Looking at the legacy of Rowdy Roddy Piper
In wrestling, just like any form of storytelling, there has to be a villain, an antagonist, to make the hero look like the ultimate good guy, or to make the story that much better. For Harry Potter, there was Voldemort and Draco Malfoy. For Superman there was Lex Luthor, for Batman there was The Joker, and for Hulk Hogan, there was Roddy Piper.
Back in 1984 Hulk Hogan was the man in the WWF. Vince snatched him from the AWA and put the belt right on him. But in the early days of his title run and Hulkamania, he didn’t have a true nemesis. John Studd was feuding with Andre the Giant, and the other challengers were The Wild Samoans, Mr. Fuji, and mostly people that had already been beaten by Bob Backlund.
Enter Roddy Piper. Piper had been a big star for Jim Crockett’s company, notably having the brutal dog collar match with Greg Valentine at the first Starrcade in November of 1983. He wasn’t the biggest wrestler, but he could talk… and talk… and talk. With the help of “Cowboy” Bob Orton and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, “The Rowdy One” became the number one antagonist in the WWF when they started appearing on MTV and becoming the IT thing in the United States, culminating in Wrestlemania in 1985.
As the years went on Piper became the villain everyone loved to hate. With his motormouth promos and his “Piper’s Pit” Piper was one of the big reasons the 80’s wrestling boom took off so well. Even after stepping away from the spotlights for a few years, Piper was held with the same respect as Hogan, Flair, and very few others with respect whether he was a bad guy or a fan favorite. It was a respect he carried with him through the multiple runs with the WWF and WCW for 30 something years.
I got to see Piper during his break from wrestling in 1988 and 1989. Through renting wrestling videos and magazine’s at the time, I got to read and see some of the things Roddy had done, not only for the NWA but also his WWF stuff as well. When he came back in 1989 I saw that everything I had read about was true and that Piper had not lost a step in his time away. The matches he had with Rick Rude in 1989 were underrated and the cage match they had at Madison Square Garden was a good old fashioned fight.
Piper also was known for his acting as well. While he wasn’t the most successful of leading men, he did score big with John Carpenter’s They Live, a pretty damn good action movie. He also appeared in movies like BodySlam, Immoral Combat, and the cult favorite Hell Comes to Froggietown. Yeah, not an A-lister, but still, he did alright. I still remember the pilot for the failed TV series with Jessie Ventura called TagTeam. Goofy yes, but it was still fun to watch.
Roddy wasn’t one to mince words. He told you what was what and didn’t really care if you liked it or not. Sometimes that went against him, being let go twice by the WWE for his comments, once for an interview he did admitting his drug and steroid use while working for the WWE, and recently before he left us after an issue with Steve Austin over podcast issues. He had rather well-known issues with Vince Russo and Kevin Nash during his WCW run in the late 90’s, he didn’t mince words when talking about either of them.
Maybe it was his old school mentality of giving back to the business, or just giving back in general that had him clash with Russo. Roddy once showed a tape that was never used pitching an idea of heading up a team of young wrestlers in WCW to feud with other groups of young talent being lead by veterans like Ric Flair. Of course, the idea was never used since most of the other highly paid and older stars weren’t willing to let go as much as Roddy was willing to bring in a new group of men. It’s a statement that a company like ROH also paid tribute to him, along with WWE. Even after his death The “We stand of the silent” charity that Roddy was part of still played the ads with him front and center.
Roddy was a one of a kind in not only wrestling but in the world at large, often duplicated, but no one ever lived up to the character of Roddy Piper, and even to the character of Roderick Tombs himself. He will be missed by fans, friends, and the world of wrestling and entertainment.
I’m sure there was an angel at the pearly gates scrambling to find some bubblegum.