“Just when you think you have all the answers, I change the questions!”
It is our sad duty to report that wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper has passed away aged 61 on July 31, 2015, in his home in Hollywood, California.
News of his death broke minutes before the Hall of Heroes dinner to cap off the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends FanFest in Charlotte, North Carolina, where about 600 current and former wrestling personalities and fans had gathered. He received a ten-bell salute.
WWE opened Friday night’s live event in San Diego, California with a ten-bell salute also:
Piper (born Roderick George Toombs) was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on April 17, 1954 and was raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was of majority Scottish descent, with some Irish on his mother’s side. He attended Windsor Park Collegiate. His father was an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while they lived in The Pas, Manitoba.
After being expelled from junior high and having a falling out with his father, Piper hit the road and stayed in youth hostels. He picked up odd jobs at local gyms running errands for several professional wrestlers. As a young man he became proficient in playing the bagpipes, though he repeatedly stated that he was unsure exactly where he picked them up. His childhood (and lifelong) best friend was ex-NHL player and Stanley Cup winner Cam Connor.
Piper was a boxer and an amateur wrestler before he started to become a professional wrestler. He won the Golden Gloves boxing championship. He was awarded a Black Belt in Judo from Gene LeBell, American Judo champion, instructor, stuntman, and professional wrestler.
By the age of 15, he made his professional wrestling debut in Winnipeg against Larry “The Ax” Hennig. When Roddy made his way to the ring playing the bagpipes, the ring-announcer introduced him as “Roddy the Piper”, the fans in attendance heard it as “Roddy Piper” and the name stuck.
From 1973 to 1975, Piper was a jobber in the American Wrestling Association (AWA), Kansas City, and the Maritimes. He also worked in Texas for Paul Boesch’s NWA Houston Wrestling promotion and in Dallas for Fritz Von Erich’s Big Time Rasslin. What was supposed to be a brief run in California, however, turned out to be a long term stint as booker Leo Garibaldi and publicist Jeff Walton were impressed with Piper and saw the money making possibilities he had as a villain.
By late 1975 and early 1976, Piper was a top villain for Mike and Gene LeBell’s NWA Hollywood Wrestling. In 1977–78, he also started to work for Roy Shire’s NWA San Francisco Wrestling in addition to remaining with the L.A. office. Los Angeles was where Piper developed his Rowdy character and became one of the most hated villains in Los Angeles since the days of Classy Freddy Blassie.
During this time, he made continuous insults directed at the area’s Mexican community; he later promised to amend by playing the Mexican national anthem on his bagpipes only to anger the fans further by playing “La Cucaracha” instead. Piper also served as manager for several villains in Los Angeles and worked as a referee from time to time. Piper feuded with all the fan favorites in the area and had a long feud with Chavo Guerrero Sr.
As part of the L.A. storyline, Piper feuded with Chavo and the whole Guerrero family for about three years in the L.A. territory going so far as to routinely wear a T-shirt to the ring reading “Conqueror of the Guerreros”.
The feud started during a TV bout in early 1976 where Chavo was defending the Jules Strongbow Memorial Scientific Trophy against Piper. Late in this match, Gory Guerrero (who had been in Chavo’s corner giving him advice throughout the match) was slapped by Piper. Chavo “lost his cool” and starting punching Piper, getting DQ’ed and losing the Scientific Trophy for “breaking the rules”. A short time later, Piper then defeated Chavo for the Americas Heavyweight Title; the two competed in the top feud in Los Angeles for the better part of three years.
They main evented against each other often during this era (1976 through 1978). The hair match gimmick was one of the top stipulations between these two, resulting in Piper getting his head shaved. Another top stipulation was when Chavo beat Piper in a loser leave town match and Piper immediately reappeared as The Masked Canadian.
In his first televised match as The Masked Canadian, Piper actually teamed with Chavo to battle the Americas Tag Team Champions (Gordman and Goliath) and Piper turned on Chavo late in the match, causing Chavo to get pinned. Piper wrestled as The Masked Canadian for several months until he was unmasked by Hector Guerrero.
