Roddy Piper died Friday. Roddy Piper is gone at the age of 61. Sixty-one years-old. That’s it.
Upon seeing the news on someone’s Facebook feed my first reaction was that this was a typical fake story on Facebook” Seeing that the story linked back to TMZ I knew it was for real. He was gone way too soon. He fell asleep and never woke up. He leaves behind a giant hole for his fans and I cannot imagine what it means for his family. I purposely waited over the weekend to attempt to write anything about this. Even now, I am afraid my thoughts won’t come together cohesively. This may read like latter day Roddy Piper promo and in that case it is fitting.
His death comes so soon after the death of Dusty Rhodes so wrestling fans now have that wound reopened a bit if not a totally new wound opening up. One thing that did get a chuckle was this tweet from Marty Derosa.
Roddy Piper was one of my favorite wrestlers when I first started watching WWF. I have written before that Jim Cornette and the Dennis Condry version of the Midnight Express is what got me in to wrestling but that was for the NWA. WWF had more of a television presence for me since it was spread out over Saturday and Sunday mornings, Monday night and even Tuesday night. NWA or Mid-Atlantic had the TBS shows on Saturday morning and Saturday night. Even then my viewing was haphazard at best. So there were major chunks of time missing and stories jumped around a bit due to that.
When I started with WWF one of the first shows I remember had the British Bulldogs, Jake Roberts and a recorded Roddy Piper promo. He was engaging, mean, cocky and he looked nothing like the other wrestlers. Even if I didn’t understand what cocky or arrogant were at the time, I knew I wanted what he had. His charisma jumped through the television. He wasn’t the biggest guy but his mouth and attitude elevated him in my eyes. I was a fan, even if he was a bad guy.
When I discovered that video stores rented wrestling tapes, yep video tape rentals, I grabbed any tape that had Roddy Piper on the cover or mentioned on the back. I got to catch up and see him smash a gold record over Lou Albano’s head, which still makes me laugh. I saw him walk down the short and narrow aisle for the original WrestleMania defiant, arrogant and in danger. The aisles, as I have explained to my wife, were just that. This was long before the days of the much too wide ramps WWE employs now.
He was in the wrong, he was the guy that caused all of these problems and he didn’t care. He was pleased with himself and pleased with the reaction he had caused. This carried over for a full year where he was set up for a boxing exhibition with Mr. T. As a kid I thought this was the dumbest thing ever as Piper was a wrestler and Mr. T was an actor. Piper would crush him. The shock I felt the next day at school being told Piper lost was palpable. Once I got to see the match on tape, it wasn’t so bad. He was creaming Mr. T until he got tired of abusing him and body slammed him a couple times. Seemed right by me.
One thing they did not have on tape yet was a highlight or best of video. All of the big WWF moments of Roddy’s career came from interviews on the legendary Piper’s Pit. This was my first live, on television, experience with Roddy Piper. He had Andre the Giant out for a trophy presentation with Hulk Hogan interrupting of course. The next Piper’s Pit was the famous Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant confrontation setting the plan for WrestleMania 3. By this time Roddy was a face and started a feud with Adrian Adonis. Cowboy Bob turned on Roddy and they ruined his set and leg. Piper came back and destroyed the Flower Shop set with a bum leg and it looked so real.
I had no idea at the time Roddy was going to make movies and his “retirement” match at WrestleMania was disappointing. It wasn’t the internet age so all of his work pre-WWF was nowhere to be found. Yes even the local video stores didn’t have anything, I checked. The only way I found out about the movies was through Apter mags. He made something called Bodyslam, which as a kid I thought was terrible. He also made Hell Comes to Frogtown, which I have never seen and have never had the desire to seek out.
