The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Dave Bautista

Wrestling fans were the first to witness Dave Bautista's star power when he burst onto the scene as his animalistic WWE persona, Batista. After becoming a 6-time World Heavyweight Champion, Bautista left the ring for Hollywood, where his imposing stature and quiet charisma earned him roles in "Blade Runner 2049," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Army of the Dead," and "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery." But Bautista's rise to fame was no overnight success story. The wrestler-turned-actor began his career after struggling for years just to survive.

After enduring a childhood plagued by poverty and crime, Bautista spent his early adult life trying to stay afloat. During a 2020 appearance on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," Bautista was asked what he'd wanted to be when he was a little kid. "I wanted to be alive and not in jail," he answered. He went on to say, "My life started at thirty."

At thirty, Bautista began wrestling, an age when many wrestlers are planning for retirement. But being a late bloomer in the industry did not curtail his ability to succeed. In fact, Bautista's success as a wrestler, and now as an actor, is particularly inspirational considering the obstacles he's overcome along the way.

His rough childhood

Dave Bautista was born in 1969 in Washington, D.C. and grew up in a neighborhood rife with crime. In his 2008 memoir, "Batista Unleashed," he writes about his early experiences, revealing, "three people died at different times in my front yard before I was nine."

According to The Tampa Bay Times, Bautista actually witnessed one of these deaths. He and some kids from the neighborhood were playing outside when Bautista's mom came across a man who had been shot right outside the family's home. She called the police and the kids continued playing, seemingly desensitized to the disturbing scene unfolding around them, as these incidents were not rare.

Bautista credits his mother, Donna Raye, with getting him out of that neighborhood. He writes in his book, "I won't say I was unaffected by the poverty and crime around me when I grew up ... But to me, D.C. wasn't the life-sucking hellhole it was for a lot of people. And the big reason for that was my mom." After the shooting incident, Donna Raye moved the family to San Francisco.

A difficult family life

Dave Bautista, nicknamed "The Animal" during his time in the WWE, stands at an imposing 6-foot-five, and is covered in tattoos. But there was a time when he was just a little kid trying to navigate the world under less-than-ideal circumstances. One such source of strife was Bautista's relationship with his father.

Bautista writes in his memoir, "Batista Unleashed," "basically since I was able to walk, I never felt that my father supported us." Bautista goes on to say that his father was never really around and that his mother took on both parental roles in raising him and his sister. Over the years, the relationship didn't improve much. Bautista explains, "I don't think he ever wanted to be a father. He told me recently that he never knew how to be a father. That was f***in' obvious. But he could have taken a better shot at it."

While Bautista didn't have a strong father figure, he bonded with his older cousin, Anthony, whose family he lived with for a time. "Anthony and I were close while we were growing up, very close ... [he was] the closest thing I had to a brother as a kid." The two boys spent a lot of time together, even fighting in a brotherly way. "I always looked up to him and wanted to be like him," Bautista writes. Sadly, Anthony died in a car accident in the early 2000s.

Poverty led to stealing

When Dave Bautista says he was broke growing up, he is not exaggerating. On Ben Pakulski's "Muscle Expert Podcast," he revealed, "We didn't even have very little — we had nothing. There were — and I'm not kidding — times when we didn't have food." The family lacked other necessities as well and struggled to afford clothes and shoes. "I remember one pair of shoes I had worn through on the bottom, and I had to tape cardboard inside them so my feet didn't get wet," Bautista reveals in his memoir, "Batista Unleashed."

In a 2016 interview on the "Anna Faris Is Unqualified" podcast, Bautista spoke about getting into trouble as a kid, saying, "I was around a bunch of thugs, man. We were always like stealing stuff, stealing this, stealing that ... the police would pick us up and my mom would have to come get us and beat the hell out of me." When asked what kinds of things he and his friends stole, Bautista told Anna Faris, "[We were] stealing stuff like sweatsuits ... stuff we couldn't afford ... video games ... bikes, stupid stuff like that."

He dropped out of high school

Given the circumstances of Dave Bautista's early life, it is not hard to imagine that school would have posed some difficulties as well. Although he made it to his senior year of high school, he ended up dropping out. He told Men's Health, "My circumstances were different and school wasn't a priority. So I went a different route, because I wanted to eat."

Even though the decision not to graduate seems to have been made out of necessity, Bautista still has his regrets. In an interview with SportBible, Bautista admits, "If I could go back and do it again ... I would go back and focus on education." He goes on to say that he preaches the importance of education to his own children as well. "Wherever you go you take your education with you...I think the fear of me not having that to fall back on was the desperation that I had and luckily I made it. There's a lot of people who don't."

He struggles with dyslexia

When Dave Bautista was in school, he faced yet another setback in the form of dyslexia. He revealed on the "Chasing Glory" podcast with Lilian Garcia that the condition made him feel inadequate as a student, as he had such a hard time reading. He stated, "I got bad grades. I didn't understand why because I knew I wasn't stupid ... I struggle with it still."

While working out and wrestling were things Bautista felt confident doing, his dyslexia once again became an issue when he began his acting career. He revealed that when he goes to a cast reading, he usually won't share his struggles with the crew. "I always feel like, 'Alright, I'm not good at table reading.' I know that about myself, I'm not going to go in and be embarrassed. I feel a little awkward, but I'm just gonna go in, and I'm gonna read, and it's going to be slow." 

