piper bagpipes

“Hot Rod” Rowdy Roddy Piper dies at 61.

By Chris Morris

The bagpipes would start to play and you knew who was coming out next. It was the “Hot Scot” or “Hot Rod”, Rowdy Roddy Piper. The man who would say “Before you know the answers, I change the questions.” Even though he was one of the smaller superstars on the WWE (then WWF) roster, he was roddy-piper-vince-mcmahonalways one that stood out of the crowd. I started watching pro wrestling around late-1986, around the time of Piper’s baby face turn (going from bad guy to good guy, in wrestling terms) after being attacked by his former bodyguard “Cowboy” Bob Orton, manager Jimmy Hart and former friends Don Muraco and Adorable Adrian Adonis. I didn’t have cable so I had to learn my wrestling history thanks to NBC’s Saturday Night’s Main Event and Coliseum Home Video’s many “Best of the WWF” tapes released around the time of Wrestlemania I. Piper as a good guy wasn’t all that different from Piper as a bad guy; just that the fans were cheering him instead of booing him. Piper’s last match, at the time, at Wrestlemania 3 against Adonis was short and sweet, going less than 10 minutes and ended with Piper saying goodbye to his thousands of fans in the Silverdome that night. Piper was leaving to conquer Hollywood. But that really didn’t happen, and in 1989, he returned.


After that, Piper went back and forth between movie gigs and wrestling. His Hollywood resume includes starring in one of the best cult films ever, John Carpenter’s “They Live” where he got to utter one of the all time great catch phrases “I’m here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum”. Other than “Hell Comes to Frogtown”, there’s not much else of note. In 1990, he and future Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura filmed a TV pilot called “Tag Team” about two blackballed wrestlers who become police officers. The pilot wasn’t the worst TV show of all time but it wasn’t picked up for series either.

Piper, on his good days, was one of the best all time promos in wrestling history, being able to be serious and tell jokes, a line not a lot of wrestlers can balance. He could be hilarious and articulate. But on bad days, he would wing it and could come off incoherent at times. But people still loved him cause he was “Hot Rod”. He could be convincing too, even with his “co-stars”. In the buildup to Wrestlemania I, Piper

Mrt piper ali hogan

was so convincing in his promos that his opponent in the tag team main event, Mr. T, actually attempted to walk out on the day of the show, thinking Piper was going to try to legit injure him in the ring. Luckily Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon were able to talk Mr. T into staying and going through with the match. That match not happening would have been disastrous and may have put the WWF out of business, rather than what did happen, which was turning Wrestlemania into a yearly celebration and continued the Rock ‘n Wrestling Connection momentum for another few years until the massive Wrestlemania 3. A few years ago at Wrestlemania 30, the WWE tried to do a skit where all the members of the Wrestlemania 1 main event got together to bury the hatchet, with Hogan, Mr. T and Paul Orndorff all willing to do it, except Piper was dead set against it. He was talked into it eventually but was visibly uncomfortable during the segment.

piper vs. bret

Piper retired from full-time wrestling quietly around Wrestlemania 8 in 1992, after putting over long time friend Bret Hart for the Intercontinental Title, which was also the time when Hulk Hogan, Sid Vicious, the Legion of Doom and a few others disappeared from the WWF, during the infamous “steroid scandal” years. Piper would pop up here and there, being guest referee in the main event of Wrestlemania 10 and then months later headlining the WWF’s King of the Ring PPV against Jerry Lawler, an event that he barely promoted due to filming a movie at the time the PPV needed to be hyped and that show is not remembered fondly.

piper goldust

Later, in 1996, Piper returned as a full-time TV character as the Interim President of the WWF and was tremendous in building up matches and explaining stipulations. He even took over a program with then-Intercontinental Champion Goldust when Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall gave notice to jump to WCW and coincidentally then failed a drug test, had six weeks off and would miss Wrestlemania 12 that year. Piper and Goldust’s back and forth was a not-at-all-subtle straight vs. gay battle, as Goldust was portrayed as the evil sexual deviant who displayed his open sexuality as a way to get booed every week on TV; a very similar feud Piper had with Adorable Adrian Adonis almost ten years earlier. As someone who had gay friends at the time, I was very uncomfortable with the portrayal of Goldust but still, when Piper proudly exclaimed in a promo that he was gonna “make a man outta ya” by beating up Goldust, I admit I got goosebumps; Piper was that good at “talking people into the arena.” Piper even broke his hand on Goldust’s head during their pre-taped “Hollywood Backlot Brawl” and kept going. Piper’s toughness was never in question.