Then of course, Roddy made his most defining film in They Live. This movie wouldn’t have worked without him. The film is sort of disjointed and awkwardly short but it contains, and this is no exaggeration, the most honest and brutal fight scenes in movie history. It is only six minutes long but the original edit the fight is around twelve minutes. It isn’t fancy, it doesn’t have the glitz and jump cuts of so many action movies now but it is a raw and dirty fight that has yet to be filmed again in this country at least. Without Roddy Piper though this movie would have been completely forgotten about. John Carpenter has given the world a lot of good to great movies but They Live is one of those that was somewhere in the middle. Roddy elevated his character and his dialogue. He breaks in to promo mode in bits and then falls so silent in others.
They Live jump started my R Rated movie career, if you will. Seeing something raw, with swearing made me seek out other films outside of the safety of the PG movies I was allowed to watch. I didn’t want to watch cartoons, other than G.I. Joe. I wanted to watch action films with badass characters spouting off cool dialogue and saving the day. Yes I realize Roddy dies at the end but he did save the day.
Most people remember and repeat the most famous line “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” And for good reason, it is awesome. Let’s not forget him also telling an alien Mamma don’t like tattletales.” There is also him involving a store clerk and older lady “You (to the store clerk), you’re OK. This one (to the old lady): real fuckin’ ugly”
The audacity of a stranger telling someone out of the blue and without provocation was the coolest thing I had ever watched. Yeah this wasn’t the intended outcome by the filmmakers but it opened up a world of anti-heroes and confidence I had not seen. Han Solo was the closest thing as a child I had witnessed but he didn’t swear and use a shotgun.
I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of Piper’s later work in WWE and his TNA debacle with Vince Russo. I felt bad for him as the young, confident and strong persona had given way to a feebler act as time and health took control. It isn’t his fault, it is just how life goes but I don’t have to enjoy it. It didn’t taint my view of him or the influence he had on my life. Yeah, a wrestler I never met helped mold my sensibilities, how strange.
After WrestleMania 27 Kevin, Eric and I were eating lunch in downtown Atlanta and we saw a group of people standing outside a gym where the wrestlers were working out. They flocked on to anyone who exited the building regardless if they were a wrestler or not. Eventually security made them scatter. As they was Roddy Piper walked out with no fanfare and without a group to see him. Here was arguably one of the biggest wrestlers in WWW history taking a casual stroll back to the hotel still sweaty and clearly tired. Some of the autograph hounds saw him and literally ran down the block from behind.
Instead of being pissed off or even looking put out Roddy smiled, had a conversation with the three gents and posed with pictures for all of them. I remember Eric repeatedly saying how cool that was for him to do. He could have kept walking and his presence drew a small crowd. Roddy stayed put, signed autographs and took pictures. We couldn’t hear what was going on but from out perch he looked happy, engaged and polite as can be. The crowd did dwindle but a security team was sent over helping him get moving back to the hotel. The thing that stood out though is that Roddy didn’t move until the crowd had gotten what they wanted. No one left empty handed and one person who ran across Peachtree St (It may not have been but every street in downtown Atlanta is named some sort of Peachtree.) got his picture taken and a handshake. Even though none of us went down to meet him you could see he was having a good time and the interactions invigorated him.
This is really the only Roddy Piper story I have and it was as a casual gawker from a second story Mexican restaurant. I have no idea why we didn’t run downstairs and join the crowd but we didn’t. I will have to ask Eric and Kevin about that one. I know for myself I didn’t want to go down and interrupt his day with yet another person asking or telling him about “They Live.” I didn’t want to add to the interruption in his day by acting nervous and awkward until I finally blurted out how great “They Live” was even if I would have been fibbing a bit. I don’t think the words would have come out right and I know for sure I would have come across as the typical weirdo I do every time I meet someone famous. And really hadn’t he had enough of that? How many times has he had the same conversation with different fans when all he wanted to do was get back to his hotel for a shower and rest?
Now of course I regret it. I regretted it later that day but never said anything. I will never regret watching Roddy Piper matches and some of his movies. He made a nice career for himself later in life with cameos on TV shows and then his podcasts while it lasted. He was popping up all over the place and adding to his beloved status. He will be missed and for me at least always cherished. -Jeremy