”

The Johnsons lived in Tampa for two years before relocating to a new territory. A few years later, they returned for a second stint, during which time they lived with the Rosens for a few months.

“It was real dysfunctional,” laughed Bruce.

By that time Bruce and Al had bought a four-bedroom house. Bruce was married to Pico and they’d birthed a daughter, Jacquelyn, and also legally adopted Milton. They had one bedroom that they shared with their new baby, Al had a room, the Johnsons had a room and Milton and Dwayne shared a room. Milton and Dwayne’s was always the loudest, with Dwayne mimicking professional wrestlers by slamming himself around the room as Milton roared with laughter in approval.

“That was how Dwayne was,” said Al. “I remember one Christmas we were visiting the Johnsons, who were living in [Jonesboro, Georgia while Rocky was wrestling in Atlanta.] They bought Dwayne one of those car tracks and we could not figure out how to put it together. Milton went upstairs to Dwayne’s room after we gave up and an hour later comes downstairs and said, ‘Done.’ He figured it out! Then, all of a sudden, we hear a CRASH and run upstairs. Dwayne had climbed onto something and jumped and dropped an elbow or knee on the car set and smashed it.”

As they grew older, Dwayne turned into a stud athlete and the popular boy, but he never left Milton behind. He always loved him. Dwayne attended the University of Miami and played football. He was busy, yet whenever he could he would send Milton a letter and include Miami football memorabilia.

When he finished college and his Canadian football career ended, he returned to Florida to learn to become a professional wrestler. His father tutored him on every aspect of the profession, from how to deliver an exciting match to how to cut the type of promo that can captivate a crowd. And when he returned home and found Milton hanging out with his mother, he and Milton would continue his training together.

“Dewey would use a hairbrush as a microphone and pretend to be the ring announcer and he would tell Milton to take off his shirt and be the wrestler,” laughed Ata. “He would have Milton flex and then say some kind of question like, ‘So tell me what you’re going to do to your opponent!’ and Milton would grunt into the hairbrush. Dewey would then translate for him, ‘So you said you’re going to crush him and beat him in seconds!’ To see those two boys grow into adults and still have so much fun together was so touching.”

It was this playful personality that launched Dwayne’s career in the WWE. When he harnessed that character he polished with Milton, he went from an afterthought in the WWE to the biggest star in wrestling history.

When Dwayne won his first WWE championship, one of the first people he visited when he returned to Florida was Milton. He let him wear the belt and reminded Milton that he was the real champ.

In a way, he was correct. Dwayne’s title, after all, was a prop used in a television show. Milton, however, had countless championship trophies that he had to earn.

 

In the 1980s, when the legend of Milton began to spread throughout Tampa Bay, he was nicknamed “The Hulk.” One reason was because in those days of non-political correctness, it seemed like an apropos name for a teenage boy with what local newspapers described as “Mongoloid features,” much like the Incredible Hulk. The other reason was because Milton’s build turned from frail to massive due to the intense workouts Al and Bruce put him through and the numerous side workouts he performed with the gym’s members.

When Al first got Milton on the bench, all he could press was 20 pounds. Within a year he was bench-pressing 145 pounds.

His first competition took place in 1979. It was not a Special Olympics event, but an open bench press contest for “regular” people that included top athletes from the high school level all the way to the pros. The Rosens were nervous. They paced back and forth while they waited for Milton’s turn. They entered Milton in the competition because they thought it would be good for his confidence. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t win–being part of that atmosphere while his friends and family cheered him on would provide him with the type of high not available anywhere else. But as his turn on the bench crept closer, they became concerned that the competition could crush his confidence. He had come so far, but what if he froze up in fear from all those eyes on him? Would he be able to recover? Their fear was quickly put to rest–Milton coolly stepped up to the bench and pushed 145 pounds off his chest. The crowd erupted in supportive cheers and Milton smiled from ear to ear. Following the event, the Rosens presented Milton with a trophy.

“He earned it,” said Al.

By 1988, 11 years after the Rosens took him in, Milton was weighing a solid 145 pounds and bench pressing 275. Benching almost double his body weight is a task that most non-handicapped gym regulars can never do.

He became a dominant Special Olympics competitor. Early on, before weight lifting was a part of the competition, he won first place ribbons in the softball throw and took second place in the 50-yard dash. In 1987, weight lifting became an event in the Special Olympics and Milton charged through the competition, winning the state title in Lakeland and seemingly earning himself a spot at the International Games in South Bend, Indiana. Unfortunately, due to politics, he was bumped from the competition in favor of the second place finisher, something Special Olympics rules allowed. While the Rosens were furious over the turn of events, Milton didn’t flinch. To him the competition wasn’t about winning, it was about pushing himself.

This attitude turned him into an inspiration to others at the gym. The late Freddie Solomon would stay with the Rosens for a period during the offseason to get into shape, often working out with Milton because no one pushed him harder. When Solomon made it to his first Super Bowl, he flew Milton and Bruce to the game as a thank you to Milton for helping him to prepare.

“He would stand over people and grunt, ‘More, more,’” said Al. “He was always pushing people to do more than they thought they could. And when a man like Milton who came that far in life told you that you needed to do more, you did more. You didn’t want to be weak around someone who had been so strong. Nothing seemed to scare Milton.”

