Two weeks ago on July 31st marked the one year Anniversary of the death of Rowdy Roddy Piper at the age of 65; one of professional wrestling’s biggest, most beloved stars.
Born on April 17th in 1954, Piper would grow up to take the entertainment world by storm as not only a wrestler with a career spanning 42 years, but also an actor. Arguably the greatest villainous character who every fan loved to hate and hated to love, Piper was essential in not only the success of the WWF during the 80’s, but also the rise to superstardom for Hulk Hogan. As Piper told Hogan in his WCW debut at Halloween Havoc 1996, “If they didn’t hate me so much, you really think they would’ve loved you so much?” Piper makes a fair point and if one were to re-examine his role during the “Rock n’ Wrestling Connection” era of wrestling, it’s hard to argue with him.
As well praised as his wrestling ability was, it was his promos and acting ability that made him so memorable. “Just when they think they know the answers, I change the questions” was the motto for his talk show segment, Piper’s Pit, where he would bare all on the mic in raw, unfiltered ramblings. He truly had the gift of gab and Piper’s Pit was where he would let everything loose about his guests and even about himself. However, there are still some unknown facts about The Rowdy One that he rarely (if ever) covered during his long, illustrious career.
15. He’s Canadian; Not Scottish
Ever since the very start of Piper‘s career, he’s been billed as being from Glasgow, Scotland. The truth is that he was more Canadian than Aubrey “Drake” Graham politely drinking a bottle of maple syrup on a hockey rink in -20 degree weather.
To be more specific, Piper was born in the Canadian province of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, but he was raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Meaning he was screaming “I’m from Winnipeg, you idiot!” long before fellow Canadian wrestler, Chris Jericho, started the trend. Speaking of trends, Piper started playing his signature bagpipes like a regular Scotsman in his youth; though he isn’t sure where or why he picked up the instrument. Piper began his pro wrestling career at the age of 15 (which is another fun fact some of you may not have known) under the tutelage of Larry Hennig for the AWA. When he made his debut, Piper had his friends play bagpipes as he walked to the ring. In due time, Piper would come up with the Scottish character we all know and love. And the rest, as they say, is history.
14. Bret Hart Is His Cousin
Remember this little fun fact because it’s going to come back in a big way later on.
Being a resident and wrestler from Canada, it makes sense that Roddy Piper would be a relative to the Hart family name. After all, the Hart dynasty rules over any and everything wrestling related that hails from any Canadian land. If it has anything to do with wrestling and comes from Canada, it’s pretty safe to assume it comes from the Hart family.
Bonded by blood and backbreakers, Bret Hart and Roddy Piper were the best of friends in and out of the wrestling business. Whether it was getting each other over in wrestling programs or simply having each other’s back, these two were always there for each other. Even so that according to Bret Hart in his book, My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Piper was the only wrestler who visited him in the hospital after his stroke. The two were practically like brothers.
13. The Reason Why Piper’s Pit Was Created
Some of the biggest highlights from Roddy Piper’s career came from his talk show segment, Piper’s Pit. To this day, it’s praised as the greatest talk show segment in WWE history and would set a template for how wrestlers after him would set up their own talk shows. However, if not for the fact that Piper entered the WWF injured, Piper’s Pit may not have come to fruition.
Still recovering from the injuries he sustained at Starrcade 1983 in a Dog Collar Match with Greg Valentine on his way out of the NWA, Piper was in no condition to compete upon his WWF debut. Therefore, Piper was given a role as a manager to “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Ordnoff and David Schultz. Once his managerial role quietly ended, Piper started taking part in Piper’s Pit segments. The Pit quickly gained red hot steam when Piper memorably whacked Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka over the head with a coconut; which in itself has its own neat story behind it.
12. The Coconut Bit Was Snuka’s Idea
Most wrestlers try to conduct potentially dangerous spots in the safest ways possible and take precautions not to seriously hurt themselves. Precautions like not letting a man clobber them with a real, hard coconut. Obviously, Jimmy Snuka wasn’t like most wrestlers.
Snuka could’ve easily opted for Piper to strike him with some kind of fake prop instead, but that wouldn’t have looked as authentic, would it? No, Snuka wanted the real deal. In fact, the whole thing was Snuka’s idea. Snuka revealed in his book that him and Piper spent hours before the show cooking up ideas on how to pop the crowd for their segment until Snuka suggested that Piper hit him with an actual coconut. Naturally, Piper was skeptical and looked at Snuka like he was crazy. Piper kept asking Snuka if he was sure that was what he wanted. To which Snuka replied, “Brudda, you better hit me with that.”
