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A Rowdy Guy Who Made Pro Wrestling Fans Smile
In 2015, the world of sports and entertainment lost a legend who died too young. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper has died of a heart attack aged just 61. Born Roderick George Toombs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1954, Piper was a professional wrestling superstar whose “Piper’s Pit” interviews were as legendary as his antics in and out of the ring. He was able to transform his career into many areas of entertainment including acting. He’s appeared in many roles on screen and done cartoon voices, but Roddy is probably best known for playing John Nada in They Live, the John Carpenter sci-fi classic that has built a cult following over the years. Never one to stay in one persona for very long, Roddy started out as a villain wrestler but often became a bit of a hero or a good guy. In 2014, he also performed as a comedian and had an impressive following as the host of a podcast show.
Roddy was of Scottish decent and proud of it, as evidenced by the attire he wore to the ring. Although he became an accomplished bagpipe player at a young age, Piper says he can’t remember how it happened. Roddy recalls how he came up with his wrestling name. Early in his professional career, he entered the ring wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes. When the announcer forgot the last name he was using, he simply introduced the wrestler as “Roddy the Piper” and the name stuck. Piper’s life has always been full of controversy, which began when he was unceremoniously kicked out of Junior High School. He later left home as a young teenager after a series of arguments with his father. His father was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and always looked after the family’s reputation. A natural athlete who worked out regularly, Piper was able to find work at any number of gyms, which gave him money to live in hostels.
Roddy had a very competitive spirit and began his athletic career as an amateur wrestler, boxer and judo competitor. He eventually won the prestigious Golden Gloves Championship and received a black belt in judo from American professional wrestler, judo expert and champion Gene LeBelle. By the time Piper was just 15 years old, he was ready to turn pro and joined the American Wrestling Association, where he gained a reputation as a “bad guy” wrestler. In 1975, he moved to the richer National Wrestling Alliance. The organization was huge at the time and produced a number of superstars including Buddy Rogers, Killer Kowalski, Bobo Brazil, Gene Kiniski, Dory Funk, Dory Funk Jr., Harley Race, Jack Brisco, Dusty Rhodes, Great Malenko, Buddy Colt, Eddie Graham, Sting and Bobby Shane to name a few.
In the late 1970s until 1983, Piper moved through various areas of professional wrestling, facing top stars such as Ric Flair, Jack Brisco, Chavo Guerrero and many others. He was often compared to Freddie Blassie and the two actually met at Madison Square Garden when Piper was given a match in the WWF by Vince McMahon. Blassie stuffed toilet paper into Roddy’s bagpipes so he couldn’t play them for the crowd. In 1984, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper moved to McMahon’s Worldwide Wrestling Federal and instantly became a professional wrestling superstar thanks to all the WWF’s television coverage. You’d think he was at the peak of his career, but this was just the beginning. Piper became so popular and adept at interviewing skills that he was given his own television segment called “Piper’s Pit”, which became a WWF fan favorite.
Piper was involved in all kinds of organized mayhem that included feuds that included WWF stars Captain Lou Albano, Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino, Greg Valentine, and even Cyndi Lauper. Lauper was reportedly kicked in the head by Piper during the interview, leading to a major altercation with Hulk Hogan and Lou Albano (who appeared in Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” music video). This exploded into a big grudge match at WrestleMania. Piper also somehow managed to get into a feud with Mr. T (from the TV show “A Team” and the movie “Rocky 3”). The two eventually settled their differences by facing each other during WrestleMania II. Piper lost after being disqualified for an illegal move. Like many professional wrestling superstars, Roddy Piper was starting to feel the pain from a few too many injuries and took a year off from the WWF. He returned in 1986 with a vengeance when he found his “Piper’s Pit” replaced by a show hosted by Adrian Adonis called “The Flower Shop”. Piper appeared on the show, destroyed the scene and it all led to some very popular grudge matches that WWF fans really enjoyed.