Bob Backlund defeated Piper and retained the WWF title at the Olympic Auditorium on July 28, 1978.
By late 1978-early 1979, Buddy Rose talked Piper into leaving the California promotions for even more fame in Don Owen’s Pacific Northwest Territory where he teamed with Killer Tim Brooks, Rick Martel, and Mike Popovich to win the NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship. Piper also won the NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Championship with victories over both Lord Jonathan Boyd and “Playboy” Buddy Rose.
In the late 1970s, Piper ventured to the Mid-Atlantic territory where he beat Jack Brisco for the Mid-Atlantic title. He also defeated Ric Flair for the US belt which turned into a feud.
From 1981-82, Piper served as a commentator on Georgia Championship Wrestling (which would be renamed World Championship Wrestling in July) and feuded with the likes of Bob Armstrong, Dick Slater, and Tommy Rich. During the summer of 1982, Piper became a fan favorite after knocking out Don Muraco and Ole Anderson to save broadcast partner Gordon Solie from Muraco, who had grown angry at Solie questioning his tactics.
In Wrestling to Rasslin’, Gerald W. Morton and George M. O’Brien described the transformation: “the drama finally played itself out on television when one of his [Piper’s] hired assassins, Don Muraco, suddenly attacked the commentator Gordon Solie. Seeing Solie hurt, Piper unleashed his Scottish fury on Muraco. In the week that followed, like Achilles avenging Patroklas, he slaughtered villain after villain…. In the arenas fans chanted his name throughout his matches.” Piper wrestled Abdullah the Butcher after Ole Anderson brought him in to take down Piper. Piper then left Georgia for the Mid-Atlantic territory.
In 1982, due to showing up late for a match, he was fired and reportedly blackballed from the Georgia territory. He went to Puerto Rico for a month and was booked by Jim Barnett shortly thereafter. Piper returned to the Georgia area in the summer of 1983 to aid Tommy Rich during his rivalry with Buzz Sawyer.
Eventually, Piper moved back to Jim Crockett Promotions. As a fan favorite, Piper feuded with Sgt. Slaughter, Ric Flair, and Greg Valentine. Piper’s feud with Valentine culminated in a dog collar match at the first Starrcade. Valentine broke Piper’s left eardrum during the match with the collar’s chain, causing Piper to permanently lose fifty percent of his hearing.
Before entering the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) full-time in 1984, Piper had a match with the WWF under Vince McMahon, Sr. in the mid-1970s at Madison Square Garden. Freddie Blassie stuffed Piper’s bagpipes with toilet paper, so they would not play in front of the Garden crowd.
In 1983, WWF owner Vince McMahon contacted Piper, who insisted on serving out his contract with Jim Crockett. On his way out of Crockett’s promotion he became a villain, which set the stage for his WWF run in 1984. He started as a manager at first, due to the injuries he sustained during his dog collar match with Greg Valentine, but soon started wrestling full-time. Piper came in as the manager for “Dr. D” David Schultz and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff.
Later that year, he was given his own interview segment called Piper’s Pit, where he talked to other superstars and frequently ended in a fight between Piper and his guest.
During one Piper’s Pit, Piper insulted Jimmy Snuka’s Polynesian heritage by bringing out pineapples, bananas, and dropping coconuts onto the table. Snuka took offense to this and Piper then attacked Snuka by smashing him over the head with a coconut and shoving a banana in his face, resulting in a feud between the two. Piper also insulted Bruno Sammartino during a Piper’s Pit segment which led to a feud that ended in a steel cage match which Piper lost.
Another feud, this time between Piper and Hulk Hogan erupted soon after which also involved pop singer Cyndi Lauper. Piper kicked Lauper in the head and attacked Captain Lou Albano with Hogan seeking revenge as a result.
In 1985, MTV broadcast The War to Settle the Score, featuring a main-event matchup between Piper and Hogan, who was accompanied to the ring by Albano, Lauper, and Mr. T.
This event set up the very first WrestleMania, which pitted Piper and Paul Orndorff against Hogan and Mr. T. Orndorff was pinned by Hogan when Piper’s bodyguard “Cowboy” Bob Orton interfered and mistakenly struck Orndorff instead of Hogan with his trademark “injured” arm covered in a plaster cast.
