Like virtually every six-year-old in America, my Saturday mornings were monopolized by network TV cartoon shows. For most kids, there was a ‘favorite’ that you looked forward to each week: Super Friends, The Smurfs, Muppet Babies, or Alvin & The Chipmunks. I may have been in the minority, but my favorite was Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n Wrestling.
And to put myself into an even smaller cross-section, I didn’t watch the show purely for the title hero. True, I would eventually become a Hulkamaniac. In future years, I ended up with the action figures, t-shirts, and bedsheets. However, the cartoon character that truly caught my eye was the villain, and the leader of the bad guys was ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper. Without Piper cunningly leading the heel wrestling squad on their weekly quest to ruin the lives of Hogan’s crew, the show wouldn’t have worked. Hulk Hogan was the obvious hero, but I often found myself quietly rooting for Piper to finally get over. Oh, the intense internal drama of a six-year-old.
So, imagine the wonder and amazement of a naïve six-year-old, when my dad took me to our local video store and I saw the rentable VHS copy of Wrestlemania 1. My brain nearly exploded out of my head when I realized that Hulk Hogan, the cartoon character from my Saturday morning adventures, was a REAL PERSON. Not only that, but he was standing in a friendly pose next to the guy from the A-Team!
As I got home and excitedly popped in the tape, I began to realize that Hogan was not the only character from the cartoon that was an honest-to-goodness human being. I saw Andre the Giant, Big John Studd, Junkyard Dog, Tito Santana, Wendi Richter, Iron Shiek, Nikolai Volkoff, and The Fabulous Moolah. One after the other, fantasy became reality as more and more characters appeared on my TV screen. As the main event approached, I kept holding out hope that the one missing individual would eventually show up.
And there he was.
Led to the ring by what Gorilla Monsoon called his “bagpipe entourage,” Roddy Piper made his way down the Madison Square Garden aisle, dressed in his trademark kilt and wearing a crap-eating grin that made me smile as well (despite the audible vitriol from the crowd). And even though his team wasn’t victorious at the first Wrestlemania (Damn you, and your cast, Bob Orton!), I always held a special place in my heart for ‘Hot Rod.’
I cheered and laughed when he body slammed Mr. T (in the middle of a boxing match, no less) at Wrestlemania 2 and cut the hair of Adrian Adonis at Wrestlemania 3.
I gasped at Piper’s audacity and guile when he smashed a coconut over the head of Jimmy Snuka, and wrestled with half of his body covered in black body paint, against Bad News Brown, at Wrestlemania 6.
Years later, my dad would bring home a VHS copy of ‘They Live.’ Initially, the eight-year-old me had zero interest in watching the film. My dad’s claims of “It’s John Carpenter, bud!” meant nothing to me. I just saw the creepy-looking creature in the reflection of a pair of sunglasses, on the cover, and wanted no part of the nightmares that were sure to follow.
That is, until my dad told me that the man behind the sunglasses was Roddy Piper.
If anybody was tough (and crazy) enough to give these aliens what they deserved, it was the ‘Rowdy’ one. I’ll never forget how I had to pick my jaw off the floor when he delivered his famous line, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
For the rest of his career, in my eyes, Roddy Piper could do no wrong.
When Hulk Hogan turned heel in WCW, and became the hated leader of the NWO, it took Piper to come in and put him to sleep at Starrcade 1996, after telling the Hulkster, “Do you think they would’ve loved you so much, if they hadn’t hated me?” echoing my exact thoughts about the Saturday morning cartoon years earlier.
Despite bumps in the road along the way (physically, mentally, and emotionally), Piper was a devoted family man and leaves behind a legacy of four children and four grandchildren. His ‘Rowdy’ namesake is also carried by the most dominant fighter on the planet, Ronda Rousey, who used the nickname with Piper’s blessing. Rousey’s gift of gab, and ability to back up that talk in the cage, is a fitting tribute to the memory of Piper.
This one hurts. RIP ‘Hot Rod.’