In 2015, the world of sports and entertainment lost a legend who passed away too young. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper died of a heart attack at the age of 61. Born Roderick George Toombs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1954, Piper was a professional wrestling superstar whose interviews on “Piper’s Pit” were as legendary as his antics in and out of the ring. He was able to transform his career in many areas of entertainment, including acting. He appeared in various on-screen roles and voiced cartoons, but Roddy is probably best known for playing John Nada in They Live, John Carpenter’s sci-fi classic that has developed a cult following over the years. Never someone who stays in a person for long. Roddy started out as a villain fighter, but often went on to be a bit of a hero or a good guy. He also acted as a comedian in 2014 and had an impressive following as a host for podcast shows.
Roddy was primarily of Scottish descent and was proud of it, as evidenced by the attire he wore in the ring. Although he became an expert at playing the bagpipes at a young age, Piper says he can’t remember how that happened. Roddy remembers how he got his wrestling name. Early in her professional career, she entered 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 full of controversies that began when he was unceremoniously expelled from high school. He later left home as a teenager after several arguments with his father. His father was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and was always concerned about the reputation of the family. A natural athlete who exercised regularly, Piper managed to find work at various gyms, earning him money to live in shelters.
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 professional wrestler, judo expert and champion Gene LeBell. By the time Piper was just 15 years old, he was ready to turn pro and joined the American Wrestling Association, where he earned a reputation as a “bad” wrestler. It became the more prosperous National Wrestling Alliance in 1975. This organization was huge at the time and produced a number of superstars that included Buddy Rogers, Killer Kowalski, Bobo Brasil, 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 and 1983, Piper moved through various professional wrestling territories and faced major stars such as Ric Flair, Jack Brisco, Chavo Guerrero, and many others. He was often compared to Freddie Blassie and the two met at Madison Square Garden when Vince McMahon gave Piper a match in the WWF. Blassie stuffed toilet paper into Roddy’s bagpipes so he couldn’t touch them for the crowd. In 1984, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper moved to McMahon’s Federal Worldwide Wrestling and instantly became a professional wrestling superstar due to all the television coverage the WWF got. You’d think he was at the peak of his career, but this was just the beginning. Piper became so popular and adept at interviewing skills that she was given her own television segment called “Piper’s Pit” which became a fan favorite of WWF.
Piper was involved in all sorts of orchestrated mayhem that included feuds involving 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 led to a major feud with Hulk Hogan and Lou Albano (who appeared in Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” music video). That erupted into a huge grudge match at WrestleMania. Piper also somehow managed to get into a dispute with Mr. T (from the TV show “A Team” and the movie “Rocky 3”). The two finally resolved their differences by facing off during WrestleMania II. Piper lost after being disqualified for an illegal move. Like many superstars of professional wrestling, Roddy Piper was beginning to feel the pain of too many injuries and took a year off from the WWF. He returned in 1986 with a vengeance 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 of this led to several very popular grudge matches that WWF fans really enjoyed.
In 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. the ever smoker Downey and sprayed it. As Piper’s popularity continued to grow, she began co-hosting Prime Time Wrestling alongside pro wrestling legend Gorilla Monsoon. After replacing Bobby Heenan as co-host of the Prime Time show, Roddy and Heenan became quick enemies. Heenan recruited “Ravishing” Rick Rude and Brother Love for revenge and several entertaining encounters between the four ensued. Brother Love (pro wrestler Bruce Pritchard, manager of The Undertake). Love wore a period costume and had a fighting character based on some of the most outrageous tele-evangelists of the time. Love took over the once-occupied TV ad for “Piper’s Pit”, which infuriated 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 to narrow down his actual professional struggles, Roddy Piper managed to stay in the thick of things by getting involved in more disputes with competitors like Ted DiBiase (the million dollar man), Jerry “The King” Lawler, and Brett Hart. Piper was a regular at WrestleMania events from 1989 to 1996 and even served as a famous referee. Roddy moved into the World Championship Wrestling organization in 1996 and joined the highly-watched shows “Halloween Havoc” and “Starrcade” featuring the likes of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Brett Hart. Roddy then briefly served as the WCW Commissioner. During that reign he had important disputes with Rick Flair, Sid Vicious and Scott Hall. After peaking with WCW in decline, Piper again encountered the WWF, which in 2003 became Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment. That period included a popular fight with Hulk Hogan who, even after Roddy attacked him with a steel pipe, won the event.
During an extremely controversial appearance on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” Piper admitted that she had taken drugs to stay in the ring for the last twenty years of her career. He also hinted that all or most of the other professional wrestling stars did the same in order to continue competing given the injuries they sustained and the pain they felt. This caused Roddy to be fired from Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment. The group TAW (Total Action Wrestling) which included NWA stars, grabbed him in 2003 despite all the controversy. The move quickly proved to be good business for both Piper and TAW. So much so that Vince McMahon couldn’t ignore Roddy’s newfound popularity and soon brought him back to the now huge and still growing Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment in 2005. During that time, Piper hosted another “Piper’s Pit” live show at WrestleMania. 21. That same year he was also inducted into the Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment Wrestling Hall of Fame. Piper appeared often in the much-watched “RAW!” and the “SMACKDOWN” television shows Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment that brought his talents and insanity to the attention of a whole new generation of professional wrestling fans.
From 2003 to 2014, Piper continued to grow in popularity with more “Piper’s Pit” shows and various matches and fights with Ricky Steamboat, Zac Rider, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, and many others. Roddy had some difficult times during this time, which included some injuries he sustained in a car accident in 2005 and a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007. He recovered from injuries from the accident and was said to be in remission from lymphoma in 2008 after receiving treatment for almost a year. As her appearances on major pro wrestling television dwindled, Piper still appeared at various popular indie wrestling events like WrestleReunion joining other famous veterans like Bob Orton Jr. and Terry Funk. Popular female MMA and UFC star competitor Rhonda “Rowdy” Rousey (12 wins, 0 losses as of this writing) met Piper and told her she was a huge fan. She asked him if she could use her nickname “Rowdy” and he happily gave her his blessing. Recently, she dedicated her match against Bethe Correia at UFC 190 to Piper after learning of her death. He won the match in 34 seconds.
Piper’s final years were spent appearing on various television shows, including “Celebrity Wife Swap,” while doing voice overs for popular cartoons, appearing at comedy clubs, and performing a few more performances alongside her professional wrestling duties. He never disappeared from public view and was even featured on “Celebrity Ghost Stories.” During that episode, he admitted to seeing the ghost of his friend and fellow professional competitor Adrian Adonis in 2013. Roddy 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 professional wrestling stars. After a lifetime of pushing their bodies to the limit, I guess their hearts eventually give up. Regardless of the cause of her death, Piper will be missed by the millions of fans who greatly enjoyed her skills and fuss in and out of the ring.