In Born to Controversy, Piper recalled how he had to keep Mr. T busy with tie-ups and other shoot wrestling moves to cover Mr. T’s lack of wrestling ability from being seen by the fans. From this situation, Piper and Mr. T’s real-life relationship became hostile, leading to the inevitable conclusion that they be put into a feud with one another. Piper faced Mr. T in a boxing match at WrestleMania 2 in 1986. Piper lost the match by disqualification after bodyslamming Mr. T.
Following a leave of absence from the WWF, Piper returned during a TV taping of WWF Superstars on August 23, 1986 against A.J. Petrucci. The returning Piper was distressed to find his Piper’s Pit segment replaced by The Flower Shop, a segment hosted by Adrian Adonis, who was using an effeminate-wrestler gimmick. Piper spent weeks crashing Adonis’ show and trading insults, leading to a “showdown” between the two segments that ended with Piper being assaulted and humiliated by Adonis, Piper’s former bodyguard Orton (now in Adonis’ employ), and Don Muraco. The trio left Piper with his face covered in red lipstick lying in the middle of the remnants of the Piper’s Pit set, which had been destroyed. In response, Piper stormed the set of Adonis’ show and destroyed it with a baseball bat. This led to their Hair vs Hair match at WrestleMania III, which was billed as Piper’s retirement match from wrestling before he left to become an actor full-time. Piper won the match with the assistance of Brutus Beefcake, who had been sheared by Adonis shortly before the match. From that point on Beefcake became known as “The Barber” thanks to Piper.
Piper returned from a hiatus with a live Piper’s Pit at WrestleMania V, where he hosed down a smoking Morton Downey, Jr. with a fire extinguisher. After this, Piper began co-hosting Prime Time Wrestling with Gorilla Monsoon, providing a change of pace from the constant bickering that was caused between Monsoon and Bobby Heenan during Heenan’s tenure. Heenan insisted on having his own show opposite Prime Time called The Bobby Heenan Show, which was basically used as a catalyst to insult Piper and Monsoon after leaving Prime Time on bad terms.
Eventually, Heenan’s comments began to irritate Piper and Piper finally told Heenan to either “put up or shut up.” Shortly after this, Heenan brought “Ravishing” Rick Rude into the mix by inviting him to his show to further insult Piper. The feud reached the physical level when Piper made an appearance on The Brother Love Show to address his position on the matter. Brother Love provoked Piper for several minutes by questioning his courage and ring ability. Piper finally had enough and told Love he had bad hygiene. When Love questioned Piper for bringing this up, Piper pulled out a small bag of toiletries and began dousing Love with toothpaste and mouthwash. Rude made his move during this moment and attacked Piper from behind, eventually spewing mouthwash into his eyes rendering him temporarily blind. This eventually brought Piper’s return to the ring full-circle as Piper interfered in Rude’s Intercontinental Title defense against The Ultimate Warrior at SummerSlam ’89, costing Rude the belt. Rude vowed revenge and the two engaged in a very physical and violent feud that lasted the rest of the year. The feud finally came to an end when Piper defeated Rude in a match where the stipulation stated that if Piper won, Heenan would have to dress as Santa Claus for an episode of Prime Time. Piper was victorious, and Heenan was forced to dress as Claus the following week. Initially, Heenan seemed pleased with portraying Santa and even went so far as to imitate Claus and wish everyone a Merry Christmas. However, as the show progressed, Heenan’s true motives were revealed as he began to call Christmas “a sham”, and that the children of the world had been “scammed” by their parents. Piper snapped and attacked Heenan, ignoring pleas from Monsoon to stop the attack due to Piper’s agreement to abstain from physicality on the Prime Time set. Piper refused, and in turn, was fired from Prime Time.
Piper also wrestled Bad News Brown at WrestleMania VI in 1990, which was famous for Piper cutting a promo and wrestling with his face and body painted half black. The match ended with both men being counted out of the ring.
