Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Where do I even begin?
The world was saddened to hear on Friday that yet another professional wrestler has been taken from us at an age entirely too young. Roddy died of a heart attack in his sleep Thursday night at the age of 61. I didn’t get word of his passing until Friday afternoon when I was on my way home from work and TMZ had reported it. Immediately, my phone started blowing up…friends were posting the story to Facebook, I was getting Twitter notifications, and text messages informing me of this sad story. I continued to play the telephone game, relaying the message on to other wrestling fan friends who I hadn’t heard from and one by one, I kept receiving the same responses from them that I had. I was overcome with just an immense amount of sadness, knowing that yet another piece of my childhood has left us.
A couple of months ago, I began doing audio recordings for PWInsider.com, my preferred source for pro-wrestling news & opinion columns. The guys who write for and record audio hotlines for the subscription-based, ad-free, pay-version of the site also known as PWInsiderElite.com, have become part of my everyday listening over the last decade or so. I’ve interacted with them on Facebook and even met one of them in-person on multiple occasions at shows I’ve gone to over the years as he’d been there on business, reporting on the show. As I had listened to them over the years, I started getting the itch to try this on myself and after a few Facebook messages, I was in. I’ve only done a handful of them now, but I knew on Friday, riding home on the bus, that I needed to record that night.
In the past, when I needed to get my thoughts out to the masses (all 3 of you who read this blog), I would sit down at the computer and just start typing away here and post it when I was done. Roddy was a different story and I now had a new creative outlet and vehicle to get my innermost thoughts and opinions out. But after recording Friday night with Scott for PWInsiderElite.com, I just wasn’t satisfied. I’m glad we did record close to an hour of audio on the subject, but Roddy was so much more to me as a fan that this is why I’m here now.
A little background on my wrestling fandom: I first started watching the WWF back in 1993. The main players at that time were Bret Hart, Yokozuna, The Undertaker, Lex Luger, Ludvig Borga, Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels (with Diesel as his bodyguard), Tatanka, Bam Bam Bigelow, Doink the Clown and many others of that era. Roddy was largely out of the spotlight and not even doing commentating anymore. Even with just starting to watch at this point, I still knew who Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Macho Man Randy Savage and many of the stars from yesteryear were. They just weren’t on television every week for me to watch.
I watched a number of Pay Per Views scrambled back then as we never paid to see them live, until the Royal Rumble of 1994, when my best friend’s parents would allow us to get the show live. The next show back in those days was WrestleMania, and my parents would allow me to get WrestleMania X, which featured both Lex Luger and Bret Hart going after Yokozuna’s WWF Championship. Luger would get DQ’d in his match, and while Bret lost a match earlier in the night to his younger brother Owen, he would go on to face Yokozuna in the main event and take the title in a match refereed by none other than Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Aside from hearing his name and knowing what he looked like, I had never really seen him live and in color like I had been introduced to him this afternoon (WrestleMania X was at 4pm for some reason). Roddy would stick around for a little while before disappearing once again, but he would have a couple of matches against the likes of Jerry “The King” Lawler and Goldust. These matches certainly weren’t anything to write home about, looking back on them now from a much more mature perspective, but the mic work leading up to those matches were what really drew you to want to see these matches. Roddy was second to none when it came to taking verbal jabs at your opponent, whether he was a babyface or a heel…which by this time, it became near impossible to portray the man as a bad guy because of all of the respect that the crowd had built for him.
It was back around WrestleMania X that I began to seek out old video tapes at my local video rental store. I didn’t care how old they were or who was on them, I just wanted to see everything I could. I watched old Summer Slams, Royal Rumbles, WrestleManias and Survivor Series Pay Per View shows, and even compilation tapes of either specific superstars like The Undertaker or even matches that happened at what I now know to be known as House Shows (untelevised shows). It was during this time that I got to witness such matches of Piper’s vs. The Adorable Adrian Adonis, Bad News Brown, the main event from the first WrestleMania where he tagged with “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff vs. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, and my favorite of all of his matches I’ve seen: Roddy losing the Intercontinental Championship to Bret Hart at WrestleMania VIII. Roddy didn’t lose many matches cleanly, but at WrestleMania VIII, for the Intercontinental Championship, Bret pinned Roddy for the title. A feat that even Hulk Hogan wouldn’t accomplish until 1997, but even that victory over Piper was tainted by interference by Macho Man with some brass knuckles.
Truth be told, Piper always looked forward to what’s coming next. If he lost cleanly to Hogan, where would his character go? Nobody really wants to lose in the world of professional wrestling, but in Piper’s case, he was so guarded with his place on the card and his earning potential that he made sure that if he was going to put someone over by losing, it was necessary and that he wouldn’t be left in the dust as a result of it. And to be frank, back in those days, you needed to be that guarded or else you would find yourself at the bottom of the card and out the door.
