Wrestling legend and cult-film favorite “Rowdy” Roddy Piper has died after suffering a heart attack at his Hollywood home. He was 61.
Born Roderick George Toombs, Roddy Piper rose to success as a member of the World Wrestling Federation after working in various lower-tiered pro-wrestling organizations, including the National Wrestling Alliance, throughout the ’70s. After joining the WWF in 1984, Piper started out as a manager for up-and-coming combatants in the squared circle. Toombs’ character, “Rowdy,” was perpetually clad in a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Hot Rod” and a kilt; he would enter the ring to a bagpipe theme and say he heralded from “Glasgow, Scotland,” despite actually being raised in Winnipeg.
A formidable opponent in the ring, Piper truly found his calling as a trash-talking shit starter when he began hosting “Piper’s Pit,” a segment where Piper would insult and antagonize other members of the WWF universe. Some of the more infamous segments on his talk show-inspired segment included being manhandled by Andre The Giant after insinuating that the big guy may not be very intelligent and smashing a coconut over “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka’s head:
From 1984 until 1987, Piper was one of the best heels in the game, feuding withHulk Hogan—then the the biggest name in the WWF—after Piper kicked pop star Cyndi Lauper in the head. This became one of the most high-profile “face versus heel” feuds in pro-wrestling history, with the match between Piper and Hogan airing on MTV in 1985:
After a few years in the WWF, however, Piper took a break from the pro-wrestling world and turned his eyes to Hollywood. Piper starred in the wrestling comedy Body Slam in 1986, followed by the low-budget post-apocalyptic cult favorite Hell Comes To Frogtown, in which Piper played the last man on Earth, Sam Hell, who must not only combat a horde of evil amphibians but also repopulate the world. But Piper is perhaps best known for his role in John Carpenter’s sci-fi commentary on consumerism, They Live, in which he takes on the role of a drifter who discovers that the one percent are not what they seem. Carpenter, who cast Piper in the movie after meeting him around the time of WrestleMania III, has said of Piper, “Unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him.” One of the most iconic lines from They Live, “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum,” did not come from Carpenter’s script, but from Piper., who took the line out of a book of ideas that he had written down for wrestling interviews:
When Piper returned to the WWE, he turned face, feuding with Adrian Adonis and playing an integral part in the Hulk Hogan/Andre The Giant feud. After that, Piper bounced between the WWF and WCW before returning to the WWE twice in the 2000s. In 2012, Piper was named the greatest villain in sports-entertainment history. When asked how he felt about that stigma, Piper, always a class act off stage, responded, “Actually I’m quite honored, and I’ll tell you why. The very first individual that breaks out in my mind as a top villain is Gorgeous George, and it’s hard to beat the first guy…I can’t tell you how many individuals in the industry would school me 24 hours a day. I would then perform at night and they would tear me up afterward, over and over, to help me perfect my craft.” Piper held the WWF Intercontinental Title in 1992, the WCW World Tag Team Championship in 2006, and held the NWA/WWF US Title three times in twenty years.
Piper’s personality not only led to being a favorite in wrestling and film, but allowed him to appear on Saturday Night Live and various television roles, including on Walker, Texas Ranger and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Piper turned his “Piper’s Pit” into a podcast which was pulled from PodcastOne earlier this year, reportedly due to a feud, in typical pro-wrestling fashion, with fellow podcaster “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
In 2005, Piper suffered injuries as a result of a car crash. In 2006 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma but was found cancer-free the following year.
Piper is survived by his wife Kitty and his four children.