Pro wrestling has lost another legend, arguably the greatest heel of all-time. WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper passed away in his sleep due to cardiac arrest at the age of 61 leaving behind a wife, four children, one grandchild and one hell of a legacy.
[adinserter block=”1″]Piper was one of my all-time favorites and probably the first heel I ever cheered for as a kid watching WWF shows. My first exposure to Piper other than Apter magazines was when he entered the WWF in 1983. I don’t think you’ll find many better heel runs than the one Piper had as WWE’s top dog from 83-86. While Hulk Hogan gets a lot of credit for building the WWF during that era, he wouldn’t have been able to do it alone and Piper was the perfect dance, partner.
Piper was revolutionary and groundbreaking in so many ways. Let’s start with the misnomer that Jesse Venture was the first heel color commentator in pro wrestling. That was Roddy Piper. Piper was a color commentator for Georgia Championship Wrestling in 1981. I discovered this during my days in the tape trading circle and let me tell you, Piper was just awesome. I used to have a six-hour tape of GCW that I’d watch just to hear Piper do commentary. It always bothered me that Piper never got credit for this.
Piper also took the interview segment to such a high level with Piper’s Pit that I argue it has never been met since. Piper came into the WWE in 1983 as a manager. But it was Piper’s Pit where Roddy immediately shined. The WWF always had good heel promos, but Piper was on a different level. After three months, you wanted to pay to see every babyface that had been insulted by Piper get his revenge and it wasn’t long after that you cheered Piper for his shenanigans. 30 years later and I dare you to tell me any other pro wrestler that has come even close to pulling off the interview segment the way Piper did.
In the ring, Piper made his mark with a classic feud against Superfly Jimmy Snuka. I did a lengthy blog on the entire feud a few years ago. Here is an excerpt which explains how big this feud was at the time.
“To put the success of this feud into perspective, these guys were selling out arena to capacity with nothing more than a grudge match. There was no championship on the line, only the promise of seeing Jimmy Snuka get his revenge on Roddy Piper and wondering what the heck would happen when that same enraged man who chased Piper after being smashed by coconut would do to the big mouth once he got his hands on him.
You can watch any of their matches today over 25 years later and still feel the intensity the seconds before they locked up in the ring. What made these matches so darn good was that neither man showed fear in the opening moments. Piper walked to the ring just as cool and cocky as ever. As a matter of a fact, many of their matches started like a UFC fight. Both guys stayed in their respective corners, seething, focused, intense, and would charge each other like bulls when the bell rang for an all-out brawl. Heels were supposed to run scared, but Piper wasn’t scared, and Jimmy wanted to tear Piper apart. It was magic.”
From there Piper’s rivalry with Hogan is a feud that would become iconic. Here is an excerpt I wrote a few years back on that feud.
“The marriage of Hogan and Piper was a natural. The two couldn’t have been any more opposite for WWF fans. Just about every one of us wanted to see someone shut up Roddy Piper (although I’ll admit I was starting to cheer for the heel even as a youngster here). Jimmy Snuka tried and came up short in his bid to tear Piper’s head off. Andre the Giant tried on a few occasions and even that great WWF hero couldn’t pull it off. It was Hulk Hogan or bust!”
If you were to do the math and figure out how much money Piper drew for Vince McMahon off of the Snuka and Hogan feuds, you’d probably conclude that Piper was one of the greatest drawing heels over such a short time in WWE history. It would be no surprise that Vince was quick to pay his respects to Roddy.
“Roddy Piper was one of the most entertaining, controversial and bombastic performers ever in WWE, beloved by millions of fans around the world. I extend my deepest condolences to his family.”
How big of a Piper fan was I? After seeing WWF, house shows fairly regularly between 1983-1987 I burnt out and stopped going. I just wasn’t as passionate about wrestling when I entered my teenage years. However, I would make sure to always go to the Spectrum if Piper was on the bill. When Piper came back for runs against Mr. Perfect, Ric Flair, Rick Rude, and Ted DiBiase I was always there and it was only to see Piper.
Like Piper’s biggest rival, he has certainly had his outs with Vince McMahon over the years. Piper was currently under a WWE legends contract. Piper was pushing Vince hard for a match with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 30, but it was never to be. While it probably would have been sad to watch, I would have loved to hear Piper cutting promos on Hogan one more time. That said, I never felt that Piper got the respect he deserved from the company. Without Piper, there is no way that WrestleMania 1 would have been as successful and yet the guy was treated like some crazy old grandpa in recent years. It just never felt right.
[adinserter block=”2″]Ironically, Piper’s last bit of publicity came this week as he continued to support his old rival. Piper was one of the first and maybe even the first noteworthy pro wrestler to publicly come out and defend Hulk Hogan after the racist transcripts were released. No matter what you think of Hogan, you have to respect the loyalty that Piper showed his friend this week, even in the face of criticism.
In just a matter of weeks, the pro wrestling world has lost two of its biggest icons in Piper and Dusty Rhodes. There are plenty of memories available on YouTube and the WWE Network of the both of them. Thanks to the world of technology we live in today, their legacies will live on forever and I am sure that both are proud of that. If Dusty Rhodes and the Ultimate Warrior got a week on the WWE Network, Piper deserves a month!
RIP Roddy Piper, my favorite heel of all-time!