In 1991, he supported Virgil in his feud against “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and was present at their matches at WrestleMania VII and SummerSlam. He also renewed his feud with Ric Flair and at the 1992 Royal Rumble defeated The Mountie for his first, and only, Intercontinental Championship. He lost it soon after to Bret Hart at WrestleMania VIII. Following his title loss to Hart, Piper disappeared from the WWF. He made his return playing the bagpipes at SummerSlam. The return proved to be a cameo, as he disappeared from the WWF again, this time for nearly two years.
He reemerged in 1994 at WrestleMania X as guest referee for the WWF Championship match between Bret Hart and Yokozuna. During the match, commentator Jerry “The King” Lawler remarked that he hated Piper and continued to taunt Piper on his King’s Court segment on Monday Night Raw, eventually culminating with Lawler bringing out a young, skinny impersonator in a Piper T-shirt and kilt and forcing him to kiss his feet. Enraged, Piper agreed to wrestle Lawler at the King of the Ring, where Piper emerged victorious. Piper wrestled as a fan favorite, and adding to the face attitude by donating part of his purse from the fight with Lawler to a children’s hospital in Ontario. Piper around this time also had a regular segment on All-American Wrestling called “The Bottom Line” where he commented on various happenings in the WWF, from around April 1994 until the Summer of that year.
Leaving the WWF again, he soon returned in 1995 at WrestleMania XI, once again in a referee capacity, for the submission-only match between Hart and Bob Backlund. In 1996, Piper was named as interim WWF President. As president, Piper had become the object of affection for Goldust. Enraged, Piper claimed he would “make a man” out of Goldust at WrestleMania XII. The match, dubbed a “Hollywood Backlot Brawl”, began in an alleyway behind the Arrowhead Pond, but Goldust jumped into his gold Cadillac and ran Piper over, ultimately escaping (allegedly) onto the highways of Anaheim. Piper pursued in his white Ford Bronco, which when viewed from aerial footage looked similar to the O. J. Simpson “low-speed” chase from two years prior. The two eventually returned to the arena, where Piper disrobed Goldust in the ring, effectively ending the confrontation. With Gorilla Monsoon back in control of the WWF by the end of the night, Piper once again left the company.
Later in 1996, Piper joined World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He appeared at Halloween Havoc to “break Hogan’s monotony”.
In his first appearance, Piper asked Hogan, “Do you think [the fans] would’ve loved you so much, if they hadn’t hated me?”. Piper and Hogan wrestled in a non-title match in the main event of Starrcade, WCW’s biggest pay-per-view event of the year. Piper defeated Hogan with a sleeper hold.
Piper faced Hogan in a title match at SuperBrawl VII. This time, Hogan beat Piper when Randy Savage interfered and joined the New World Order (nWo). Promos showed Piper locking himself in the Alcatraz prison and vigorously exercising in order to prepare for the highly anticipated match.
During the spring of 1997, Piper joined forces with Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen in their battle with the nWo. Shortly thereafter, Piper and Flair feuded before Piper disappeared from the scene. Piper briefly returned in October 1997 to face Hogan once again in a steel cage match, which Piper did win.
In early 1998, Piper once again returned to feud with Hogan, Savage, and Bret Hart. In early 1999, Piper had a short run as United States Champion, became WCW Commissioner, and resumed his feud with Flair over control of WCW. Piper also had a short feud with Buff Bagwell in the summer of 1999, where he was defeated by Bagwell, whose mother got involved. In late 1999, Piper was featured on WCW television, in an angle with Vince Russo, who was now portraying himself as the “Powers That Be” (an unseen power that was controlling WCW).
At Starrcade, Piper was the special referee in the WCW title match featuringGoldberg and Hart. This match was otherwise notorious for Goldberg legitimately injuring Hart, giving him the concussion that would eventually lead to his retirement. Forced by Russo, Piper called for the bell when Hart locked in the Sharpshooter on Goldberg, when it was apparent that Goldberg had not submitted. Piper apologized for this incident the next night on Nitro and attempted to make the save for Goldberg when Hart and the nWo beat him down, but the nWo also attacked Piper. The feud between Piper and the Powers That Be ended shortly after and Piper disappeared.
