“When we first launched the fund, there was some backlash,” Johnson said in a video posted to his Instagram page on Sunday, after joking that he keeps “receipts.” “I get it and I completely understand, and I could’ve been better — and next time I will be better.”
The People’s Champ said he remembers how it feels when money is tight, commenting, “I understand money ain’t falling out of the sky and it isn’t growing on trees. And there’s a lot of people out there who’s living paycheck to paycheck, and I get it and I know what that’s like.”
“I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck — seven bucks, I know,” he added.
Clarifying that he was only speaking for himself, he recalled being “easily pissed off” and “frustrated” when living paycheck to paycheck. He continued: “And the last thing you want to hear when you’re living paycheck to paycheck is someone asking you for money, especially when the person asking you for money already has a lot of money.”
Johnson and Winfrey started the People’s Fund of Maui in August, days after wildfires tore through West Maui, including Lahaina, where flames destroyed homes, businesses and historic, cultural landmarks. More than 100 people died in the blaze, named the deadliest fire in the United States in the last century.
The fund connects donations directly to people affected by the wildfires in the form of $1,200 monthly checks. To start the fund, the pair of celebrities donated $10 million each to seed the charitable foundation. For the rest, Johnson and Winfrey asked the public for help.
A flood of voices online blasted Winfrey and Johnson’s invitation for donations, with some asking how they expected the public to give when many Americans “barely can pay rent, barely can put food on the table for our families.” Others demanded that the celebs instead fund the project by digging deeper into their pockets or rallying their wealthy friends in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.
TV personality Nick Cannon joined the backlash, commenting on his “Daily Cannon” podcast that he supported the criticism against Winfrey and Johnson.
“It’s in poor taste for a billionaire to ask anyone for money,” Cannon said. “I don’t care what the situation is.”
Winfrey addressed the backlash in September, telling “CBS Mornings” that she had been “terrorized and vilified” online. “I was so excited and I got up the next morning and I saw all of this vitriol and I was like, ‘Whoa, what happened here?’” Winfrey said.
Earlier this year, Winfrey bought more than 870 acres on Maui, expanding her holdings on the island to more than 1,000 acres of land. After the acquisition, Forbes estimated her net worth at $2.5 billion.
Johnson’s net worth is around $270 million, and he was ranked by Forbes as among the top five earners in entertainment. He reportedly rents a massive vacation estate on Oahu. However, Johnson, who is of Samoan descent, also does have roots in the Hawaiian islands — as a child, he lived with his mother on Oahu before they were evicted when he was 14 and had to leave Hawaii.
During his apology, Johnson also announced that the first round of monthly checks have been given to “the thousands and thousands of survivors” over the last several weeks. He shared how his part in the rebuilding effort with others is inspired by his culture, and said it is a “reflection of who we are as Polynesian people.”