Jake "The Snake" Roberts is in a good place these days.
The World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame member, known as much for his intense promos as he was for the live snakes he'd bring with him to the ring, is clearly enjoying himself as he tours with Canadian Wrestling's Elite (CWE), meeting fans, signing autographs, and mentoring up-and-coming professional wrestlers.
But it wasn't always like that. Roberts has, in more-recent years, become known for his struggles with addiction, and his work to overcome that part of his life; his journey was chronicled in the 2015 documentary The Resurrection of Jake the Snake.
And things were, to hear Roberts tell it, bleak.
'I'd given up'
"I just can't believe I made it back," Roberts said during a recent phone interview from Virden, Manitoba, prior to his appearance at a CWE show in the city.
"I was so far down, man, that I couldn't see daylight," he said. "I couldn't even see a glimmer of hope. I'd given up. All my hope was dead and gone."
Roberts says he was "waiting for death." But as the documentary shows, he reached out to former professional wrestler "Diamond" Dallas Page, who helped Roberts address his addictions and regain his health.
"To recover from that is a one in a million," Roberts said. "That's the reason I'm so open about it, is I want other people to work at it."
"Wherever I go, if there's somebody who wants to talk about alcohol and addiction, man, let's talk about it. I'll take time, because you're my brother," he said. "I know what that struggle's like, I know what that pain's like."
Mentor to younger wrestlers
These days, Roberts is on a better path. He's back on the professional wrestling circuit — he'll be in Thunder Bay with CWE on January 13 — and was inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014.
"Once you go in that building, and the people come in, the energy that they give you and the love that they give you, that makes it all worth it," he said. "It's fun. It's a lot of fun."
"And getting to watch some live wrestling, which I don't have an opportunity to do so much anymore."
And he's finding himself acting as a mentor to younger, up-and-coming professional wrestlers.
"These guys are very open to listening to what I have to say," Roberts said. "Several of them come to me nightly and say 'hey, will you watch my match and give me some pointers?'"
"And that makes me feel really good, and I love helping them because I want the product to be the best that it can be," he said. "I want these guys to enjoy what they're doing, so I try to teach them a little bit, you know, give them some of the knowledge that was given to me many years ago. That's my duty, that's my pleasure, that's my dream."
'Always try to get better'
Roberts attributes his own success in the professional wrestling world to his willingness to stick with it, and being unafraid to try new things when it came to his character.
"It's kind of scary breaking new ground," he said. "It's kinda scary trying things that haven't been tried. You don't know if you're going to come out on the upside or the downside of it."
"They remember the bad nights, they don't remember all the good ones," Roberts said. "If you have a stinkaroo of a match, man, people remember that, so you don't want to have one of those, you know, and you go out there and give it your best nightly."
And, Roberts said, when things do go badly, it's important to take that as a learning experience.
"The nights you come up short should drive you to be better," he said. "That's the key — always try to get better. The day that you go to the ring and say you didn't learn anything, then it's time for you to take your tights off, put them in a pile, squirt them with some lighter fluid and then burn them, because if you quit learning, then you're not trying."
As for the future, Roberts says he has a book due out in the next few months. But he isn't holding his breath as far as another WWE run is concerned.
"I have no idea what those guys are doing," he said. "If they decide they want me, they'll call me."
Roberts and the CWE will be at Thunder Bay's West Thunder Community Centre on January 13. Bell time is 7 p.m.