“Rowdy” Roddy Piper marched to his own highland beat over the course of his entire career. Piper was a character only pro wrestling could create, but ultimately couldn’t contain. Here are a few things you might not know about Rowdiest man to ever slip on a kilt and lace up the boots.
1. Roddy Piper has been a pro wrestler since he was 15. Sorry to shock you right off the bat, but Roddy Piper wasn’t really Scottish. Well, he had some Scottish blood, but he was born in the Western Canadian city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Piper (real name, Roderick George Toombs) was the son of a Mountie (not to be confused with The Mountie), and he found himself uprooted often as a kid when his father was assigned to new towns.
Around age 13, Piper was expelled from junior high school and had a falling out with his father, so he decided to hit the road because you could just do that sort of thing in ’60s Canada. Eventually, he ended up living in hostels and on the streets of Winnipeg (this town has a thing for collecting lost souls).
Various teachers and social workers tried to help Roddy complete high school (they were unsuccessful), although he did show an interest in boxing and wrestling. His big break came at age 15, when the opponent for Larry “The Axe” Hennig didn’t show at a local independent show. Roddy’s wrestling coach had connections with the promoter, and Piper had already worked some small peanuts pro wrestling shows on northern Indian reserves, so Piper was given the chance to wrestle Hennig for a juicy $25 pay day. Piper lost in 10 seconds, but the seed was planted.
This strapping young badass lost in 10 seconds? Get outta town.
2. His ring name was coined by a confused announcer. Roddy’s fateful impromptu match with Larry Hennig was also where he got his ring name. At the time, Roddy was playing the bagpipes in several bands, and he correctly assumed playing them for the wrestling crowd would get them good and riled up.
Aside from knowing he went by “Roddy”, the show’s announcer didn’t know what this scawny 15-year-old kid wanted to be called, so he improvised and introduced him as “Roddy the Piper.” Most of the fans didn’t hear “the,” and the name Roddy Piper stuck ever since.
The one and only time childhood bagpipe lessons paid off.
3. He earned a black belt from the legendary Judo Gene LeBell. While he would adopt a somewhat more cartoonish style in his later years in the WWF and WCW, Piper had his share of legit tough guy credentials. As already mentioned, he was a trained boxer and amateur wrestler, as well as a black belt in judo. Piper didn’t get his black belt from some strip mall “dojo,” either. He got it from one of the most famous judo champions in history, Gene LeBell, who didn’t just teach Piper judo, he also give him his first big break in the wrestling business when he started promoting shows in the Los Angeles area. Despite Piper being barely old enough to drink, LeBell made him his top heel and booked him in a series of racially-charged blood feuds with various members of the Guerrero family.
Incidentally, it was through LeBell that Piper was introduced to Ronda Rousey (LeBell is one of Rousey’s trainers), which led to Piper officially passing the coveted “Rowdy” title on to her.
4. He used to tag team with Rick Martel. Piper was always a bit of a rugged character, so it may surprise you to know his first significant tag team partner was the prototypical narcissistic model wrestler, Rick Martel. After making a bit of a name for himself in Los Angeles, Piper moved to the Portland area, where he lived and eventually tagged with Martel. Piper and Martel may not have been a perfect match personality-wise, but Piper didn’t mind living together…
“I lived in an apartment with Rick ‘The Model’ Martel. Every night I’d come home, there’d be girls in it. We’d climb over the balcony. I used to read letters from girls: ‘Roddy, I think you’re great. Can you get me a date with Rick Martel?’”
5. Freddie Blassie sabotaged Piper’s bagpipes during his first WWF tryout. Piper made his big WWF debut in 1984, but he got a tryout with the company during the late-70s. Back then, Roddy’s bagpipes were still the central part of his act, and, unfortunately, Freddie Blassie stuffed them with toilet paper before Piper’s match so they wouldn’t play. After his embarassing failure to perform, Piper was off the WWF radar for years. Yeah, real classy, Blassie.
Don’t let this jerk near your pipes.
6. Piper’s been stabbed by fans. Roddy Piper was a great bad guy. Maybe a little too great. According to Piper, he’s been stabbed three times by fans. That may be a little pro wrestling hyperbole, but a 1982 incident in Raleigh, N.C. can be confirmed. It was reported in the papers and everything.
Ah, the days when “getting heat” sometimes meant getting stitches.