Bautista has been very open about his condition, and has been praised by his peers for embarking on an acting career, regardless of his learning disorder. "Dave Batista is an incredibly gifted actor," John Cena told Esquire, adding, "Dave has worked so hard ... he is so dedicated ... He really just wants to be identified and recognized for his work."

A troubled tenure in the WWE

Dave Bautista was wise enough to use his impressive size and stature to his advantage. He worked as a nightclub bouncer from age 17 through his twenties, but he realized it was ultimately a dead-end job. It wasn't until age 30 that Bautista sought out a career in professional wrestling, a decision that was born out of desperation. "I was broke and had no future and had two kids," he said on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." "What led me into looking for a career ... one year I had to borrow money from a club owner because I didn't have money to buy my kids Christmas presents."

Of course, when Bautista made it to the WWE, he made it big. He garnered thousands of fans and went on to win six World Championship heavyweight titles. However, his time in the WWE was not all smooth sailing. When he first began wrestling for the organization, he was assigned to play a character he wasn't quite comfortable with. Before he was Batista a.k.a "The Animal," he was Deacon Batista, the bodyguard of Reverend D-Von. Bautista told Men's Health, "They wanted to force me to learn how to work. They were doing it by taking away what I'd always relied on, my body."

Bautista quit the organization twice, once in 2010 and again in 2014. The first time it was due to the WWE's lack of support regarding Bautista auditioning for movie roles, and the second time was chalked up to creative differences.

His many injuries

Although he prides himself on being in amazing physical shape, Dave Bautista has not been immune when it comes to the injuries many pro wrestlers are prone to. Bautista told "Squad Goals" that the worst injuries he has suffered were a broken back and a torn tricep. According to his biography, "Batista Unleashed," his first tricep tear occurred in 2003 and kept him out of the ring for almost seven months. Bautista endured the same injury again in 2006, and in 2008 he suffered from a torn hamstring.

In a 2010 article, Bleacher Report named Bautista one of the most injury-prone wrestlers in recent WWE history, along with wrestling heavyweights Triple H, Rey Mysterio Jr., Randy Orton, and Edge. After the hamstring tear, Bautista was meant to rest for six to eight months, but returned to the WWE after merely four months, just in time to secure another World Championship title. Yet another bicep injury left him sidelined again the very next day.

Ironically, Bautista also sustained an injury not in the wrestling ring, but on a film set. While filming a fight scene for the movie "Spectre," actor Daniel Craig accidentally broke Batista's nose. Of the incident, Craig told IndieWire, "I threw a punch and hit him on the nose. I heard this crack and I was like 'Oh God no' and ran away. I thought he was going to come after me, but he was so sweet."

A tumultuous love life

Dave Bautista has been married and divorced three times. It seems there were several factors that contributed to his marital issues. For one, his grueling schedule with the WWE. In an interview with SportBible, he revealed, "Throughout my wrestling career, I was never home." The distance understandably put a strain on his relationships, and Bautista went on to say, "I lost a marriage with someone who was a very, very close friend of mine. We still remain friends, but just never being home just tore our marriage apart."

Another factor that led to divorce was temptation. In his memoir, "Batista Unleashed," Bautista admits, "A big part of what happened has to do with me seeing other women—for a while women became my drug of choice while on the road." Some sources claim that Bautista had a legitimate sex addiction at one point during his wrestling career. Bautista had a weakness for women, and due to his rising star status, he suddenly found himself with many opportunities to indulge in the temptations of the opposite sex. Clearly the situation didn't bode well for a married man.

Allegations of steroid use

In 2007, the WWE was embroiled in a steroid scandal involving Signature Pharmacy. Many WWE wrestlers were named as clients of the pharmacy, including Dave Bautista in an ESPN report. Bautista vehemently denied the allegations, citing the fact that he was tested regularly for steroids and his tests always came back clean. He made an official statement on his website where he maintained his compliance with the WWE wellness program. Bautista's claims were apparently truthful, as he successfully avoided suspension from the organization.

The allegations of steroid use followed Bautista throughout his wrestling career, as outlets continued to speculate. A 2009 article by Wrestling Inc. reported on what some saw as a suspicious connection between the injuries Bautista suffered and the similar injuries commonly sustained by steroid users. A Bleacher Report article echoed the sentiment, and suggested that Bautista likely did use steroids at some point, due to the way his body looked. But Bautista maintained his original statement and credits his lifelong workout obsession for his hulking frame.

Dave Bautista's social anxiety

It's strange to imagine that such a seasoned performer, both in the wrestling world and in the film industry, might be uncomfortable in front of a crowd. But Dave Bautista struggles with social anxiety, at times to a debilitating degree. In an interview with Wired, Bautista discussed his anxiety throughout the audition process for "Guardians of the Galaxy" and how his nerves continued to plague him even as shooting began. He said, "I was still nervous, especially on my first day. I came into shooting about two weeks after everybody else started, so I turn up and everyone was in work mode while I was trying to get caught up."

Bautista is often seen wearing his signature tinted sunglasses, but the accessory is more than just a fashion choice. He told Men's Health, "[The sunglasses are] a pacifier, a therapeutic thing." He began wearing them during public appearances as a pro wrestler and they simply made him feel more comfortable in anxiety-inducing situations.

Clearly, Bautista does not let his anxiety hold him back. He continues to win audiences over with his stellar performances and he currently enjoys his life with his beloved dogs in his sprawling home. It sounds like a pretty nice life, hard-earned and well-deserved.