Piper was always billed as being from Glasgow, Scotland but finally “outed himself” as being Canadian later in life. Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and growing up in Winnipeg, Piper grew up having to prove he was tough through amateur wrestling and boxing, being trained by “Judo” Gene Lebell. Being small, and this was especially true in pro wrestling, Piper always had to prove himself. He fit in like a glove in the NWA alongside Ric Flair, Greg Valentine, Ricky Steamboat and others, but Vince McMahon and the WWF came calling and Piper was soon in New York (as was Steamboat, Valentine and later Flair). But even then, Piper had to prove himself, as McMahon didn’t see Piper as a main eventer. Rather, he wanted Piper to be a manager, a talker for the likes of “Dr. D” David Shultz and interfere on their behalf against Hulk Hogan in the WWF Championship matches. But Piper refused to accept that.

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Piper wanted to be the guy in the ring with Hogan in the main event. He came up with his legendary interview segment, “Piper’s Pit” where he would routinely humiliate his opponents or be humiliated himself, depending on if his guest was nobody Frankie Williams or top star Andre the Giant. The most famous Pit of all was when he destroyed Jimmy Snuka with a coconut and mushed bananas into his face. That was in 1984 and it is still remembered as an all-time classic to this day. Piper ended up feuding with Hogan and then later Mr. T and even though he was the bad guy, Piper never lost a match clean to Hogan during that period. The Hogan vs. Piper feud, guest-starring T and also Cyndi Lauper, was seen as a major reason why wrestling got so hot in the mid to late 80’s. But Hogan never beat Piper, as Piper was always fond of pointing out years later, long after the fact when such a thing had meaning, long after it had come out that wrestling was ‘scripted’.

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In late 1996 Piper, along with Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and all the old stars of WWF from the ’80’s, turned up in WCW on Monday Nitro during the Monday Night Wars. WCW was known as a ‘do whatever you want’ kinda promotion (if you were a star) and his promos against now-heel Hogan were at times amazing and at other times confusing. But he was still Piper and he had that charisma. For a while WCW seemed to do no wrong, then after a certain point, around the beginning of 1999, it started to seem like WCW could do no right. Piper was seen as one of the old stars clinging to the spotlight, holding the young up and comers down. One Hogan vs. Piper match in particular was so bad that it still to this day is referred to as “The Age in the Cage”. Also around this time was Piper’s infamous appearance on “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher. Wrestling was so popular it even Maher got in on the act, inviting Piper, Sting, Madusa and all time legend Bobby Heenan on as guests. The other three guests were just happy to be there, especially Heenan who seemed to be having the time of his life. But then Maher referred to wrestling as fake and Piper got in his face, lifting his kilt to show his hip-replacement scar and asking if Maher thought that was fake. It was an uncomfortable moment, one that repeated itself many times over in the years to come.

Piper released an autobiography that I have yet to read. For the past while he’s had a podcast that I have yet to listen to. And I’m not sure if I will. Piper, from my perspective, seemed to have a hard time separating fiction from reality at times. Or maybe Piper knew exactly what he was doing but just wanted people to think he was really fighting Hulk Hogan and the Tonga Kid all those years ago. I remember seeing an interview with him and Bret Hart on Canadian TV once Piper was on his game and having fun with the host. During the interview, the host, Hart and Piper all fully acknowledged that wrestling was pre-determined but later, Piper still told the story of wrestling Hart at Wrestlemania 8 as if it was a real fight. It’s as if he wanted people to think wrestling was fake, except for when he fought. Then it was real. He was real.