Piper’s last appearance in WCW was at SuperBrawl in February 2000 where he was a surprise referee in the title match between Sid Vicious, Jeff Jarrett and Scott Hall. In the July 2000, WCW terminated Piper’s contract, and the organization ceased to exist after being sold to WWF in March 2001.
In the 2003 HBO Real Sports interview, Piper had predicted that he was “not going to make 65” due to his poor lifestyle, and that his 2003 return to WWE was because he could not access his pension fund until he had reached that age.
Before going to the WWE in 2003, Piper served as the commissioner of the now-defunct Xcitement Wrestling Federation. In November 2002, Piper’s autobiography, In the Pit with Piper: Roddy Gets Rowdy, was released.
Piper returned to WWE on March 30, 2003, by conducting a surprise run in during the Hulk Hogan-Vince McMahon match at WrestleMania XIX in Seattle, Washington, where he attacked Hogan with a steel pipe to cement his heel status; Hogan nevertheless eventually won the match. Piper went on to align with Sean O’Haire; at Backlash in April, Rikishi hit Piper with Piper’s own coconut, but this led to O’Haire defeating Rikishi.
In May, as Hulk Hogan had been banned in storyline from television by Vince McMahon, Hogan returned under a mask as Mr. America, and continued his feud with Piper, O’Haire and McMahon, who tried to reveal Mr. America’s true identity. This storyline also saw Piper tear off the fake leg of one-legged wrestler Zach Gowen, who was playing a Hogan fan. At Judgment Day, Piper argued with Chris Jericho if Piper’s Pit was better than Jericho’s talk show The Highlight Reel. Later at the event, Piper lost to Mr. America.
Piper and O’Haire then moved on to challenge Tajiri and Eddie Guerrero for the tag team championships, but in June 2003, WWE stopped employing Piper after a controversial interview with HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in which Piper discussed the darker side of the wrestling industry. WWE cited that “Piper stated that he used drugs for many years while working in professional wrestling and that he does not like the person that he becomes when he actively performs as a professional wrestler”, and dismissed Piper due to “inability to reach agreement on a contract and to assist Piper from engaging in any self-destructive behavior”. On his 2006 DVD, Piper claimed that HBO took parts of his interviews out of context to make wrestling look worse.
Piper debuted for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) promotion on September 17, 2013 at an NWA-TNA pay-per-view, where he questioned whether he was really a drug addict (despite having admitted so on television) and started a feud with Vince Russo. He also hosted several In the Pit with Piper interview segments. He interviewed former rival Jimmy Snuka at the company’s first three-hour pay-per-view Victory Road, where he dared Snuka to get revenge by hitting him with a coconut. Instead, TNA wrestler Kid Kash eventually used the coconut on Sonjay Dutt. Piper also served as a member of the National Wrestling Alliance Championship Committee. At Final Resolution in January 2005, Piper refereed a match between Jeff Hardy and Scott Hall, helping Hardy win.
In February 2005 at WrestleReunion, Piper teamed with Jimmy Valiant and Jimmy Snuka against Colonel DeBeers, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, and “Playboy” Buddy Rose.
On February 21, 2005, it was announced that Piper was to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Piper held an episode of Piper’s Pit at WrestleMania 21 where he interviewed Stone Cold Steve Austin. On the July 11, 2005 episode of Raw, Piper returned to host Piper’s Pit with guest Shawn Michaels, who superkicked Piper at the end of the show.
Piper once again appeared on Raw on October 3, 2005 for Raw Homecoming hosting Piper’s Pit with guest Mick Foley; later in the segment, Randy Orton and “Cowboy” Bob Orton appeared and attacked both Foley and Piper, sparking a mini-feud between Piper and the Ortons. On the next SmackDown! after Homecoming, Piper defeated the Ortons in a handicap match after a distraction by The Undertaker. On October 28, Piper teamed with Batista and Eddie Guerrero to take on Randy Orton, Bob Orton, and Mr. Kennedy. Piper’s feud with the Ortons came to an end on the November 4, 2005 episode of SmackDown! with a disqualification victory over Bob Orton.
