Throughout history the world has seen many battles. Coke vs. Pepsi, good vs. evil, up vs. down, and to many Film Junk lovers: wrestling vs. magic. Thanks to one man, wrestling met film and created magic. The ‘Hot Rod’, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper was that man and tragically, at the age of 61, he passed away due to cardiac arrest.
Piper, born Roderick Toombs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was a true legend in the wrestling business. Known by many as the greatest villain ever, he had the ability to incite such hatred in the crowds during the ’70s and ’80s that many times his life was in danger. During the late ’70s Piper wrestled for the NWA (the National Wrestling Alliance) and had an incredible feud with the Guerrero family. Continuously hurling insults toward the Mexican community, Piper, at one point agreed to make amends by playing the Mexican national anthem on the bagpipes (he was a legit player), but instead played ‘La Cucaracha’ further pouring gasoline on that fire.
In the ’80s Piper moved on to the WWF and became a household name due to the explosion of the World Wrestling Federation. Being the main antagonist to Hulk Hogan in a feud which brought in MTV and 1980s cultural icons Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper and culminated in the very first Wrestlemania, Piper was on top of the world.
Piper’s ability to talk in front of a live crowd or to cut promos on the other wrestlers led him to host his own talk show segment on WWF television, called Piper’s Pit. Most of Piper’s iconic moments occurred here. From his classic line “Just when they think they’ve got the answers, I change the questions” to smashing a coconut on the head of Polynesian wrestler ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka, Piper revolutionized the show within a show and its effects are still felt today in WWE.
Piper racked up dozens of film and television credits during and after his wrestling days, the biggest one being the lead role in John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live. Piper plays a construction worker who finds a special pair of sunglasses that enables him to see what the world really is. Media and advertising hide subliminal messages and people with wealth or authority are actually aliens disguised as humans. In They Live, Piper uttered one of the most memorable lines in film: “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum.”
Piper also appeared in the films Hell Comes to Frogtown and Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies. True classics. He also made guest appearances on MadTV, Robocop: The Series, The New Zorro, The Outer Limits, Celebrity Ghost Stories and Celebrity Wife Swap, where he swapped wives with the ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair. Truer classics.
It’s been a tough ride for wrestling fans as of late with the passing of the ‘American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes just weeks prior. With the death of ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, one more ’80s wrestling icon is gone just a little too soon. I was lucky enough to meet Piper a few years ago and was honoured with opportunity to introduce him to the live crowd for one of his spoken word performances. He made me wear a ‘Hot Rod’ t-shirt that was 2 sizes too small and promptly threw me off the stage. It was easily one of my life highlights.
Hit the 10 bell salute.