11. They Live Wasn’t His Only Movie
Many people like to praise They Live as Piper’s best movie and probably the best movie to star a pro wrestler. Some people think that it’s Piper’s only movie. Thankfully, that last part isn’t true.
It’s understandable why some people think They Live was Piper’s only venture into Hollywood. Many of Piper’s movies were straight-to-video B-movie schlockfests. Some of which were rather enjoyable, but they were underseen pieces of schlock nonetheless. The truth is that They Live wasn’t even Piper’s first film. His first movie role came starring in the forgotten rock n’ wrestling comedy, Body Slam, as wrestler Quick Rick Roberts. Piper would go on to appear in dozens more films and tv series in later decades with some films still in need of a release. Piper’s most recent film, The Masked Saint, came out this year while his next and possibly final picture, The Chair, is locked for a 2017 release date. Oddly enough, Piper’s legacy continues to live on through movies.
10. He Had His Own GI Joe Action Figure
Everybody knows about Sgt. Slaughter’s likeness being brought to animated form for an action figure for G.I. Joe. He wasn’t the only one. Actually, there were only two pro wrestlers to ever have that honor. The other was Rowdy Roddy Piper. Why? Who knows. Unlike Slaughter, Piper never had a character modeled after him for the show. In fact, there wasn’t much effort to put into the “character” for the action figure itself. It looks like the manufacturers took a Piper figure out of its WWF packaging, put it inside one for G.I. Joe, and slapped the name “Iron Grenadier Trainer” onto it with the codename “Rowdy Roddy Piper” attached to it. Clever. Speaking of clever, one can argue that it might’ve been a clever marketing ploy to merge wrestling with G.I. Joe, but more than anything, this is just a bizarre piece of toy history.
9. He Was a Legit Ass Kicker
Both in and out of the ring, Roddy Piper has always had a reputation for being a tough as nails street brawler. Brawling is a neat skill to have–if you can call it a skill–but what few people know is that Piper was much more than a brawler. He was actually trained in the martial art of judo.
Trained by Gene Lebell–which, talk about ass kickers, the guy is a legend in the world of martial arts, pro wrestling, and stunt performing–Piper worked with Lebell for many years before finally earning a black belt. It took several sessions of getting choked out and flipped over before he got it, but Piper’s hard work and dedication earned high praise from Lebell and even the legendary Lou Thesz, who described Piper as one of the last “realsies” who knew how to “hook and shoot”. From the sounds of it, Piper might’ve been one of the few wrestlers who could hold his own in a legit fight with an MMA specialist like Brock Lesnar.
8. He Was Stabbed 3 Times
In some cases, there is such thing as being too good at your job. Especially for anyone working as a heel in the zany world of wrestling.
Like any bad guy, the job of a heel is to test the patience and push the buttons of the crowd until they hate the heel. There have been occasions where heels irk the fans so much that the fans are inspired to respond violently. This sort of thing is rare to happen now, but in the days when wrestling was still real to people, dammit, it had the power to cause massive mob-like outrages and ruckuses. No one knew this better than Roddy Piper whose heel antics got him stabbed. Three times. All happened in the early 80’s and the last time Piper was stabbed was on a fateful night in Raleigh, North Carolina where he was stabbed just an inch from the heart.
7. His Mania Match with Goldust Almost Didn’t Happen
A Mania favorite for many is the Hollywood Backlot Brawl match between The Rowdy One and The Bizarre One, Goldust, at Wrestlemania XII. The match featured baseball bats swinging, fire extinguishers spraying, and even footage from the infamous OJ Simpson freeway car chase. The match almost didn’t feature Hot Rod himself.
The match was originally penciled in for Goldust to face Razor Ramon for the Intercontinental Championship, but a month before Mania, Razor was suspended for some alleged drug use. At the same time, Razor was preparing to jump ship to WCW with Diesel so there were also some contract disputes going on. As WrestleMania drew near, a last minute program was cooked up between Piper and Goldust–based on Goldust’s unwanted affections towards Piper–and a new match was set. A match that actually turned out to be more entertaining than a bout between Razor and Goldust would’ve been.
6. He Was Electrocuted
If the earlier aforementioned stabbing story was anything to go off of, Roddy Piper has clearly come out on the better side of more near death experiences than anyone would like to imagine; yet alone experience.
Adding to an already ridiculous list of close calls, 21-year veteran of the sport, Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell, claims that he saw Piper get electrocuted while showering at the LA Sports Auditorium. According to Brunzell, Piper reached for a towel, his finger caught onto a socket instead, he immediately dropped and “went down like a ton a bricks” on the floor, and it wasn’t pretty. Apart from some gyrating on the floor, Piper miraculously was fine.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Piper would find himself surviving a fatal motorcycle accident some years later. It’s as if for as long as he could, he was just too stubborn to open the door for Death whenever he knocked.
