Not even two months ago I wrote about the death of professional wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes and lamented that wrestling fans see their favorites pass away at a frighteningly alarming rate. Today I’m paying tribute to yet another icon of the squared circle who lost his match to father time far too young. In the business of professional wrestling it takes a special person to rise to the top of the mountain. Football, baseball, hockey, and other sports are legitimate competitions and so the best athletes that work the hardest are the ones that set records and are remembered. Pro wrestling is a worked sport however, so a great athlete with oodles of God given natural talent may not even make it past the preliminary ranks before they are discarded in the giant dust bin of former wrestlers. To get to the top in the world of wrestling a performer has to have that “it” factor. That special magnetism that draws viewers in and captivates them. Rowdy Roddy Piper oozed that “it” factor. Not many performers in wrestling could go toe to toe with Hulk Hogan in the personality department but Roddy Piper was neck and neck with him throughout his run.
Despite playing up his Scottish heritage by plodding to the ring in a kilt accompanied by bagpipes, Piper was actually born in Saskatoon Saskatchewan as Roderick George Toombs. After having a fallout with his father in his teenage years he began living on the streets and in youth hostels across Canada. Eventually he found his way to the gym where he took up amateur wrestling and boxing. Certainly these skills would help him in a shoot situation if he got into trouble on the streets. Before getting into pro wrestling he won the Golden Gloves in boxing and also earned a black belt in Judo.
At age 15 Piper made his professional wrestling debut in Winnipeg Manitoba squaring off against pro wrestling legend Larry “the Axe” Hennig, father of Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig. In a moment of fate, while making his way to the ring while playing the bagpipes the ring announcer for the evening introduced him to the crowd as “Roddy the Piper”. Even at this early stage in his career it is clear that Roddy understood the importance of showmanship in the world of professional wrestling. The fans in attendance heard his introduction as “Roddy Piper” and the name stuck. Piper began his career like many others before him, as a jobber in the AWA and throughout various NWA territories.
By late 1975 Piper began making a name for himself as a heel in the western territories of the NWA. Eventually he would find himself in Georgia Championship Wrestling by 1980 where special things were happening. The mid-Atlantic territories were booming with talent and were also exposed to large portions of the United States by way of Ted Turner’s superstation WTBS. Feuding with Sgt. Slaughter, Ric Flair, and Greg the Hammer Valentine Piper was becoming a household name and national wrestling star. His dog collar match with Valentine at the inaugural Starrcade event has become an important footnote in the history of the business.
Vince McMahon began accumulating as much top tier talent from other territories as he could in a bid to go national, and Roddy Piper was one of the first stars to be brought into the expanding World Wrestling Federation. By the mid 80’s the WWF would explode in popularity and Roddy Piper played a very large role in the ever expanding influence of the promotion. Given a segment on WWF TV known as “Piper’s Pit”, Roddy played the part of a talk show host which allowed his natural charisma to shine. One of the most memorable segments in WWF history occurred on Piper’s Pit when Roddy clocked Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in the head with a coconut. According to Piper this was an unplanned moment and the coconut was real. Knowing he had to swing hard to get it to break he nailed Snuka in the head with all his might and then got off stage before he could come to. Snuka allegedly suffered a concussion as a result of the segment but a legend was born and the two would draw a significant amount of money during their ensuing feud.
Piper’s feud with Hulk Hogan is arguably the most important storyline in WWF history. On MTV’s “War to Settle the Score” Piper faced off against Hulk Hogan in a WWF Championship match where he lost to the Hulkster via disqualification. After the match, Hogan’s “friends” Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper who were at ringside attempted to come to Hogan’s aid as he was being attacked by Piper, Cowboy Bob Orton, and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff. During the brawl Piper kicked Lauper in the head. At this time male on female violence was seen as a tremendous act of villainy. This set the stage for the main event of the inaugural WrestleMania: Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff. The rest is history. Without Roddy Piper and his role in the success of the first WrestleMania, it’s possible the WWF would never have become the entity it is today. Vince McMahon literally had everything on the line with that event, and it paid off in spades.
I could go on and on about Piper’s wrestling history and his memorable feuds but anyone reading this article is fully aware of his monumental career. Piper really is the great American success story. A poor immigrant with no education and nobody to help him, he found his way to this country and became a multi-millionaire and household name as a wrestler and an actor. He wasn’t given anything but a chance and through grit and determination he made the absolute most of that chance. As far as name recognition goes, Piper stands among a select few in the wrestling world that have transcended the sport and become known to non-fans.
The LJN line of WWF figures known as “Wrestling Superstars” is highly regarded by collectors today as one of the greatest series of mass produced toys ever made. One of their flaws however is that the paint on the figures was not very durable. Since the toys were made out of molded pieces of solid rubber, the paint did not adhere to the figures very well and would peel or smudge off somewhat easily with frequent play. As a result, its easy to tell which figures were the favorites of their owners. A new looking LJN WWF figure is one that was never played with. The more worn it is, the more the child enjoyed it. Here’s my original Roddy Piper LJN figure:
I loved Piper as a kid and his figure went everywhere with me. Hulk Hogan was unequivocally my number one guy of course, like so many kids, but Piper was a very very close second. If I was heading on a trip or just to the bathtub, Piper and Hogan were likely going along for the ride.