Piper seemed to have a huge heart inside him. He would regularly talk about his dead ‘brothers’ from the wrestling industry, the Rick Rudes and the Big Bossmans and the Adrian Adonis’ of the world all the way down to the Art Barr’s, a talented guy from Portland who Piper mentored but died too young in 1994. He refused to jump to WWF in 1984 unless he gave sufficient notice to promoter Jim Crockett. Don Owen, his promoter in Portland who gave him one of his earliest breaks, would always have Piper’s loyalty. Whenever WWF visited Oregon, Piper refused to wrestle on the card, not wanting to hurt his friends’ business. His outspokenness about wrestling’s shadows cost him his job with the WWE in 2003. Piper had returned for yet another feud with Hogan but went on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel and told the truth about the dark side of wrestling. Since becoming a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange in 1999, WWE was very sensitive to anyone publicly about it’s darker elements and fired Piper mid-storyline.

austin piper

But Piper and Vince McMahon would make up and in 2005 Piper was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. The next day he conducted a Piper’s Pit at Wrestlemania 21 with the man who took over Piper’s spot as the best talker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, in a great segment. Piper would make occasional appearances here and there on Monday Night Raw and Smackdown over the next few years. In fact, one appearance helped save his life. In a match voted on by the fans, Piper teamed with long time friend Ric Flair and together they won the WWE Tag Team Titles from The Spirit Squad. In order to wrestle, Piper had to be tested under the WWE’s Wellness guidelines. After a physical and some blood work, Piper was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, started treatments and later made a full recovery. Piper always insisted in interviews after the fact that it was because of the wrestling fans that he was alive, as if he hadn’t been voted into the match with Flair, he wouldn’t have had to be tested and they wouldn’t have caught his illness so early.

piper rourke

Piper even was able to wrestle at one more Wrestlemania against Chris Jericho with Mickey Rourke in his corner at Wrestlemania 25, teaming with other legends Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat although that was a last minute change, similar to Piper’s past with Mr. T in the build up to Wrestlemania 1 years earlier. Rourke, after initially agreeing to wrestle Jericho in order to hype his movie “The Wrestler”, pulled out when his management team thought it would hurt his chances at winning the Oscar for Best Actor and also that, well, Jericho would really try to hurt Rourke in the ring. Rourke did eventually agree to be in the legends’ corner and reportedly had a great time hanging out with Piper and the other wrestling legends that weekend.


piper ventura

While Piper didn’t exactly take over Hollywood, but he does have dozens of TV and film credits, starring in a lot of straight-to-video action movies in the 90’s and guest starring on shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” as a parody of himself. Piper had gotten into the world of voice acting as well, appearing on “Robot Chicken” and “Green Lantern” Emerald Knights” among others. Piper’s legacy is intact now via the WWE Network which shows a lot of old Piper’s Pit segments and his matches from his heyday.

Piper leaves behind his wife Kitty and four children: daughters Anastacia Shea, Ariel Teal and Falcon Danika, and son Colton Baird. Anastacia has a child, making Piper a grandfather. Piper now gets to join his ‘brothers’ in wrestling heaven, where the greatest roster of pro wrestlers ever now exists.

ronda piper

He leaves a huge legacy behind, one that will continue on with archival footage from the WWE and also his influences on today’s superstars. That was never more evident that this past weekend after UFC 190 in Brazil. Before becoming a UFC mega-star, Ronda Rousey was nicknamed “Rowdy” by her mentor Gene Lebell but she didn’t want to use the name because, as a huge wrestling fan, she didn’t want to appear disrespectful to Piper. A while later, thanks to Lebell, who also trained Piper when he was younger, Rousey got to meet Piper and he gave her his blessing to use the name. After winning her fight on Saturday night, one of the first things she addressed in her post-fight interview was to dedicate the win to Piper and say that she hoped that Piper and her father (who had passed away years ago) had enjoyed watching the fight together.

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