The professional wrestling world was shocked and saddened to learn on the final day of July 2015 that legend and icon of the industry “Rowdy” Roddy Piper had passed away. Piper is widely regarded as one of the most gifted entertainers to ever work in North American pro wrestling, as his ability to captivate audiences with his words while working as a heel or as a babyface made his matches must-see television. Most casual wrestling fans will remember Piper for all that he achieved while working for the World Wrestling Federation, most notably for his contributions to the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” boom.
Piper was, of course, not just your standard heel for heroes such as Hulk Hogan. Even before he passed away, it had been suggested by wrestling journalists and insiders that Hogan never would have risen to the fame and fortune that he has been able to enjoy without Piper being there to serve as his rival during the 1980s. Eric Bischoff attempted to resurrect that feud in World Championship Wrestling during the “Monday Night Wars” of the 1990s. While the spark for a Hogan-Piper had largely dwindled away by then, Piper was nevertheless able to turn the clock back and produce some memorable moments.
Like Hogan, Andre the Giant and other wrestling superstars, Piper made his way into the mainstream in other forms of entertainment. He had roles in a plethora of television shows and movies, including a film that became a cult classic among fans and one that has what could be the most famous line that Piper ever spoke during his public life. As fun as those moments were, it was his time spent in the wrestling industry that made Piper famous beyond what he could have dreamed when he first began that career. There has never been another “Hot Rod,” a once-in-a-generation performer who will be missed.
Any young performer looking to make his way into the wrestling business as a top heel would be wise to use hours of his free time watching reels of Piper’s work during the 1980s. What could have been a standard “bad guy” interview segment that involved Piper taking out poor Frank Williams became a historic segment when “Hot Rod” strolled over to the camera and yelled out: “Just when they think they’ve got the answers, I change the questions!” Not many in history could produce magic at the drop of the hat as could Piper whenever the microphones were hot and the cameras were rolling.
9. Piper debuts in WCW
Little did wrestling fans know at the time that Roddy Piper confronting “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan at Halloween Havoc 1996 would be the start of the downfall of the New World Order storyline that had helped make WCW the top wrestling promotion in the business. Before Eric Bischoff was turned heel thanks to some ridiculous writing and before many lackluster and downright awful angles, Piper cut an in-ring promo on Hogan that was maybe his best work during his run in WCW. Enjoy this for what it was while forgetting most of what occurred after that night.
8. Piper defeats Adrian Adonis
Piper was preparing to ride off into the sunset of wrestling retirement a first time when he faced off with Adrian Adonis at WrestleMania III in a “hair versus hair” match. Adonis prematurely celebrated a victory via sleeper hold, giving Brutus Beefcake an opportunity to revive Piper. Piper would then lock on a sleeper of his own, and the man who was one of the hottest babyfaces in the company at the time refused to release the hold until the referee called for the bell. Adonis was left defeated and humiliated, and Piper left to company to pursue a full-time career as a Hollywood movie star.
7. Piper versus Mr. T
The “boxing match” between Roddy Piper and Mr. T was, for lack of a better description, rather awful, and it certainly does not live up roughly three decades after it occurred. That WrestleMania II encounter did, however, help build the reputation of Piper among casual fans who followed the event because it included a mainstream star such as Mr. T. The match was crushed in reviews by journalists such as Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer newsletter and for good reason, but it serves as a throwback to a different era of the WWE before the company became a media conglomerate.
6. Piper versus Morton Downey Jr.
Morton Downey Jr. was, in his own way, a performer before his time and a pioneer in so-called “trash television” when he made his way into Piper’s Pit at WrestleMania V. Downey, a “smokers’ rights” activist at the time, thought it wise to blow cigarette smoke into the face of Piper during that segment. That proved to be a mistake, as “Hot Rod” put the cigarette and Downey out with the help of a fire extinguisher. The sad irony here is that Downey would eventually speak out against the dangers of using tobacco products after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Downey passed away from that illness in March 2001.
5. Piper wins gold
The pro wrestling world did not always feature title changes seemingly every other month, and thus it was not all that shocking that a performer such as Piper had never won a singles championship when he faced off with The Mountie over the Intercontinental Championship at the 1992 Royal Rumble. Piper, working as a babyface at this point of his career, got the job done with his trademark sleeper hold to the delight of the adoring in-arena audience, and he hoisted the title to kick off what was to be his only singles championship reign while working in the WWF/WWE.
4. Hall of Fame
Opinions on the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame differ among fans due to the fact that celebrities have been inducted in attempts to gain the company national press clippings. Those opinions, however valid they may or may not be, should not take away from the reality that the honor has meant quite a lot to many of the wrestlers who have had their day in front of adoring audiences. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, maybe the greatest wrestler ever, called Piper “the most gifted entertainer in the history of our business” on that night, and Piper’s speech was nothing short of incredible and one that should be re-lived.
Nobody is going to confuse the movie They Live for being one of the classiest and finest works in the history of cinematography. Along with being remembered for having a memorable fight scene that has lived on for ages, the movie has been referenced years after it was produced all because of that one line that Piper famously spoke: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a–. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” That movie needed the right man at the right time to make that line something other than a punchline, and Piper was perfect for the role. The line has since been parodied/honored in other forms of entertainment.
2. Jimmy Snuka visits Piper’s Pit
Of all of the great segments that Piper was featured in during his legendary career, this is the one that will be replayed the most on the WWE Network and in television segments. The famous edition of Piper’s Pit during which Piper belted “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka in the head with a coconut is one that likely would never see the light of day in the modern WWE for obvious reasons. It was, for better or for worse, a different time and a different era when this moment occurred, and thus such a controversial and even racist segment did not raise eyebrows outside of the fact that it made Piper even more despised among fans.
1. WrestleMania I
Roddy Piper undeniably had better matches during his career than the WrestleMania I encounter that saw him team up with “Mr. Wonderful” to take on Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. Nothing that Piper did while working for the WWF was more important than what he accomplished before and during that fateful show. Vince McMahon went all-in on the wrestling spectacular that was unlike any other show before it, and the WWF could have faced serious financial problems had the event not been a massive success. McMahon’s gamble paid off, as WrestleMania was a hit in part because of Piper.