Canadian born pro wrestler and actor Roddy Piper passed away Thursday from a heart attack, he was sixty-one years old. Best known to mainstream wrestling fans for his stint in the mid-eighties with the World Wrestling Federation (now known as the WWE) and feuds with Hulk Hogan, Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper. After semi-retiring from the ring in the late eighties, Piper went on to find a second career as a b-movie actor starring in such films as They Live, Hell Comes to Frogtown, Body Slam and Buy & Cell. He passed away in his sleep in his adopted hometown of Hollywood, California.
Born Roderick Toombs on April 17, 1954 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He was a wild youth and left home when he was in his teens, living life on the road until he became interested in becoming a pro wrestler, making his debut at the age of fifteen. Piper worked his way up from a gofer and stage hand before learning the craft of wrestling. Trained by Gene LeBell (who was also his judo instructor) and Tony Condello, he began as a jobber in the AWA (American Wrestling Association) earning the name Roddy “The Piper” due to his playing the bag pipes as he entered the ring, a skill that would reflect his Scottish heritage.
Leaving the AWA in 1975, Piper wrestled in the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) territories, performing in such notable promotions as Kansas City, Houston and Dallas before promoters in Hollywood Wrestling saw a potential star in the young wrestler. Traveling to Los Angeles, he established himself as a ruthless wild heel, perfecting and honing the character who would be known as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. He feuded with the Guerrero family in a rivalry which lasted until he left for Don Owens’ PNW in 1978. From there he went to Georgia Championship Wrestling and Mid-Atlantic in 1980 to wrestle against the likes of Ric Flair and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.
After spending three years in the southeast, Piper headed to New York in 1984 and became a part of the World Wrestling Federation which was looking to go national, breaking away from the old territory system. Roddy Piper fit into the plans of the “Rock n’ Wrestling” era of the mid-eighties that would take wrestling to the mainstream. He gradually became a part of the company working as a manager and onscreen personality by giving a promo segment called “Piper’s Pit” which would establish him as a uber heel as he feuded with Bruno Sammartino and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka before moving on to the promotion’s superstar Hulk Hogan. In 1985, the rivalry between Hogan and Piper (which also involved Cyndi Lauper and Captain Lou Albano) culminated into the MTV special “The War to Settle the Score” which was the highest rated program in the channel’s history.
Roddy Piper would settle down after Wrestlemania 2 which concluded his blood feud with Mr. T that developed ever since Wrestlemania, before becoming a face (good guy) before and heading off into semi-retirement from the ring in the late eighties. Piper’s first starring role in a major film was 1988’s They Live which became an instant cult classic. From then on, he would become a b-movie star during the golden age of DTV (direct-to-video) films in the nineties, starring in fourteen productions. In 1996, Piper joined the WCW (World Championship Wrestling) to battle his arch nemesis Hulk Hogan who became the top heel in the company whilst he became the face in a role reversal for both wrestlers and would remain with the company off and on until 2001.
In his later years, Roddy Piper would become a wrestling ambassador for the WWE and continue to act in B-movies as well as dabble in voice acting. He wrote his autobiography In the Pit With Piper in 2002 (which was semi-kayfabed) that had some interesting stories about his life in and out of the ring. Roddy Piper was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005, he was also a member of the SLAM! Wrestling Canadian Hall of Fame and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007. A former cancer patient, Piper was a proponent of medical marijuana who championed for its legalization in alleviating the side effects of chemotherapy and pain.
Roddy Piper was a polarizing wrestling character and an enigma as a human being. Such a character the likes of this world has never seen and probably never will again. An amazing personality like himself will sadly be missed. Piper is survived by his wife Kitty and their four children. For more information about the life and times of Roddy Piper please visit these sites: IMDB, Wikipedia, Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, TMZ, Slam Sports, WWE and Variety.