Rowdy Roddy Piper: A Wild Maverick Who Died Too Soon

In 2015, the pro wrestling world lost one of its most charismatic and talented superstars. When Rowdy Roddy Piper stepped into the ring, chaos ensued. And when the smoke cleared, fans could breathe once more. We look back at Piper’s life and career, sharing lesser-known stories in our ode to a wrestling maverick.

The man, the myth, the legend: Rowdy Roddy Piper.
The man, the myth, the legend: Rowdy Roddy Piper. [Photo: WWE]

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A Star Is Born

Roderick George Toombs was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on April 17, 1954.

“I moved to a different town every year of my life,” Roddy Piper opened up in his WWE documentary Born to Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story. This included Manitoba, Canada, Port Arthur, Glasgow, Melbourne, Toronto, and Winnipeg.

Piper had a turbulent relationship with his father, causing him to leave home as a young boy.

“I picked up the bagpipes somehow,” Piper explained. “Those bagpipes have been my entire life. It was my way of escaping when I didn’t have any place to go.”

Roddy was thirteen years old and on the streets when he left home.

He learned to box and wrestle to dispel his anger and pent-up aggression. As a result, he proved himself a tough competitor and won several tournaments in both sports.

He also learned Judo under the legendary Gene Lebell.

Early Wrestling Career

Rowdy Roddy Piper never had any aspirations of becoming a professional wrestler. He just fell into it by chance.

According to Piper, “I was in the Police Athletic League. I was the 167 amateur champion. Somebody didn’t show up at the Winnipeg Arena, and I came fifth in the world playing bagpipes, and they said, ‘I’ll pay you $25 bucks.’

“The guy didn’t know my name and didn’t care, and I walked into the arena, and he said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, here comes…’

“My Christian name is Roderick, and he says, ‘Roddy, uh, the Piper,’ and the ‘the’ got dropped.”

Roddy had his first match against a towering wrestler, Larry “The Axe” Hennig (father of “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig), at fifteen. Larry Hennig was 6’5 and 320 pounds. Piper was demolished in ten seconds. Roddy was paid $25.00 Canadian. It was the shortest match in the history of the Winnipeg Arena.

From that day forward, he became obsessed. Piper expressed, “You know, when I started professional wrestling, I was a skinny little kid, wore a kilt, played the bagpipes, and lived on an Indian reservation. What else could I be but a professional wrestler?”

To break into the wrestling business at the age of 15 in the 1970s was incredibly difficult. However, this would be the beginning of his wrestling journey.

Rowdy Roddy Piper early in his wrestling career.
Rowdy Roddy Piper early in his wrestling career.

Leo Garabaldi was the man who gave Piper his first big break in Los Angeles, California.

Garabaldi told Piper to get in the ring with the beefy Java Ruuk and not touch him for 45 minutes but take a beating instead.

Roddy started managing Ruuk (aka Johnny Rodz) a week later. They put a microphone in his hand and told him to say whatever he wanted.

Through the early to mid-’70s, Piper worked for the AWA and the NWA. He made quite an impression early on in his career. In L.A., he insulted Mexican fans by stating he would play their national anthem on his bagpipes. Instead, he played La Cucaracha.

Riots broke out.

This opened up many opportunities for the young wrestler as a heel. He squared off with the likes of the legendary Chavo Guerrero, Sr., and Gory Guerrero, the father of WWE legend Eddie Guerrero. He had a three-year run with Chavo Guerrero, Sr., because they clicked so well.

Cool Facts From His Time in Wrestling

Over time, Roddy Piper gradually grew to be a polarizing figure. Eventually, he became a part of Jim Crockett Promotions.

At Starrcade ’83, Piper had a lauded dog collar match with Greg Valentine. According to Piper, the match was his idea. This match made him a star and provided him with much notoriety.

The bout was so brutal that he lost most of the hearing in his left ear. Regardless of the damage he took, which affected him for the rest of his life, Piper carried on with the match and won.

Greg Valentine said, “Whether he looks it or not, he’s a tough guy.”

They would endure this brutal match numerous times in various towns across the wrestling circuit.

At NWA Starrcade 1983, Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine competed in one of the most dangerous matches of their career – a Dog Collar match. Both combatants bashed each other with the steel chain that bound them together throughout the bout. They would perform this violent match around forty times throughout the territory. [TM / Photo Copyright – Wayne C. Culler]
At NWA Starrcade 1983, Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine competed in one of the most dangerous matches of their career – a Dog Collar match. Both combatants bashed each other with the steel chain that bound them together throughout the bout. They would perform this violent match around forty times throughout the territory. [TM / Photo Copyright – Wayne C. Culler]

Memorable Moments on Piper’s Pit

A few months later, Rowdy Roddy Piper was signed to Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation but he didn’t start wrestling right away.

