2016 Islander of the Year in Entertainment: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Sexiest, richest, ours.
Dwayne The Rock Johnson
Photo: Courtesy of Andrea Galvin, Disney


He wasn’t born here, he doesn’t live here, but, when it comes to Hawai‘i, Dwayne Johnson wears his heart on his sleeve—right next to the Samoan family heritage tattoo he got on his left shoulder on a 2003 visit. “Hawai‘i is my favorite place in the world,” he proclaimed when crowned as People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” while filming a new Jumanji here this past September. 


In interviews and Instagrams to his 135 million followers, he repeatedly stressed how proud he was to film Jumanji in Hawai‘i, for “the positive ripple effect it has on local businesses and families,” bringing in jobs and money. Production locations do make a difference, but the Johnson touch was to talk story about why those jobs matter personally: “When I was too broke to buy one,” he said, “I used to steal a Snickers candy bar every day from 7-Eleven,” as a pre-workout meal in high school.


Johnson strikes chords that resonate at many levels. Despite his 6’-5”, 260-pound frame and 2016 Forbes nod as the highest-paid actor in the world, he still talks about his high school year at McKinley.


“Never have I met a more humble, kind and generous actor in the years I’ve been state film commissioner.”—Donne Dawson


He connects with young people not just to sell tickets, but to deliver a message about growing through adversity. In a video filmed in front of his old Boys and Girls Club at Washington Middle School, he’s candid about his troubles: “Stealing, fighting, check fraud—at 13!” Fortunately, he explains, the club got him started in boxing, working out. Similarly, he’s open about his family’s wrenching relocation to the gritty Lehigh Valley, but says facing that situation head-on turned his life around. 


With those who face more serious challenges, Johnson uses his prankish side to leave everyone laughing. A recent video showed Johnson enlisting a special needs student in a playful skit—“Who’s better, Kahuku or McKinley?”—where he ends up the butt of the joke. His foundation works with kids facing struggles, including terminal illness. His digital trail reveals a Johnson who makes frequent hospital and hospice visits and even drops in on incarcerated youth.


For his 2016 Hawai‘i homecoming, Johnson rode the crest of the then-forthcoming Moana, Disney’s animated Polynesian navigation smash hit. Johnson and his manager/producing partner, ex-wife Dany Garcia, decided to double down on a planned live USO-style holiday revue, originally set for an overseas location. Instead, they joined the festivities for Pearl Harbor’s 75th anniversary, choosing Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for the spectacular. Spike TV’s broadcast would reach bases around the world, as well as the public. 


“Rock the Troops” overwhelmed expectations of 12,000 attendees to hit the 50,000 mark, drawing service members and families. For headliners, Johnson called upon Jumanji co-stars Kevin Hart and Jack Black, plus Nick Jonas, Matthew McConaughey, Tenacious D. and others—with a climactic appearance by The Rock as Elvis in his star-spangled, white-jumpsuit, ‘70s phase. So, yeah, he gets us. And, yes, he really likes us.