But what Roddy had in his back pocket that I don’t know that even he understood was his gift of gab. He could easily talk you into the building, so to speak. There were very few who could hold a candle to Roddy’s prowess on the microphone. He started his own segment on WWF tv called Piper’s Pit, an interview segment which he would use to help continue storylines (either his own or others on the roster). Now make no doubt about it, his segments were “can’t miss” segments if there ever were! So much so that he continued on Piper’s Pit for upwards of about 30 years. Anytime that WWE had Piper in the building, you could always be guaranteed you’d be getting a Piper’s Pit segment on the show.
Later on in his career, he would follow Hogan to WCW to feud with him once again…this time over the WCW World Title, only the tables would be turned since Hogan had turned against the fans to form the New World Order with Scott Hall & Kevin Nash. As I stated earlier, Piper lost in his title match with Hogan at Superbrawl VII via nefarious means, but it would be the first time Hogan had ever successfully pinned Piper’s shoulders to the mat.
By 2005, WCW had already been purchased by WWE, and Piper had an on again-off again relationship with the company. He would show up randomly on shows to either have a backstage talking segment with someone, revive Piper’s Pit or even to have a match. But leading into WrestleMania, it was announced he would be inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame – an honor so befitting of Hot Rod.
Sadly though, in 2006 he would be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Just as he had all his life, he fought hard to beat it and just over a year later, it was reported on WWE.com that he had completed his radiation treatments and was clear of the disease.
Which is what really makes his sudden heart attack all the more sad. Just like Roddy would always say “Just when they think they know all the answers, I change the questions.” Just when we thought Roddy was ok, that we’d have him for all the legends reunions on WWE tv, at WrestleMania and such, here we are in 2015 and he’s gone. And we’ll never get to hear that raspy voice again.
For those who got to witness his career in real time, I’m truly jealous. I only got his later years in the WWF/WWE and WCW. I watched all of his prior stuff via VHS tape. I wish I’d have become a wrestling fan far sooner than I did. Roddy was a legend in the world of professional wrestling if there ever was one. He’s one of the few guys who I’ve loved to watch over the years who I haven’t managed to get a picture with at a wrestling convention. And sadly, now I never will have the chance.
I’ve read that there are people who are complaining about the widespread coverage of his passing, stating that he was an entertainer & actor, that he wasn’t a sports icon, that sites like Sports Illustrated & ESPN shouldn’t be covering it. To those, I say this: the matches may be choreographed and the winners predetermined, but there is nothing fake about the trauma these people put their bodies through all for the love of the pseudo-sport, the entertainment of the masses and the adoration of millions of fans worldwide. They essentially fall for a living and then get up and walk it off as best they can. Their bodies endure far more punishment than most, and it’s because of this fact that when a lot of these performers reach their 50s, that their bodies function as if they’re in their 80s, with bad knees, hips, etc. For example, I met Pat Patterson who was the first WWE Intercontinental Champion, who has been retired for well over 30 years now, and when I shook his hand, his pinky and ring finger don’t straighten out anymore. Mick Foley, who just turned 50 cannot tie his shoes anymore because he’s not limber enough to reach his own feet. It’s a labor of love and I believe we should respect and appreciate the fact that these people live with a far lesser quality of life for our enjoyment and because they truly loved to do something that is not natural in any sense of the word.
So are they sports icons? No…but they are on tv week in and week out (since professional wrestling has no off season), entertaining us. And if what they do in the ring wasn’t as physically taxing on their bodies, I don’t think they would get the kind of respect they get from what are considered “real athletes” like Ronda Rousey, who dedicated her fight this past weekend to the memory of Rowdy Roddy Piper. She also asked for and received his blessing to use the “Rowdy” moniker as an MMA fighter. Brock Lesnar, one of these “fake” wrestlers is a former UFC World Heavyweight Champion who drew more money on Pay Per View for the UFC than just about any other fighter in history. There have been many other “fake” wrestlers who have cut their teeth in the UFC before making the transition over to WWE like Ken Shamrock & Dan Severn. Former Chicago Bears defensive tackle, Steve McMichael made the transition over to professional wrestling in the mid-90s and wrestled for World Championship Wrestling along with former Chicago Bulls star, Dennis Rodman. So as I said above, the matches may be choreographed and the outcomes predetermined, there is nothing “fake” about professional wrestling. Are they feigning being hurt, of course…but it’s theater in a sense. So before you go dismissing wrestling as being “fake”, please consider that any actor or actress portraying a part in any movie or tv show are doing the exact same thing. They’re not really performing surgery or flying a plane or saving the world from terrorists. It’s all entertainment, only professional wrestlers don’t have stunt doubles to stand in for them.
Roddy lived his life on his terms and even went out on his terms. One should be so lucky. Piper was a lot of things, but fake was never one of them.
Rest In Peace, Hot Rod & thanks for all the amazing memories!