There were few wrestlers who were more notorious in professional wrestling than “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Best known for his quick wit and his unpredictable demeanor, Piper’s legend is one that seems to grow with each passing year. In fact, some of the accounts of his career have been so often repeated that they have been adopted as fact. But just as he once proclaimed on the Piper’s Pit: “Just when you think you got all the answers, I change the questions.”
Piper’s ascent from a 160-pound teenager learning the ropes in Winnipeg rings to be the headliner against Hulk Hogan at the first WrestleMania is as unlikely a story as any you’ll ever hear in the world of professional wrestling. Just that unbelievable ascent over a 12-year career alone maybe has given us reason to believe some the incredible tales that we have come to believe about the ‘HotRod.’ But which are fact and which are fiction?
The following list will challenge everything you thought you knew about the WWE Hall of Famer from his introduction to the sport until his untimely demise. Ask yourself, did I already know the following about Roddy?
10. How He Got His Name
Roddy himself has spun a colorful yarn about his introduction to the wrestling business, which paints himself as a fifteen-year-old kid playing at Winnipeg Arena with his pipe band when a no-show on the card opened up a spot for a stand-in. Roddy was selected and as the ring announcer didn’t know his name, simply called him Roddy the Piper.
In truth, Piper was a student in a wrestling camp and had showed up for practice late one evening. When his coach questioned him on why he was late, he admitted that he had been at bag pipe practice and the lesson had gone longer than scheduled. Upon learning that Roddy was telling the truth, and demanding a demonstration of his piping abilities, that coach ordained him “Roddy the Piper.” That trainer was …
9. Piper Was Trained By Tony Condello
If you’ve read Piper’s autobiography, he identifies that he was introduced to the wrestling business by Al Tomko, a wrestler and local agent for the American Wrestling Association (AWA) in Winnipeg. In fact, Piper didn’t begin his association with Tomko until four months after his professional debut. Piper, trained under upstart promoter and 13 year pro Tony Condello in the first class of Condello’s wrestling school. In fact, Piper’s debut match was against his teacher. For proof, one needs only to watch Piper’s Born to Controversy DVD and pay close attention to the still photographs that accompany the narrative from his early days. There is one shot from Piper’s debut against an opponent whose face is obscured, but the initials on his wrestling boots are not … “T.C.” for Tony Condello.
8. His Debut Wasn’t Against Larry Hennig
The harrowing tale of the shortest match in Winnipeg Arena history is not entirely a myth. Piper did oppose the imposing patriarch of the Hennig wrestling clan on April 24, 1974, in a match that the Winnipeg Free Press reported as:
“One of the shortest matches in Winnipeg history saw Larry ‘The Axe’ Hennig dispose of Roddy Piper is just under two minutes. It was almost a matter of the bell ringing to start the fight and then immediately echoing back to end the match.”
But Piper’s earliest matches took place almost a year earlier. Roddy the Piper first stepped through the ropes at the Native Sons Hall in Winnipeg on June 5, 1973.
7. Youngest Pro Wrestler Ever?
There are accounts circulating that Piper was 15 years old when he launched his professional wrestling career with some added claims to fame that he was the youngest professionally licensed grappler in North America. However, that claim is simply not true. Piper was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in April 1954, and debuted in June 1973 at age 19. While a colorful anecdote in the Piper legend, wrestling was strictly governed by the Manitoba Boxing & Wrestling Commission, so chances of securing a license at 15 are highly improbable.
6. The Friendship Began In The Winnipeg Arena
If you didn’t go right back to Piper’s earliest matches in the AWA, you might believe that two unconnected wrestlers on the ascent of their careers first met when they found themselves on a collision course seeking headline status in the Carolinas. Ric Flair and Roddy Piper certainly made headlines as tag team partners and as adversaries in their wars in the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling territory, but the two actually met years earlier. In fact, it was Piper’s debut for the AWA on October 3, 1973 where he opposed the upstart Flair in an early match in both young careers. Their rivalry and friendship endured decades, including a run as WWE tag team champions together in 2006.
5. Piper Was Known by Other Names
Those familiar with Roddy’s rise to fame will be familiar with his stint as “The Masked Canadian” in Los Angeles after coming up short in a match where the loser was to leave town. However, it wasn’t just under a mask that Piper wrestled under a different name. In 1974, while wrestling in the Canadian Maritimes for wrestler/promoter Emile Dupre’s Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling, Piper toured for four weeks under the name Roddy McTavish. Piper was partnered with Joe Ventura for much of the short tour, battling against the likes of the Cuban Assassins who were just starting a lengthy career in Canadian rings at that time.
4. Dark Days In Cali
In his book In the Pit with Piper, Roddy shows a rare glimpse of vulnerability when he admits that while he put on a front for those around him that he was fearless – deep down, he was actually afraid of everything. This stems from some early mistreatment by veterans of the scene in southern California that Piper often danced around in interviews upon direct questioning. “It’s a tough business,” Piper would say, deflecting the question. Yet in other interviews, he suggests that perhaps hard feelings were created with wrestlers of influence when they had taken liberties with him behind the scenes. Whatever happened, it only served to strengthen Piper’s resolve and prepare him for the greater challenges ahead.
3. The Most Hated Man In America
At the height of the WWE’s national wrestling expansion in 1984, Roddy Piper was front and center as the lead antagonist. Inspiring riots in arenas and often finding himself under a flurry of flying debris as he made his escape to the locker room after a night of treachery, there was no doubt that Piper had struck a nerve with the wrestling audiences.
However, that notoriety took on a whole different dynamic when an over-zealous fan decided to creep onto the property one night, posing a danger to Piper’s wife and children. “We called the police, but they laughed and said they ain’t comin’,” recalled Piper in a 2011 interview. “That individual didn’t get killed that night, but fire left his eyes.” Suggesting that he had to take matters into his own hands, Piper was a victim of his own villainy between the ropes in an era where fans didn’t readily identify wrestling as “sports entertainment.”
2. The Number of Film Credits To His Name
Roddy very visibly left the sport in 1987 to pursue a career in movies. Best known for his role in John Carpenter’s They Live, a film which has become a cult classic and inspired pop culture references and tributes even decades later, Piper’s film career perhaps didn’t explode as expected. However, many fans may not realize that while juggling various wrestling commitments in the decades since, Piper continued to hone his craft as an actor and has appeared in 81 television shows and films. His first movie role took place in 1977, while he was still wrestling in the southern California territory. Some of his work, including the critically acclaimed “Masked Saint” wasn’t even released to audiences until after Piper’s death.
1. Inside That Leather Jacket
Aside from his trademark kilt, there are few images of Roddy Piper that spring to mind that don’t feature him wearing a leather jacket. What many fans won’t realize is that in the inside zippered pocket of that stab-resistant garment were two items that Roddy kept close to his heart. His Canadian passport (“In case I ever need to get outta anywhere in a hurry”) and a photo of himself with his four children. The photo, heavily creased and protected inside a well-worn ziplock sandwich bag was seen by few who knew Roddy, but it was a comfort that he no doubt clung to and reflected on in airports, locker rooms and movie sets as a constant reminder of why he was working so hard.