For the better part of the last 40 years, Roderick George Toombs was known to the world as â€œRowdyâ€ Roddy Piper, the bombastic, loudmouth, straight shooting, dastardly, wrestler, and movie star. Nicknamed the Hot Rod, Piper was at times as big a star as Hulk Hogan, and is beloved by cult movie watchers for his turn in John Carpenterâ€™s sci-fi classic They Live. The WWE hall-of-famer died in his sleep at his Hollywood home on Thursday from cardiac arrest, and was found on Friday.
Despite a rough childhood mostly on his own, the Canadian-born wrester exploited his Scottish roots, and donned a kilt and bagpipes to become Roddy Piper. While not the physically imposing larger-than-life icon like a Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant, Piper let his mouth do the talking. In 1984, he joined the WWF (now WWE) and immediately became the evil yin to Hoganâ€™s All-American yang. Together, they helped set the stage for the biggest and most successful gamble in pro-wrestling history, the original Wrestlemania, as Hogan and Piper were the key parts of the tag team main event. Piperâ€™s feud with Hogan made millions for WWE boss Vince McMahon. Piper is one of those responsible for making wrestling mainstream, a crucial ingredient of what was known as the â€œRock n Wrestling Connection.â€ In the mid 80s, he was often seen getting into altercations with the likes of Cindy Lauper, Muhammad Ali, and Mr. T. His flare for the spotlight led to the first â€œwrestling talk showâ€, “Piperâ€™s Pit,” an interview segment where he would brutally humiliate and attack his guests, most notably breaking a coconut over Jimmy â€œSuperflyâ€ Snukaâ€™s head. His famous line was â€œJust when they think they have the answers, I change the questions!â€
Because of his larger than life personality, Piper felt the allure of Hollywood. His first breakout role was in 1986â€™s Body Slam as Quick Rick Roberts, before playing the role that would endear him to film fans forever. In 1988, he played the drifter Nada in They Live. Carpenter selected Piper because he needed someone who could be both physically imposing, without looking like an unnatural superman. In the sci-fi actioner, Piper discovers mysterious sunglasses which allow him to see the truth; that aliens have taken over Earth, and are manipulating us through subliminal messages. He even helped choreograph an epic fight scene with fellow actor Keith David.
Piperâ€™s legacy is extraordinary in and out of the ring. He ranked #1 on WWEâ€™s all time list of villains, and entered the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005. He still made the occasional appearance for WWE on TV and the WWE Network (their streaming service). Piper also frequented horror and comic conventions drawing huge lines. When I met him at a horror convention several years ago, he joked and laughed, smiled for a picture, and then signed my photo with his epic and most memorable line of dialogue from They Live: â€œI have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and Iâ€™m all out of bubblegum!â€
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper leaves behind his wife Kitty, and their 4 kids — 3 daughters and a son, Colton, who is pursuing a wrestling career. He was 61.