By 1989, Roddy was more popular than ever and even hosted a live “Piper’s Pit” during WrestleMania V. An appearance on the show of the once popular TV host Morton Downey Jr. turned into a big mess as Piper pointed the fire extinguisher at the ever-smoking. Downey and sprayed him. As Piper’s popularity continued to grow, he began co-hosting Prime Time Wrestling alongside professional wrestling legend Gorilla Monsoon. After replacing Bobby Heenan as co-host of Prime Time, Roddy and Heenan became fast enemies. Heenan recruited “Ravishing” Rick Rude and Brother Love to get revenge and some fun encounters between the four ensued. Brother Love (pro wrestler Bruce Pritchard, manager of The Undertake). Love wore a suit and had a wrestling personality according to some of the nastiest televangelists of the time. Love took over the TV spot that had once occupied “Piper’s Pit”, which angered Roddy so much that when he appeared on the show, Brother Love told him that he smelled and had bad breath. Piper threw mouthwash and toothpaste in his face.
Although he began to scale back his actual professional wrestling matches, Roddy Piper was able to stay in the limelight by engaging in other feuds with competitors such as Ted DiBiase (Million Dollar Man), Jerry “The King” Lawler, and Brett Hart. Piper was a regular at WrestleMania events from 1989 to 1996 and even served as a celebrity referee. Roddy moved to the World Championship Wrestling organization in 1996 and joined the highly watched “Halloween Havoc” and “Starrcade” shows with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Brett Hart. Roddy later served briefly as commissioner of WCW. During this reign, he had major feuds with Rick Flair, Sid Vicious and Scott Hall. After peaking with the declining WCW, Piper found himself back with the WWF, which became Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment in 2003. That stint included a popular match with Hulk Hogan, who, despite Roddy being attacked with a steel pipe, won the tournament.
During an extremely controversial appearance on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” Piper admitted that he took drugs to stay in the ring during the last twenty years of his career. He also suggested that all or most of the other professional wrestling stars did the same in order to continue competing given the injuries they all suffered and the pain they felt. This got Roddy fired from Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment. TAW (Total Action Wrestling), which included NWA stars, grabbed him in 2003 despite all the controversy. The move quickly proved to be good business for both Piper and TAW. So much so that Vince McMahon could not ignore Roddy’s new found popularity and soon brought him back to the now huge and ever growing Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment in 2005. During that time Piper hosted another live show “Piper’s Pit” at WrestleMania 21. That same year he was also inducted into the Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment Wrestling Hall Of Fame. Piper appeared frequently on the much-watched “RAW!” and “SMACKDOWN” Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment TV shows that brought his talent and madness to the attention of a whole new generation of professional wrestling fans.
From 2003 to 2014, Piper continued to build his popularity with more “Piper’s Pit” shows and various matches and feuds with Ricky Steamboat, Zac Rider, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler and many others. Roddy had some rough patches during this time, which included some injuries sustained in a car accident in 2005 and a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007. He recovered from his injuries and was reportedly in remission from the lymphoma in 2008. is being treated for almost a year. As his appearances on major professional wrestling television programs dwindled, Piper continued to appear at a number of popular independent pro wrestling events such as WrestleReunion, joining other famous veterans such as Bob Orton Jr. and Terry Funk. Popular MMA and UFC star competitor Rhonda “Rowdy” Rousey (12 wins, 0 losses at the time of writing) met with Piper and told him she was a big fan. She asked if she could use his nickname “Rowdy” and he happily blessed her. She recently dedicated her fight against Bethe Correia at UFC 190 to Piper after hearing of his death. She won the match in 34 seconds.
Piper has spent recent years appearing on various television shows, including “Celebrity Wife Swap,” while doing voiceovers for popular cartoons, performing at comedy clubs, and taking on several other acting gigs along with her professional wrestling duties. He never disappeared from the public eye and even appeared in “Celebrity Ghost Stories”. During this episode, he admitted to seeing the ghost of his friend and professional competitor Adrian Adonis in 2013. Roddy last lived in Portland, Oregon with his wife Kitty. He had four children: three daughters and a son. Piper became a grandfather after the recent birth of his daughter Anastacia. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper died of a heart attack on July 31, 2015. This is a common cause of death among former professional wrestling stars. After a lifetime of pushing their bodies to their limits, I suppose their hearts will eventually give out. Regardless of the cause of his death, Piper will be missed by millions of fans who thoroughly enjoyed his skills and antics in and out of the ring.
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