Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson responds to backlash over Maui fires donation: ‘I could’ve been better’

The American actor apologized for asking his fans to donate to the Hawaii fund he launched with Oprah Winfrey, saying he knows what it’s like to live ‘paycheck to paycheck’

Dwayne Johnson
Dwayne Johnson, 'The Rock', at the Oscars, in Los Angeles, in March 2023.Arturo Holmes (Getty Images)
Jesús Delgado Barroso

When you’re famous, everything you do can be criticized. Even your generosity. That’s what has happened to actor Dwayne Johnson — better known as The Rock who in August teamed up with journalist Oprah Winfrey to launch the People’s Fund of Maui. Their goal was to help those affected by the fires that besieged Hawaii last summer, with each pledging to donate $10 million.

Winfrey and Johnson also asked their fans to donate to the fund, a call that was fiercely criticized by their followers. In an Instagram video, posted on Sunday, Johnson said he understood their anger. “When we first launched the fund, there was some backlash,” Johnson said. “I get it and I completely understand, and I could’ve been better. And next time I will be better.”

In the video shared with his 392 million followers, Johnson added that he has taken the criticism as a learning experience. “Money ain’t falling out of the sky, and it’s not growing on trees, and there’s a lot of people out there who’s living paycheck to paycheck [...] I get it, I understand. I’ve never launched a fund before, but I’m a quick study and lesson learned,” he said.

The 51-year-old actor also used the video to announce that families affected by the fires had started to receive financial aid from the fund. “I have some great news — some awesome news actually that I’m very grateful to share with you guys, and the news is this: The thousands and thousands of survivors, the families, they have now, over the past couple of weeks, started to receive their first round of funds. They’re receiving their money.”

In the video, The Rock called on his fans to continue giving him constructive feedback. “You always tell me the truth — good or bad — I’ll always appreciate and protect that straight talk between us, you have my word to always listen, learn, grow and do better,” he continued.

Johnson said he knew what it was like to live under financial strain. “I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck. When you are living paycheck to paycheck, the last thing you want to hear is someone asking you for money, especially when the person asking you for money already has a lot of money.”

When the fund was launched, Winfrey, 69, said she was inspired by singer Dolly Parton’s long history of philanthropy. “I read this article that Dolly Parton had given money in her community, and I said: ‘I think this is the answer,’” the presenter said at the time.

Johnson and Winfrey also explained how the funds would be distributed. Adults who lost their homes in the fires would be eligible to receive about $1,200 a month to get back on their feet. “People being able to have their own agency, being able to make decisions for themselves about what they need and what their family needs — that’s our goal, is to get that to the people now,” said the journalist.

Both Johnson and Winfrey have strong ties to Hawaii. The Fast & Furious actor loves Hawaiian culture and married his girlfriend Lauren Hashian there in 2019. The two have been in a relationship for 12 years and have two daughters, Jasmine and Tiana. Johnson is also a keen philanthropist. In 2006, he founded a charity that works with terminally ill children, and he has helped fund hospitals, universities, disaster aid, animal shelters, and more recently, actors on strike. In Hawaii, he has donated large amounts of money to build a gym on a military base and to support the aid work after the hurricane.

For her part, Winfrey has a house on Hawaii, where she spends long periods of time. When the fires broke out in Maui, she was determined to dedicate her show to covering the blaze. The presenter, however, was not always welcome. She was criticized for bringing her crew to a Maui evacuation center, which was providing shelter to vulnerable people who had lost everything.

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