7. Roddy Piper and Keith David laid out their memorable They Live fight scene in John Carpenter’s backyard. During the late-80s, Piper started to transition to Hollywood, and unlike his rival, Hulk Hogan, he actually made some darn good (or at least memorable) movies. The highlight of Roddy’s movie career was, of course, the slightly batshit John Carpenter classic, They Live. Today, the movie is mostly remembered for Piper and Keith David’s seemingly endless, ridiculous, football dads scrapping in a back alley fight scene. If you haven’t seen it, you need to remedy this immediately because it’s basically the best wrestling match of Piper’s career. It may be the best match of anybody’s career…
According the Piper, the scene didn’t just happen. It required weeks of preparation. David had no fight training, so Piper basically trained him to wrestle in John Carpenter’s backyard. The scene feels grittier than your average ’80s punch out because a lot of those punches weren’t pulled.
“Keith David was like a 220 pound dancer. He’s like Mike Tyson and doesn’t even know it. I went in the backyard at Carpenters and taught him how to throw a punch and take a punch, stuff like that. Camera punches, you know they cut in the camera. I said, ‘Listen. Keith. Just hit me! From here down just hit me. Go as hard as you can.’ He had no problem doing that.”
Eventually, they had to stop preparing and just shoot the damn thing because Carpenter’s wife got tired of having sweaty men grappling on her grass. Thankfully, the preparation paid off handsomely.
8. Piper’s “Bubblegum” line was improvised. “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum.” It’s the best line from They Live, and maybe the most iconic quote of Piper’s career, even surpassing his wrestling stuff. A thousand years from now, we’ll have forgotten every word Abraham Lincoln ever said, but Roddy Piper’s lack of bubblegum will still be legendary.
Anyway, Piper pulled the line out of his ’80s jeans-clad ass at the last second. Originally, Piper wasn’t supposed to speak when he entered the bank, but Carpenter realized that he to say something to make it clear he wasn’t there to rob the place. Carpenter asked Piper to come up with something, so he quickly tossed together a list of one-liners he was planning to use for future wrestling promos, and Carpenter picked the bubblegum line because duh, of course he did.
9. Randy Savage would rib Piper with his own They Live catchphrases. Okay, just one more They Live fact because I’m not passing on a story about Randy Savage being a grade school jerk. There aren’t a lot of stories out there about Savage joking around. By most accounts, he didn’t have much of a sense of humor. That said, he apparently liked to razz Piper about his movie career…
“He’d come up to me and say, ‘Ooooh! Life’s a bitch and she’s back in heat!’ I had a hangover and was on the dressing room floor. I was like, ‘What the f*ck are you talking about?!’ I didn’t know I’d said it!”
I kind of hope Savage was doing this because he was secretly a big fan of Piper’s cinematic oeuvre. Like, back at home, he had the Danger Zone (also known as his corner in the basement) totally decorated with Body Slam and Hell Comes to Frogtown posters.
Making fun of somebody’s non-wrestling catchphrases? Glass houses, Randy.
10. Piper’s infamous blackface make-up wouldn’t come off. One of the more, uh, memorable moments from Piper’s WWF career was when he painted himself half black for his match with Bad News Brown at WrestleMania VI. It was far from the first time Piper had pushed these kind of buttons for heat (racially insensitive comments were a staple of his early act), but this was the grandest stage in wrestling, and to reiterate, Roddy Piper painted himself half black to wrestle a black man. In 1990. Yeah.
According to Piper, things got even more problematic backstage. They had used special paint that wouldn’t come off when Piper sweat. They had a chemical solution that would get it off, but André the Giant, that 500-pound scamp, stole it and replaced it with water. They couldn’t get the paint off, so Piper had to return to his hotel room with it still on. Worse, Piper had an early flight back to his home in Portland the next morning, so he actually had to get on a plane still painted up.
It’s all fun and games until you have to pass airport security.
11. Roddy Piper and Jesse Ventura almost had their own buddy cop TV show. Here’s one for the missed opportunities file. Roddy Piper and Jesse Ventura, two of the craziest sumbitches in wrestling history, almost had a wacky network TV cop show called Tag Team. They even filmed a pilot for it, and because I love you all, here it is, in its entirety…
12. Dude has his own G.I. Joe. Piper is the only wrestler (aside from Sgt. Slaughter, of course) to receive the honor. I suppose you could question why a Canadian playing a Scot gets a G.I. Joe, but as we’ve firmly established by now, the rules don’t really apply when you’re dealing with Roddy Piper.
Wonder where he came up with that creative code name.
13. Piper was tough
In 2006, a large tumor was discovered on Piper’s spine, and shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After months of chemotherapy, Piper would announce he’d beaten the disease. In addition to that brush with death, Piper has, by his own account, been in around 30 car accidents, and he was involved in a near plane crash that broke his neck.
There you are, a few interesting stories about the man with the machine gun mouth. Know any Piper factoids I missed? What are your thoughts on the man’s illustrious career? Let’s transform this comments section into a regular Piper’s Pit.