Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions…
This was not the post I had in mind for this week. This was not the post I wanted to write any time soon. This was especially not the post I wanted to write a month after the passing of Dusty Rhodes. But unfortunately, this is the post I have to write. Today, 7/30/2015, Rowdy Roddy Piper passed away from cardiac arrest. He was sixty one. And that, quite frankly, is too fucking soon.
Born Roderick George Toombs in 1954, Rowdy Roddy Piper made his in ring debut against Larry The Ax Henning at the age of fifteen. He lost. In about twelve seconds. He was not deterred, however. A legit Gold Gloves winner and later Black Belt in Judo, Piper hung around as a jobber in the AWA for a few years. During this period he made appearances for the NWA as well and began to catch on with fans as a villain. And it was as a villain where he would make his mark on the wrestling world. In 1975 Piper went to Hollywood and became the top draw for the NWA branch there. As soon as he got a microphone in his hand, his path to super-stardom was set. Here was a guy who after insulting the large Mexican-American audience in California promised to make it up to them by playing the Mexican National Anthem on his bagpipes. He played “La Cucaracha” instead.
From there, Piper went north to the Pacific Northwest territory for a brief run before heading to Georgia Championship Wrestling, the precursor to World Championship Wrestling. It was there that fans took a liking to Piper. He became a monster face in the south feuding with the likes of Don Murraco, Dick Slater, Bob Armstrong, and Ric Flair. His biggest feud though was probably with Greg The Hammer Valentine. Their match at the very first Starrcade is a classic. During this match Valentine hit Piper in the ear with the a foreign object rupturing his ear drum and causing Piper permanent hearing loss. In a sport where the violence is choreographed, injuries do happen from time to time. A ruptured ear drum is particularly nasty and the fact that Piper finished the match is a testament to his desire to entertain the fans and his toughness as a man.
It was in 1984 however, that Piper would become a household name by signing with the WWF. Debuting as a heel, Piper started as a manager and quickly transitioned back into the ring. But it was his interview show that broke new ground for professional wrestling and rocketed Piper to stardom. Piper’s Pit was a completely unscripted segment where Piper would “interview” other wrestlers usually leading to a feud between them. It was Piper’s skill on the mic that made this segment not just must see but can’t miss. It has been imitated since its inception to varying levels of success but has, in my opinion, never been duplicated. Perhaps one of the most identifiable moments in Piper’s career came when he had Jimmy Snuka on as a guest. Words cannot do it justice, just watch.
Piper would go on to have major feuds as a heel for the WWF including headlining the very first Wrestlemania with Paul Orndorff taking on Hulk Hogan and Mr. T; a match that was set up on MTV and involved Cyndi Lauper and Capt. Lou Albano because of Cyndi Lauper’s involvement in WWF at the time. (that event is worth another post in and of itself, just watch the video here) But, as was the case a few years prior, the fans could not help but cheer for Roddy. His charisma was off the charts. His in ring work was solid if not unspectacular. He was a brawler. An every-man. But his promos, they were otherworldly. Piper never won the Heavyweight belt in WWF/E; he never needed it. His mouth carried him throughout his career. He would step away from wrestling in the late 80’s to make movies. And while his filmography is decently long, only one stands out as a (cult) classic
They Live is just one of those movies. You either love it or hate it but absolutely know of it. It is not a good film. But it is a great one. If you have not seen it, do so now. If you have, watch it again. Piper would return to the ring in 1989 and begin his time as an on again, off again superstar. He had some memorable feuds during these periods including winning the Intercontinental Championship. Piper’s Pit would return from time to time as well. in 1996, he went back to WCW and had a feud with Hollywood Hulk Hogan. He returned to WWE in 2003 for a brief run with Chris Jericho, appeared for TNA in 2003 as well, and in 2005 made his return to WWE for good. He won the Tag Team Championship with Ric Flair but had to relinquish the belt because of a battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame. His appearances were infrequent. He was always gone just long enough for the fans to miss him. And every time he did come back, the pop was huge. Simply put, Rowdy Roddy Piper, the Hot Rod, was one of the most popular superstars of all time. Hulk Hogan would not have the career he has had without Piper. Wrestling would not be the same without Piper.
I’ve tried to keep this article mostly focused on the facts of Piper’s career. I’ve done so because focusing on his legacy, on his impact, has been very hard to write. I have long been a Piper mark of the first degree. For my money, he is the best “bad guy” of all time. The fact that he is also one of the most over “good guys” of all time speaks to the level of performance he was capable of. This was a guy you had to listen to whenever he had a mic. It didn’t matter if it was a promo hyping a match in some small town in the middle of America of if he was in the ring at Wrestlemania, you had to listen. But it wasn’t just his in ring persona that made him great it was who he was as a man. Piper was a devoted family man so much so that he would wrestle with his wedding band on, not something anyone else does. If you read stories about people who met him in real life they are all good stories. There are no Roddy was an asshole to me stories because that is not who he was. Piper meant a lot to me as a fan. He entertained me in a way few other had or will. I am deeply saddened by his loss. He had a tremendous impact on entertainment and sports in general and will be greatly missed. I urge you to watch the clips below (especially the last one… you want to hear love, it’s right there), listen to his interview with Colt Cabana, and watch They Live in honor of this man. The world is a shittier place today because Piper is no longer in it. I never met the man but if I had I would have only said one thing, thank you.