From his onscreen appearances to his wrestling victories to his work as a producer, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has truly become a pop culture icon — and MTV set out to honor that by bestowing the Generation Award on him at this year’s MTV Movie & TV Awards.
The award honors “beloved actors whose diverse contributions to both film and television have turned them into household names in the industry,” and has previously gone to stars like Chris Pratt, Will Smith, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Wahlberg, Sandra Bullock, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, and more.
Johnson received a big celebration at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, Calif., on Saturday evening, before the awards show aired Monday night on MTV. After a video package ran through the highlights of Johnson’s Hollywood career, the actor-producer was honored with a special musical performance combining his Samoan and black heritage. Shirtless dancers sporting costumes that resembled Samoan warriors offered up some eye-popping stepping choreography, fittingly to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
Then, Johnson took to the stage to say his thanks and preach a message of kindness to the audience, insisting authenticity and treating everyone with respect is what brought him to this moment. “I want to say thank you to MTV for this awesome, really incredible, prestigious award. I also want to thank my family home, my girls. I’ve got a house full of strong-ass women at home,” he began. “But mainly I want to thank the ones who make this whole thing happen. I want to thank you, the people, the fans, I thank you.”
Johnson then dedicated the bulk of his speech to sharing what he called a “lesson” with the audience, first speaking to Hollywood’s uncertainty about what to do with a man of his stature and ethnic background. “When I first got to Hollywood — Hollywood, they didn’t know what the hell to do with me. I was this half-black, half-Samoan, 6-foot-4, 275-pound pro wrestler,” he said. “You know, I was told at that time, ‘You’ve got to be a certain way. You’ve got to drop some weight… You’ve got to stop working out.’ Stop doing the things that I love. You’ve got to stop calling yourself the Rock — what?… And for years, I actually bought into it.”
He continued, “I was miserable doing that, so I made a choice. And the choice was, I wasn’t going to conform to Hollywood, Hollywood was going to conform to me. So, Hollywood conformed to me, and here I am with all of you getting the Generation Award… It’s important that you are your most authentic self. I’m a walking example of that.”
Johnson brought his speech home with a reminder that being yourself means nothing if you’re not kind to others and raising them up along the way. “There’s another side to being your authentic self, your true self, and that’s the side that the magic is on. That’s the side that’s gold. While yes, it’s important to be yourself, you’ve got to recognize the joy and responsibility of bringing everybody with you,” he proclaimed. “We bring everybody with us, and you do that by being kind, by being compassionate, by being inclusive, and straight-up being good to people, because that matters.”
He concluded, “I leave you with this: When I was 15 years old I heard a quote, and I will never forget it and I bring it with me everywhere I go, and it’s ingrained in my DNA. The quote is this: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
Watch Johnson’s speech above, and see a complete list of MTV Movie & TV Awards winners here.