Legendary former pro wrestler and actor “Rowdy” Roddy Piper has passed away at the age of 61, according to the NY Daily News. Piper died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack and was discovered on Friday, July 31, 2015 in his Hollywood home.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper – also known as “Hot Rod” – was a legend in professional wrestling throughout the 1980s, ’90s, and 2000s and was a well-known actor in numerous film and television roles. Technically cast as a villain among the pro wrestling personalities of the World Wrestling Federation (also known as the WWF and later the WWE), Piper’s charisma, over-the-top personality, and boundless energy made him a key pop culture figure. The WWE has named him as the greatest villain in wrestling history.
Roddy Piper was born Roderick George “Roddy” Toombs on April 17, 1954 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada and raised in Winnipeg. His father was an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and after a fight with his dad and having been expelled from junior high, Piper became a drifter. He worked odd jobs and lived in youth hostels before taking up boxing and amateur wrestling at the age of 15.
Piper spoke about that time in an interview with the Hillsboro Tribune in 2014, saying:
“I was too much for that institution, for my folks at that time. I came along late. Money was tight, things were tight, and it was time to go. They didn’t need me anymore.”
A black belt in Judo and a Golden Gloves boxer, Piper entered the ring as a professional wrestler in Winnipeg, playing the bagpipes (the Scottish instrument and constant kilt were inspired by his Scottish heritage on his mother’s side). His wrestling persona and stage name were apparently born at the same time, as Piper told the Hillsboro Tribune:
“It didn’t start out as a character. I’ll tell you what happened. 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.'”
The crowd reportedly heard the name as “Roddy Piper,” and the moniker stuck. Piper developed his notorious villain (or heel) persona with various regional pro wrestling organizations throughout the 1970s, such as the American Wrestling Association in Kansas City and NWA Houston Wrestling, before wrestling in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where he developed his “Rowdy” persona, becoming a hated villain and striking feuds with the likes of Chavo Guerrero Sr. and later with Ric Flair.
Piper joined the then-WWF in 1984, serving first as a manager, and was given an interview segment called Piper’s Pit, which showcased his bravado, quick wit, and outrageous personality. The ongoing segment helped cement his reputation as a villain, and was one of the first outlets for non-champion wrestlers. Piper’s Pit also ignited some of his well-known feuds of the era, with the likes of Jimmy Snuka, Hulk Hogan, pop singer Cyndi Lauper, and Captain Lou Albano. A main-event, score-settling matchup broadcast on MTV between Piper and Hogan would end up setting the stage for the first Wrestlemania.
Piper would eventually appear in a few dozen feature films and TV projects; mostly B-movie fare such as Hell Comes to Frogtown. More recently, Piper enjoyed a recurring role on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but his most notable and beloved role remains his action-hero turn in director John Carpenter’s 1988 sci-fi flick They Live, which has since become a cult favorite. He did voice work for titles like Green Lantern: Emerald Knights and showed up in episodes of Highlander, Superboy, and The Outer Limits.
In 2006, he underwent treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and by 2007 claimed to be cancer free. Piper returned to wrestling semi-regularly over the years, remaining active in the WWE both as a wrestler, instigator (throwing coconuts at people, a reference to his feud with Jimmy Snuka) and keeping Piper’s Pit going, as well as showing up in various independent wrestling circuits.
Roddy Piper was still active up to the time of his death, and has several B-movies in various stages of post-production, including a part as Oscar Wilde in a production called The Green Fairy (which is not likely to be historically accurate), and a horror film called The Chair. Piper’s bravado, charm, and endless watchability made him a favorite of wrestling fans (including this writer, who used to watch him on WWF with his late uncle). He was an influence on the generation of wrestlers and performers which succeeding him, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who posted a tribute to Piper on his Instagram page.
Piper is survived by his wife Kitty, their four children and four grandchildren. All of us here at Screen Rant offer “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s friends and family our deepest condolences.
Take a look at Piper’s final interview before his death, in which he talks about his role in The Chair with fellow actor Robert Rhine, and even discusses his early wrestling days, including the time he tried to quiet the crowd at Madison Square by playing the Scottish national anthem on his bagpipes. Watch it below:
R.I.P. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper/Roderick George Toombs: April 17, 1954 – July 31, 2015.