I came home after a nice day and dinner with my wife. I sat down at my computer to check some sites and see what happened during the day. When I went to ESPN’s site I expected to find out about my Cubs and if they played or would play. I wasn’t ready for what I saw in the headlines. Then again, with things of this nature when is anybody ready for news like this. One of my favorite wrestlers from the time I started watching had died. “WWE great Roddy Piper, 61 dies of heart attack” read the headline.
Roddy Piper. The “Rowdy Scot” who came to the ring in his trademark kilt and sporting a shirt that said “Hot Rod”. In his early years he would come to the ring playing bagpipes. On a few occasions there would be a pipe band (pipes and drums) escorting him as he went to the ring. Regardless of who played the pipes, live or recorded, if it was pro wrestling and bagpipes, you knew who was about to come out from behind the curtain. I used to hear bagpipes as a kid and think of Roddy Piper. I still do, and I always will. That’s how strong pro wrestling was back then.
At 16 Piper started on the professional level. That was back in the 1970s when there was more than one company. The territory system was in full swing. There were close to 30 major wrestling companies spread across the country. In the Los Angeles territory Piper got his first break. Then he went to Portland, Oregon to work for the Pacific Northwest Territory owned by Don Owens. His star began to shine bright and attract the major wrestling promotions in the east. First there were stints for the N.W.A. (National Wrestling Alliance) in Georgia and Mid-Atlantic. In 1984, he made it big. Vince McMahon and the WWF (the World Wrestling Federation at the time) came calling. He would work there for the next 12 years, taking time off for movie roles. Then in 1996 he jumped to rival WCW (World Championship Wrestling) until they closed in 2001. He made a few brief appearances for TNA in their early days before going back to WWE. He became a WWE Hall of Fame in 2005 and continued to make appearances for them as he battled cancer.
My memories of Piper as a fan are of him in the early 1990s WWF, and his run in WCW. I’ve seen the early WWF stuff on tape, so I’ve seen him as both a hero and villain. In the world of professional wrestling, it’s hard to find a guy who can excel at doing both. Piper falls into that category. It’s his skill on the microphone more than what he did in the ring that brought him success and allowed him to work both sides. The guy could talk. He’d get going and rant, but being a little kid listening to him was great. It was excitement. He had that in his voice, and it was infectious. If he wanted to see someone win or lose then so did I. If he said he would fight somebody I believed him.
He wasn’t a big muscle guy like Hulk Hogan or the Ultimate Warrior. He wasn’t a technical master like Bret Hart or Brad Armstrong. He didn’t have some outlandish gimmick that made people roll their eyes and look down on wrestling. All he had to do was open his mouth and let the words fly. He could “talk ‘em into the building” as they used to say.
I didn’t want to make this a biography. As I said in my Dusty Rhodes piece, we have a guy who writes wrestler biographies when they die. His name is Dave Meltzer. He does a great job and does it with class in The Wrestling Observer. You don’t need me to write one, and I don’t want to write one. I wanted to write something, but I didn’t know what. I’m at the end and I’m still not sure what I want to say. I’ll end it like this, and you can quote me on it. In a make-believe world of make-believe people, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was believable. Not too many pro wrestlers are. The great ones are, and Roddy Piper was a great one.
Copyright © Drew Martin 2015