5. He Released a Music Single
Let’s wind the clocks back to 1992 when Roddy Piper was on top of the world. He took the wrestling world by storm and for the success of They Live alone, he conquered the acting world. It’s easy to assume that by now, Piper’s accomplished everything he ever needed to accomplish. Except there was one corner of the pop culture stratosphere Piper felt he still needed to dabble in: music.
For someone whose only music credentials were playing bagpipes on his way to the ring, it may sound like an odd choice for Piper to commit to, but Piper was a part of a pipe band as a kid. Any kid who was in a band wanted to grow up to record a song and since it’s never too late to follow your dreams, Piper took his shot with his UK exclusive single, “I’m Your Man.” The track came accompanied by “Judy Come Back” on its B-side. While not a major success, at least Piper was able to add musician to his already impressive list of talents and professions. Plus, it’ll always be etched in YouTube land forever along with his 2013 song with The Queen St. Band called “Behind the Villain.”
4. Freddie Blassie Ruined Piper’s 1st WWF Audition
Piper joined WWF in 1984, but could have been working there by the late 70’s at age 19 if not for “Classy” Freddie Blassie.
An old time tradition that just about every young wrestler had to endure back in the day was ribbing; which essentially refers to pranking young guys and giving them a thick skin. When Piper had his 1st audition with the company, Blassie would rib him in a mean spirited way. In fact, according to Piper, the intention was mean spirited because like all “old timers” in WWF, Blassie didn’t want a young outsider like Piper coming in to WWF from the territories. So before Piper went in front of the live Madison Square Garden crowd, Blassie stuffed 6ft of toilet paper in Piper’s bagpipes so that they wouldn’t play right. Piper was humiliated and looked lousy to WWF officials. It would take years before anyone in the WWF had any interest in bringing in Piper again.
3. He Was the Original Legend Killer
Current fans of the WWE would instantly recognize the nickname “Legend Killer” as Randy Orton‘s first big gimmick upon arriving to WWE. Orton earned that reputation by challenging and defeating several veteran performers of all shapes, sizes, and ages. It would evolve into a breakout role for the young rookie and would lead to the upstart quickly becoming WWE’s youngest World Heavyweight Champion. Orton would keep the gimmick until 2008 where he would revamp his image as “The Viper”. What many don’t know is that both the name and the gimmick of Legend Killer originally belonged to Piper in the 80’s.
Like Orton after him, Piper would call out and badmouth legends once he joined the WWF. Ironically, Piper often did so alongside Randy’s father, Cowboy Bob Orton. One of those legends would be the man on the next entry on this list and who Piper would direct most of his Legend Killer remarks towards during his career.
2. His Feud with Bruno Sammartino
While it has become a forgotten feud among the WWE Universe today, the rivalry between wrestling icon, Bruno Sammartino, and then young upstart, Roddy Piper, was actually pretty solid when they worked together. Most of their time against each other would be trading verbal insults on the mic, but don’t think that these two didn’t square off at least a few times and came to unwavering blows. Most of the time, Bruno would get the upper hand, but usually through questionable means like DQ victories and escaping the cage. Keep that in mind for a moment by the way.
Much of what The Hot Scot did with The Italian Strongman was good and a lot of it still holds up today if one were to hunt down their segments on YouTube or the WWE Network. If there was ever a feud worth revisiting that was deserving of more attention, it’s this one.
1. He Was Never Pinned In WWF Until WrestleMania VIII
That isn’t to say that Piper was undefeated in his WWF career. He did suffer losses by disqualification and, occasionally, by submission. But as far as having his shoulders pinned to the mat for a 3 count, that never happened until the final match of his initial run with the company. That final match was his WrestleMania classic bout against Bret “The Hitman” Hart for the Intercontinental Championship.
Piper was always stubborn when it came to losing by pinfall–especially when facing Hulk Hogan–and in order to protect his marketability as a special attraction, he campaigned not to be pinned unless absolutely necessary. The right moment came when Piper was the Intercontinental Champion and preparing to exit the company. In his book, In the Pit with Piper, he revealed that he chose Bret because he was Piper’s cousin, one of his best friends in the business, and someone who Piper admired. When Vince told Piper he was prepping Bret for a major push, Piper was all for it and allowed passing the torch to Bret as Bret’s first stepping stone to greatness. Once the strap was on Bret, Piper disappeared from WWF. He went on to make sparse appearances for the next couple years until he would leave the company for good in favor of joining WCW.