Piper returned to Raw on September 11, 2006 for a six-man tag team match win with The Highlanders against the Spirit Squad. He also appeared on the Raw Family Reunion, along with Money Inc. and Arn Anderson to accompany Ric Flair ringside for a match against Mitch of the Spirit Squad. On November 5, Piper won the World Tag Team Championship with Flair from The Spirit Squad at Cyber Sunday. On the November 13, 2006 episode of Raw, Piper and Flair lost the title toRated-RKO. He made a return to Raw on an episode taped February 12, 2007, during which he announced that Dusty Rhodes was to be the first person inducted into the 2007 class of the WWE Hall of Fame. He then returned on the June 11, 2007 episode of Raw as part of “Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night”.
In 2008, after finishing his therapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he made a brief appearance in the Royal Rumble but was eliminated by Kane shortly after entering the ring. Piper returned to Raw on April 28, 2008 as a backstage visitor, where he was confronted by Santino Marella. Marella poked fun at Piper’s weight, which resulted in Santino getting slapped by Piper. The next week, Piper was a guest on Carlito’s Cabana and Carlito and Santino were about to double team Piper when they were chased off by Cody Rhodes and Cryme Tyme. On May 12, Piper’s interference stopped Santino and Carlito from beating Rhodes and Hardcore Holly for the World Tag Team Championship. Santino then threatened Piper with retaliation, culminating in a confrontation with Piper during the May 16 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!. Piper appeared on the October 27 episode of Raw as a special guest commentator for Marella’s match against Charlie Haas.
At WrestleMania XXVII, Piper made a cameo by hitting Zack Ryder with a coconut. On the June 13, 2011 episode of Raw, The Miz and later Alex Riley were guests on Piper’s Pit; this led to Piper defeating Miz in a match (to win $5000) due to help from Riley, the guest referee; this was Piper’s last documented WWE match. John Cena was a guest for Piper’s Pit on the November 28, 2011 episode of Raw.
On the April 10, 2012 episode of Smackdown, Daniel Bryan and AJ Lee were guest of Piper’s Pit. On the June 18 episode of Raw, Piper reunited with Cyndi Lauper. At Raw 1000, Piper and various other veterans helped Lita defeat Heath Slater. On the August 13, 2012 episode of Raw, Chris Jericho was the guest for Piper’s Pit, but Dolph Ziggler and the Miz interrupted.
In 2012, Piper, along with Don Coss, created Portland Wrestling Uncut, a revival of the original Portland Wrestling, with new and old wrestlers combined. Playing prominently in the show is Piper and Coss as announcers, The Grappler (Len Denton) as a manager, guest appearances by the like of Matt Borne (among others), rewind segments that show partial matches from the original Portland Wrestling (owned by Don and Barry Owen), and Piper’s son, Colt Toombs.
On the January 6, 2014 episode of Raw, The Shield were guests for Piper’s Pit. At WrestleMania XXX, the four men who wrestled in the main event of WrestleMania I – Piper, Paul Orndorff, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T – buried the hatchet in a backstage segment. On the December 22, 2014 episode of Raw, Rusev and Lana were guests for Piper’s Pit.
As well as being a wrestling legend, Piper also had a film and TV career including The One and Only, They Live, Hell Comes to Frog Town, and Pro Wrestlers Vs Zombies. He also had TV appearances in The Highwayman, The Highlander, The Outer Limits, Cold Case, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Celebrity Wife Swap.
WWE owner Vince McMahon said “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”.
Director John Carpenter said “Devastated to hear the news of my friend Roddy Piper’s passing today. He was a great wrestler, a masterful entertainer and a good friend.” Piper was survived by his wife, four children and four grandchildren.
Upon the news of his death, UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey (facing Bethe Correia on 1/8/15 at UFC 190) dedicated the fight to Piper. Rousey’s mentor is “Judo” Gene Lebell, who trained Piper when he was a teenager. Lebell gave Rousey the “Rowdy” nickname years ago but she called Piper personally to ask for permission and he granted it.
Rousey posted the following on Instagram: