In 1968, the Cold War was hot, Vietnam was still a "good" war and a skinny runaway decked out in a kilt stepped into a Winnipeg wrestling ring only to get beaten to a bloody pulp. Thus began the professional wrestling career of Rowdy Roddy Piper, one of pro wrestling's most memorable "heels". With his outstanding verbal abilities and wrestling skills Roddy Piper, helped transform professional wrestling from a series of small-time regional shows into the extravagant and profitable big-time business it is today.
Rowdy Roddy Piper was born Roderick Toombs, April 17, 1954 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to Scottish and Northern Irish immigrants. He ran away from home at age 13; a couple years later he filled in for an absent wrestler at a professional match, entering the arena wearing his signature kilt and accompanied by his fellow bag-pipers (Piper played in a pipe band). He learned wrestling the hard way, taking beatings on a regular basis from old-time wrestlers. What set Piper apart from other kids with the same big dreams was his ability to ad-lib in front of a microphone, to improvise and really whip up a crowd. He was especially popular in the Pacific Northwest, where he eventually settled with wife Kitty.
Piper initially wrestled under the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), a loose cabal of regional promoters. He was recruited in 1984 by Vince McMahon, Sr., along with wrestlers such as André the Giant and George "The Animal" Steel, into the nascent World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Piper developed into one of the most memorable bad guys ever, playing the heel to Hulk Hogan's hero. In 1984 and 1985 he was named the most hated wrestler of the year by PWI magazine, a testament to his success in his designated role. The Hogan-Piper rivalry culminated in the first ever Wrestlemania I in 1985.
In the 1990s Piper wrestled in the WCW, mentoring a new generation of wrestlers. He continued to wrestle after hip replacement surgery in 1995, joking that he is the first professional to wrestle with a titanium hip. As the WWF comes to monopolize professional wrestling, Roddy Piper bucks the establishment by promoting independent events, such as "Anarchy in Piper's Pit". He continues to make periodic appearances on WWF shows.
Roddy Piper isn't limited to wrestling ventures, either: Portland, Oregon is home to Piper's Pit Stop, an automotive transmission repair shop. Advertisements on late night local television in the 80s featured Rowdy Roddy Piper himself proclaiming:
What do I know about transmissions? Honey, I've stripped a few gears.
In addition to the run-of-the-mill Wrestlemania full-length promotional film fare, Roddy Piper has starred in a number of regrettable and forgettable bad movies, most notably the infamous Hell Comes to Frogtown.
Editor's note: Roddy Piper died of a heart attack at the age of 61 on July 31, 2015.
Sources: Zach Dundas, "Return of the Piper", Willamette Week, volume 27, issue 28, May 16, 2001, pp 23-30
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