The intensity that Piper exhibited during his interviews along with his profound ability to create memorable catchphrases or one liners seemingly at will is what drew fans to Roddy in droves. Piper was one of the few characters in pro wrestling that was just as effective as a heel as he was a baby face. Fans loved to pay to see him, or loved to pay to see him get beaten up, but he always succeeded in getting them to open their wallets. Face Roddy Piper and heel Roddy Piper were such similar characters that it’s amazing how well he was able to play the crowd. Unlike Hulk Hogan and Hollywood Hogan that were exact mirror images of each other, face Roddy Piper and heel Roddy Piper were essentially one and the same. His style was to tell it the way he saw it without holding back any punches. When he unloaded his opinions on a heel wrestler, he was effectively a baby face. When he unloaded his opinions on a baby face wrestler or the crowd, he was now the villain. Either way he simply played an amplified version of himself which endeared him to fans around the globe. His character was not so much a “gimmick”. It was just him being himself.
Piper also had a penchant for telling stories. If you haven’t read his book “In the Pit with Piper” yet I would highly recommend it. His authorship is as entertaining as his embellishing TV persona. One story in particular that he tells in the book still gets me in stitches all these years later. I’m going to share it with you verbatim because the story itself and the manner in which he tells it are the perfect personification of Rowdy Roddy Piper. The story takes place in Portland Oregon while Piper is living with a fellow wrestler Killer Brooks.
The two of us did pretty well for ourselves while we were living together, both in the ring and on the social scene. There was one girl in particular who left a lasting impression on me. Killer Brooks had this girlfriend we called “Wombat”. Whenever he wanted to sow his oats, he’d go into his room with Wombat. To tell you the truth, I don’t really know what went on behind those closed doors because I was doing my own thing, but in all honesty I didn’t want to know. I would wake up early every Saturday morning to go to the gym because there would be all this “funk” in that apartment – tons of empty beer bottles and cans, cigar butts, and what looked like spit on the floor. What these two did nobody knows, but shit was starting to grow in there, man! And to top it off, there was this terrible aroma that filled the apartment that seemed to exude from Killer’s room after a night of combat.
Wombat was a nice-looking girl and all, but what she could be doing with Killer and to Killer was beyond me. When I’d come back from the gym she would be gone, so I hardly ever saw her. But one time Wombat came over to the apartment to see Killer and he wasn’t there. One thing led to another and I “fiddled” with her. After I did the nasty, I felt bad for making it with my roommate’s girl. So I did the honorable thing that a wrestler would do and decided I wouldn’t tell him. It would just cause animosity between us and, more importantly, make my life a living hell. I would have to sleep with one eye open each night, afraid that Killer would come into my room and pull a Lorena Bobbitt.
Well, I soon found out that I didn’t need Killer for that. I kept my little secret from my big friend for about a week until I noticed this thing starting to grow on the base of my penis. I swear to you, it had lungs of its own and was getting bigger and nastier looking by the day. I know I had a big decision to make: Do I tell Killer about what happened, hoping that he’ll not only forgive me, but also provide me with some info on how to get this alien off my dick? Or do I say nothing, let my dick fall off, and live the rest of my life penisless? Hell, I knew the answer right away… I’m telling Killer!
So finally I had the balls to tell Brooks. I approached him and said: “Killer, I’ve got a confession.” I pulled my pants down, and he goes, “Ah, you’ve been with Wombat. That’s okay, but we’re gonna have to fix that.” I was relieved. Killer was not mad at me, and more importantly, he had a remedy for my Wombat-itus. He tells me to sit down and he comes back holding this white-hot needle, that he just heated up on on the stove, holding it with a pair of pliers.
As soon as I saw him holding that steaming needle with the pliers, I jumped up out of my seat and said, “Whoa, Killer! What are you going to do with that?” He tells me to “sit down, drop your pants down, and pull your dick out.” I then said, “Killer, are you sure about this?” The next thing I know he jabbed that needle into the alien – damn, that hurt! – and squeezed it so hard I thought it was going to burst! But he came through for me in a big way. While I still have the scar from that memorable prick, the disease never showed its ugly ass again, so I owed Killer big-time for helping me out.
I’m not sure how many of you were expecting to read about the deceased Roddy Piper’s privates in a tribute to the man but the story just exudes his eccentric personality. I can practically hear his voice as I read it to myself. One can only hope that somewhere, perhaps in another plane of existence, Roddy is playing his bagpipes once again as he walks down the aisle, ready to team up with Dusty Rhodes and Ultimate Warrior against Ravishing Rick Rude, Andre the Giant, and Macho Man Randy Savage.