A Rowdy Guy Who Made Pro Wrestling Fans Smile ...by Bill Knell
In 2015 the world of sports and entertainment lost a legend who passed away far too young. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper died of a heart attack at just 61 years of age. Born as 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 morph his career into many areas of entertainment including acting. He appeared in a number of on-screen roles and did cartoon voices, but Roddy is probably best known for playing John Nada in They Live, the John Carpenter science fiction classic that has developed a cult following over the years. Never one to remain in one persona very long Roddy began as a villain wrestler, but often crossed over to being a bit of a hero or good guy of sorts. He also performed as a comedian as late as 2014 and had an impressive following as a Pod Cast show host.
Roddy was primarily of Scottish decent and proud of it as evidenced by the garb he wore into the ring. Although he became expertly adept at playing the Bagpipes at a young age, Piper says he cannot recall how that came about. Roddy does recall how he got his wrestling name. Early in his pro career he walked into the ring wearing a kilt and playing 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 was always filled with controversy which began when he was unceremoniously kicked out of Junior High School. He later left home as a young teen after a number of arguments with his father. His dad was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and always concerned about the family’s reputation. A natural athlete who worked out regularly, Piper managed to find work in any number of gyms which gave him the cash 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 pro wrestler, judo expert and champion Gene LeBell. By the time Piper was just 15 years of age he was ready to turn pro and joined the American Wrestling Association where he gained a reputation as a “bad guy” wrestler. He moved on to the more affluent National Wrestling Alliance in 1975. This organization was huge at that time and produced a number of super stars which included 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 just a few.
In the late 1970s to 1983 Piper moved through various pro wrestling territories and went up against top stars like Ric Flair, Jack Brisco, Chavo Guerrero and many others. He was often compared to Freddie Blassie and the two actually met in Madison Square Garden when Piper was given a match in the WWF by Vince McMahon. Blassie stuffed toilet paper in Roddy’s Bagpipes so that he could not play them for the crowd. In 1984 “Rowdy” Roddy Piper moved to McMahon’s Worldwide Wrestling Federal and instantly became a pro wrestling super star due to all the TV coverage the WWF garnered. One would think he was at the top of his career, but this was just the beginning. Piper became so popular and adept at interview skills that he was given his own TV segment called “Piper’s Pit” which became a favorite of WWF fans.
Piper was involved in all sorts of orchestrated mayhem which included feuds that involved WWF stars Captain Lou Albano, Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino Greg Valentine and even Cyndi Lauper. Lauper was allegedly kicked in the head by Piper during an interview and that lead to a major row with Hulk Hogan and Lou Albano (who appeared in Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” music video). That blew up into a major grudge match at WrestleMania. Piper also somehow managed to get into a dispute with Mr. T (from the “A Team” TV Show and the “Rocky 3” film). The two eventually settled their differences by facing off during WrestleMania II. Piper lost after being disqualified for an illegal move. Like many pro wrestling super stars, Roddy Piper was beginning to feel the pain of a few too many injuries and took a year off from the WWF. He returned in 1986 with a revenge when he discovered that his “Piper’s Pit” had been replaced by a show hosted by Adrian Adonis called “The Flower Shop”. Piper appeared on the show, destroyed the set and all this lead to several 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 by once popular TV host Morton Downey Jr. turned into a big mess when Piper pointed a fire extinguisher at the always smoking Downey and sprayed him down. As Piper’s popularity continued to grow he began co-hosting Prime Time Wrestling along side pro wrestling legend Gorilla Monsoon. After replacing Bobby Heenan as co-host for the Prime Time show, Roddy and Heenan became fast enemies. Heenan enlisted “Ravishing” Rick Rude and Brother Love to get revenge and several entertaining encounters between the four followed. Brother Love (pro wrestler Bruce Pritchard, manager of The Undertake). Love wore a while suit and had a wrestling character based on some of the more outrageous tele-evangelists of the day. Love took over the TV spot once occupied by “Piper’s Pit” which angered Roddy so much that when he appeared on the show he told Brother Love that he smelled and had bad breath. Piper threw mouthwash and toothpaste in his face.
Although he began scaling back his actual pro wrestling matches, Roddy Piper managed to stay in the thick of things by getting involved in more feuds with competitors like Ted DiBiase (the Million Dollar Man), Jerry “The King” Lawler and Brett Hart. Piper was a regular at the 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 in the much watched “Halloween Havoc” and “Starrcade" shows with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Brett Hart. Roddy later served briefly as the WCW Commissioner. During that reign he had major disputes with Rick Flair, Sid Vicious and Scott Hall. After peaking with the declining WCW, Piper found himself back with the WWF which in 2003 became the WWE. That stint included a popular match with Hulk Hogan who, even after he was attacked with a steel pipe by Roddy, won the event.
During an extremely controversial appearance on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” Piper admitted that he had taken drugs to remain in the ring over the past twenty years of his career. He also intimated that all or most other pro wrestling stars did the same so that they could continue competing given the injuries they all sustained and pain they felt. This got Roddy fired from the WWE. The TAW (Total Action Wrestling) group which included NWA stars, grabbed him up in 2003 despite all the controversy. The move quickly proved to be a good deal for both Piper and the 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 still growing WWE in 2005. During that time Piper hosted yet another “Piper’s Pit” live show at WrestleMania 21. That same year he was also inducted into the WWE Wrestling Hall Of Fame. Piper often appeared on the much watched “RAW!” and “SMACKDOWN” WWE TV shows which brought his talent and craziness to the attention of a whole new generation of pro 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 a few rough patches during this time which included some injuries he sustained from an auto accident in 2005 and a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2007. He recovered from the accident injuries and was said to have been in remission from the lymphoma in 2008 after receiving treatment for nearly a year. As his appearances on the major pro wrestling TV shows wained, Piper still appeared at a number of popular independent pro wrestling events like WrestleReunion joining other famous veterans like Bob Orton Jr. and Terry Funk. Popular MMA and UFC female star competitor Rhonda “Rowdy” Rousey (12 wins, 0 losses as of this writing) met Piper and told him she was a huge fan. She asked if she could use his “Rowdy” moniker and he happily gave her his blessing. She recently dedicated her match against Bethe Correia at UFC 190 to Piper after hearing about his death. She won the match in 34 seconds.
Piper’s final years were spent appearing on various TV shows including “Celebrity Wife Swap” while doing voice overs for popular cartoons, making comedy club appearances and taking on a few more acting gigs along with his pro wrestling duties. He never faded from from public view and even appeared on “Celebrity Ghost Stories”. During that episode he admitted having seen the ghost of his friend and fellow pro competitor Adrian Adonis in 2013. Roddy most recently lived in Portland, Oregon, with his wife Kitty. He had four children: Three daughters and a son. Piper became a Grandfather after his daughter Anastacia recently gave birth. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper passed away as a result of a heart attack on July 31, 2015. This is a common cause of death among former pro wrestling stars. After a lifetime of pushing their bodies to the limit I suppose that their hearts just eventually give out. Regardless of the cause of his death, Piper will be missed by the millions of fans who thoroughly enjoyed his skills and rowdiness in and out of the ring.