In time, a mural of the Incredible Hulk replaced a mirror on the wall at the Boddy Shoppe. A similar mural was painted in Milton’s bedroom. Milton began signing in at the gym as “Milton Hulk” and he would growl like the Hulk when pushing one last rep off his chest. He had become a real life super hero–his power was a never ending supply of confidence and the ability to inspire whomever met him.

“Al and Bruce deserve all the credit in the world,” said Rocky. “That boy was given up on and they turned him into someone special.”

Everyone wanted to work out with Milton. The gym was known for being a haunt for famous athletes, yet ironically these superstars looked at Milton as the biggest celebrity there.

The Boddy Shoppe closed in 2005 after a 28-year run. And during that time, Milton inspired countless famous men and women.  The who’s who that sweated alongside Milton and now earnestly call him a friend includes NFL players Vinnie Testaverde, Paul Gruber, Aaron Brown, Eric Truvillion, Steve Courson, Ron Mikolajczyk; MLB players Joe Carter, Danny Tartabull, Steve Henderson, Darryl Strawberry; and television personalities Bill Logan and Mark Consuelos.

The boy who was once deemed a loser by the state, someone who should be shut inside a mental institution for life because there was nothing for him in the outside world, turned into an inspiration to countless people and a champion.

However, no matter how much he changed, one part of him remained the same–his heart, and that is what his friends and family find most endearing about him. That is what they all say makes him a true champion–he has the biggest heart in the world.

 

Rocky Johnson does not remember what the injury was. He could have tweaked a knee or sprained an ankle or hurt his back. Whatever it was, it was due to him carrying around too much bulk so as he rested his injury, he also began dieting to drop the excess pounds.

Around this time, Bruce began to notice food had gone missing from his house–a lot of food. Rocky then noticed food he had never purchased appearing in his refrigerator and pantry. When Bruce lamented to Rocky about the missing food and Rocky told him about the found food, it didn’t take long to figure out what was going on. Milton did not understand the concept of dieting. He had always been told to eat more in order to get bulky and Rocky was one of his biggest supporters when it came to putting on pounds. Milton thought that Rocky was not eating because he did not have food and he thought he was laid up in bed because he was sick from malnutrition, so he began sneaking food to Rocky so he would eat.

On another occasion, Rocky had recently lost a wrestling title. Again, the belts are props–wrestlers win and lose them according to what is best for the storylines. Milton, however, was unaware of this fact; he still thought wrestling was real. A few nights after Rocky dropped his title, Milton appeared at his home with a few ribbons and medals he had won at Special Olympics competitions. He wanted Rocky to have them, thinking they would help heal his emotional wounds.

Then there was the time Al took Milton with him on a wrestling trip to Texas and sat Milton in the front row. Al was wrestling that night, so he was in the locker room, leaving Milton with Dwayne and Ata. Rocky was wrestling notorious bad guy Stan “The Lariat” Hansen that night and as Hansen beat Rocky down in the corner, Milton sought to rescue him and rushed the ring. Luckily, security stopped Milton in time and when Rocky realized what was going on, he gave Milton the thumbs up and began his comeback that resulted in a victory.

“Those stories sum up his heart,” said Ata. “We were always looking out for him, but he was also looking out for us. Any time he has ever seen me upset, he has come over to me and literally wiped the tears from my face and hugged me. When he hugs you, you can actually feel the love radiate off of him. He doesn’t need words. He expressed his love fine through his emotions.”

“He forced me to grow up,” said Al. “I think any success I enjoyed is because Milton helped me become an adult. He needed an adult in his life and Bruce and I willingly filled that void. But he also always made us feel like kids. Everything to him is always as exciting as the first time he saw it. That rubs off on everyone around him and makes you appreciate life more.”

“No one has ever loved me like Milton,” said Bruce. “Not my biological family, no one. His love is so unconditional.”

“With everything that happened to him, he could have given up on the world very easily. I know because of his condition some people would say he didn’t know better. I don’t believe that,” said Rocky. “I have done a lot of work with children with Down syndrome and I can tell you that Milton is indeed special. Some kids unfortunately do give up and lose that light in their eyes. Milton is now into his 50s and still has the light. He never stops loving me as much as he did when he was in his 20s.”

“When I met him, I did not expect him to be with me for so long,” said Ata. “He is one of those special people and not everybody gets the opportunity to know a person as special as him.”

But that is Al’s plan–to allow the world to know Milton. He is looking to make Milton a Hollywood story.

“I don’t think Hollywood could create a story as special as the true story of Milton,” said Al. “He has lived an amazing life–a true rags to riches story if you count blessings as riches.”

And if such a film ever becomes a reality, is there a chance his real life friend “Dewey” would be a part of it?

“That would be nice, right?” laughed Al. “Maybe a cameo?”

Either way, Dwayne Johnson will always be a part of Milton’s life. They are after all, brothers.

            

 

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About the Author

Paul Guzzo

Paul Guzzo

Paul Guzzo is a writter for the Tampa Tribune.

Paul has been a journalist in Tampa for the past 10 years. He has also written and produced a number of award-winning independent films, including Charlie Wall: The Documentary.