I have said before that I am not a lifelong wrestling fan, but a relative newbie. However, there were three wrestlers from the Golden Age I knew very well despite my overall ignorance: Hulk Hogan (oh, how the mighty have fallen), “Macho Man” Randy Savage and, of course, Roderick George Toombs, better known to the world as ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper.
I bloody love Roddy Piper. He was utterly unique: a wild-eyed Canadian who dressed like a Scotsman, a crowd favourite in spite of his despicable persona, and the first to kick off the trend of wrestlers interviewing wrestlers on Piper’s Pit– and he will remain the best at it (nobody likes Miz TV, let’s just accept this and move on.)
He was an effortless performer, dedicated to maintaining the bastard character he created. He’d cheat and go to any low to win, peacock around the ring, and ramble incoherently but still manage to get the audience pumped for the match:
One hundred points and a kilt to the person who can work out what the hell that was about. Even if there was an answer, it would not matter: Piper’s manic energy was contagious. It’s what made him so damn captivating to watch. He could flip from flamboyant humour to unsettling menace effortlessly and reduce a bland babyface to a punchline: he was, in essence, Mark Hamill’s Joker in a kilt.
Piper is (for my money) the best heel in wrestling history and he pushed the boundaries of what that was supposed to mean, often to great controversy. He was loud, vicious, and offensive to all. If you want your jaw to drop with outrage, check out the Jimmy Snuka interview on Piper’s Pit, where he smashes a coconut over his head and then beats him with a belt. No wrestler could get that kind of intense hatred nowadays because the dynamic has changed from good versus evil. Piper embodied a very special unpleasantness. At the time it just added to the power of the man you hated, but couldn’t help but find gleefully entertaining.
It could be argued that Piper’s influence was damaging to wrestling, turning it into a shock-fest rather than the traditional display of strength, but that would be wrong: wrestling has a long and ingrained tradition of flipping the bird to good taste, and Piper managed to compliment his impressive skills in the ring with his vicious, larger-than-life persona. He laid the groundwork for the Attitude era that would make some of his stunts seem tame in retrospect.
Piper never achieved the status that Hulk Hogan or the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson did in cinema (it’s best to forget about Pro Wrestlers versus Zombies) but he was gifted one thing they’ll never have: the role of John Nada in John Carpenter’s brilliant 1988 anti-capitalist rant They Live. It was my first exposure to Piper, and will stand as the item I will forever associate him with:
They Live remains one of Carpenter’s best, if underrated, works. Nada (Piper) is a drifter, who moves from town to town searching for work. He happens upon a pair of sunglasses that expose the world as it really is: a nightmare run for profit under the totalitarian control of aliens who form the neo-liberal elite in our society. Behind every advertisement lies the imperatives of OBEY and CONSUME, whilst the masks of the wealthy and powerful are stripped to reveal horrific, bug-eyed monsters. In typical Piper style, Nada proceeds to violently dispatch as many as he can.
Whilst clearly a product of its time They Live has remained as fresh and angry as when it was first released. I’m sure any action hack could’ve played the part, but there is something special about one of the most popular wrestlers of the decade being at the forefront of a fictional revolution that doesn’t involve implementing a Stallone version of democracy. It’s utterly unique, and Piper’s wide-eyed, jocular performance ties the whole thing together rather nicely.
The word iconic is thrown around too liberally, but for Piper I will make the exception. He steel-chaired his way into my heart by being everything a wrestler should and shouldn’t be at the same time; in essence, the perfect heel.
So in tribute to Roddy, I will be spending the day in my very own Rowdy costume, because that kind of obnoxious display would best befit the man. The only other thing I could imagine doing to honour him is by chewing bubblegum and kicking ass…but it appears that I’m all out of bubblegum.
- Adam Hofmeister 02/08/2015