The summer of 2015 has been rough for the professional wrestling world. Not long after “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes passed away, it was learned that “Rowdy” Roddy Piper had died on the final day of July. Piper was one of the unique performers in the industry during the 1980s and 1990s, widely respected for his ability to attract attention and draw real hate from fans with his words and the promos that he would cut on other wrestlers. While most casual observers will remember that Hulk Hogan and Mr. T performed at the first ever WrestleMania, that event would not have been such a massive success without Piper putting in the work that he did leading up to that show.
Much of Piper’s professional life and what he achieved in his multiple careers will be remembered by those who do not even follow the wrestling business. Along with the numerous entertaining angles that included Piper facing off with adversaries, the eccentric superstar was also known for the acting roles that he had in television and movies. Nobody who saw the film They Live could possibly forget that iconic scene that included Piper saying: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” That line would not have sounded as cool coming from anybody other than Piper.
There are also numerous things about Piper’s life and career that those who have not read up on the wrestler would know about him. His actual name, for example, was not what most knew it to be. While Piper was skilled in the art form of “fake” fighting that is found in pro wrestling, he was also a legitimately tough athlete who could hold his own when such occasions arose. He led a fascinating existence that was admittedly filled with ups and downs, and the legacy that he left is one that will, in many ways, go unrivaled by anybody else who makes his name in wrestling.
10. His Real Name
Piper was born Roderick George Toombs, a name that does not necessarily roll off of the tongue and one that takes up quite a bit of space on a poster. Fate coupled with the fact that he was a talented musician as it pertained to one instrument would lead him to eventually pick up the name Roddy Piper, one that stuck with him through the end of his life. Piper, to his credit, did well to embrace the name change and the gimmick well, and he became a character who stood out among the more cartoon-esque workers who featured for organizations such as the World Wrestling Federation.
9. He Wasn’t Born in Scotland
Piper was, at different times of his wrestling career, billed to be from Glasgow, Scotland, and fans accepted this as the truth because of how he lived the gimmick inside and outside of the ring. While that made for a believable and entertaining story, it was also completely false. Piper was but one of many talented wrestlers to come from Canada, as he was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The idea that Piper, who wore a kilt and had bagpipes in his entrance music, was from Scotland instead of a place in North America just enhanced his legend, and so the tale lived on for decades.
8. He Was A Real Musician
Before he became known as a bruising wrestler with a bad attitude and the ability to fire crowds up, Piper was a musician who was in a band. The instrument that he played was, of course, the bagpipes, and he really did play the bagpipes on his way to the ring before matches. His ability to do so would prove to be forever life-altering, as he otherwise may have become a forgotten wrestler with a completely different name if not for his love of the bagpipes. Learn to play music at a young age, everybody. You never know where doing so will take you later in life.
7. He Was A Young Hell-Raiser
It should come as no surprise to anybody who followed the career of Piper that he was a handful at a young age. He was expelled from school at the junior high level, and he later drifted away from his father after the two had a falling out. All that had happened had led Piper to the crazy world of professional wrestling, and he made his professional debut at the young age of 15 years old. The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum has labeled Piper as being “the youngest professional wrestler in history,” although that is something that has become more legend than proven fact because of all of the territories that have existed all around the world.
6. The Origin of The Piper
While speaking to the Hillsboro Tribune for a 2014 piece, Piper explained how he earned what became his famous name: “I was 15 years old, wrestling (as an) amateur and also boxing Golden Gloves. I was also playing bagpipes in a band — four bagpipers, a bass drummer and two snares — that was playing the Winnipeg Arena one night. Somebody didn’t show up to wrestle (veteran pro) Larry Hennig. I was going to get $25 to wrestle him and lose my amateur status. I had never even seen a match before. I went to play my bagpipe. I was wearing the kilt from the band. The announcer didn’t know who I was. He just knew my first name was Roddy. So he said, ‘Here comes Roddy the piper.’”
5. He Only Held One WWE Title
One would likely and understandably assume that such a famous wrestling personality such as Piper would have won numerous championships while working in the WWF. That was actually not the case. Piper had just one singles championship victory during his days in the WWF, a win that occurred at the 1992 Royal Rumble when he defeated The Mountie for the Intercontinental Championship. Many years later, Piper would win World Wrestling Entertaining tag team gold alongside fellow living legend “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Piper did win dozens of championships outside of the WWF/WWE, but that was not the case during his time in the biggest pro wrestling company in the world.
4. He Had A Black belt
Piper was more than just a tough man who could throw down in a bar brawl. He was a trained fighter who wrestled as an amateur and who boxed. Piper was also awarded a Black Belt in Judo from Gene LeBell, although the “Rowdy” one allegedly did not remember earning such a high honor from an icon of that sport. Piper was, according to LeBell, one of the pro wrestlers who knew how to “hook and shoot,” and receiving such high praise from LeBell filled Piper with much pride. He may not have been the biggest man in the wrestling industry, but Piper was somebody who could take care of himself.
3. His Best Friend Was An NHL Player
Great friendships can be made among boys who fight during their youths, and that was the case for Piper and Cam Connor. The two got into what has been called a “tussle” when both were 15 years old, and Piper claimed while speaking with the official National Hockey League website that he “whupped” Connor. Connor would go on to be a first-round NHL Draft selection, and he hoisted the Stanley Cup in celebration as a member of the 1979 Montreal Canadiens. They remained close up through Piper’s passing, and Connor stated via Twitter that he was “truly heartbroken” over the death of his friend.
2. He Passed On the “Rowdy” Name
Before she was an international superstar, an Ultimate Fighting Championship title holder and the “baddest woman on the planet,” Ronda Rousey was a talented mixed martial artist who was also a wrestling fan. While she had been nicknamed “Rowdy” by some close to her, she was not comfortable with using it professionally because she thought it would be disrespectful to Piper. Gene LeBell brought the two athletes together, and Rousey received Piper’s blessing to become “Rowdy.” Rousey dedicated her victory at UFC 190, which occurred a day after Piper’s death, to the original Rowdy one.
1. Wrestling Saved His Life
The wrestling industry helped save Piper’s life in November 2006. He was one of three possible tag team partners of Ric Flair at the Cyber Sunday pay-per-view, and he went on to win the fan vote and, along with Flair, win the tag team championships. Piper began to have physical setbacks while on tour, though, and it was eventually found out that he had Lymphoma. He later described in interviews that he likely would not have gotten himself checked out when he did if he was not working for the WWE at the time, a decision that would have been a fatal mistake.
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