He began as a manager for Dr. D David Schultz and Paul Orndorff and made an impression with his trash talk and mic skills.

Piper would stand out even more with his Piper’s Pit segments. Piper verbally and physically destroyed Frank Williams on one legendary show.

Ricky Steamboat spoke in Piper’s documentary, stating, “Here’s a guy that was intelligent, quick-witted, and coming up with lines that either made you hate him or made you laugh, and it was a good part for our business.”

Piper’s Pit still stands the test of time.

One of the most insane moments in professional wrestling history was when Piper smashed a coconut on Jimmy Snuka’s head. It startled wrestling fans and made him one of the top villains in the WWF.

Legendary Piper’s Pit segment in 1984, just before Roddy Piper hit Jimmy
Legendary Piper’s Pit segment in 1984, just before Roddy Piper hit Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka with a coconut!

During this time, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Randy Orton’s father, posed as Piper’s bodyguard. The two were very close and watched each other’s backs in and out of the ring. They had developed a strong friendship and traveled together.

Bob Orton expressed, “Roddy and I really clicked. We were hot; we’d go to these arenas, and we had trouble getting in the building, let alone getting out.”

In 1985, Vince McMahon introduced the world to WrestleMania. Here, Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff squared off with Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.

Vince McMahon had the bright idea of getting other celebrities and MTV involved in the event. Cyndi Lauper was one of the stars. Piper kicked Cyndi Lauper and smashed a record over Captain Lou Albano’s head.

At WrestleMania 1, Piper and Orndorff were on the losing end of the match with Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. This, however, was the beginning of a long feud between Roddy Piper and Mr. T.

The tension between the two was more than a work.

According to Piper, “I was at the top of Rockefeller Center at a press conference. I was late, the door was closed, I came in the door, and there was Mr. T, Hogan, Vince McMahon, and Orndorff. I came in, and Mr. T flexed his arm, and said, ‘Feel that– it’s pretty hard!’

“I looked at him, squeezed his head, and said, ‘It’s pretty soft!’

“I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to touch him.”

At WrestleMania 2, Piper and Mr. T squared off in a boxing match. Piper lost the match by disqualification after body-slamming Mr. T.

Many wrestlers believed that if the boxing match had been real, Roddy Piper would have beaten Mr. T. According to King Kong Bundy, “Roddy had the fastest hands I’ve ever seen. Roddy could have kicked T’s a**!”

That time "Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. T donned a pair of boxing gloves and fought at WrestleMania 2!
That time “Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. T donned a pair of boxing gloves and fought at WrestleMania 2!

Later on, Adrian Adonis had a segment, and it was only a matter of time before Piper and Adonis went head to head.

In this feud, Piper was no longer a heel. The loser of the match had to cut his hair in a Hair vs. Hair match.

At WrestleMania 3, Roddy Piper and Adrian Adonis wrestled in front of roughly 90,000 people. Piper came out on top and kept his hair.

A Rowdy One in Hollywood

It was around this point when Roddy Piper decided to make a change and take a break from wrestling; the next move was movies.

In 1988, Piper made his mark in the motion picture industry with his performance in the John Carpenter-directed They Live. In the film, he had an epic fight scene with Keith David which soon developed a considerable cult following, along with his movie that followed, Hell Comes to Frogtown.

Roddy Piper (Nada) and Keith David (Frank) in They Live.
Roddy Piper (Nada) and Keith David (Frank) in John Carpenter-directed film, They Live.

Later Wrestling Career

In the years that followed, Rowdy Roddy Piper continued to wrestle, do his Pit, and co-host Prime Time Wrestling with Gorilla Monsoon.

His major feuds included “Ravishing” Rick Rude and Bad News Brown.

Piper’s program with Bad News Brown was very controversial. Leading up to WrestleMania 6 in 1990, Brown and Hot Rod engaged in major trash talk. Bad News made fun of his kilt, and Piper painted half of his face black.

Piper eventually won the Intercontinental Championship.

During this point in his career, he had an incredible feud with “The Hitman” Bret Hart. However, in 1992, at WrestleMania 8, he lost his belt to Bret.

In March 1994, at WrestleMania 10, Hart and Yokozuna were set to face off against each other. Piper would become involved in the match, only this time around, he would be the special guest referee.

“Piper was sort of in and out because he was making movies,” Jerry “The King” Lawler said of this time in Piper’s career. “Piper’s Pit was no more, and the King’s Court was the show’s big talk or interview segment.”

In June 1994, Jerry Lawler stated he would interview Roddy on an episode of Raw. Instead of Piper, a Piper impersonator came out to humiliate him. This led to a match, but it was a lackluster performance.

In 1996, at WrestleMania 12, Piper had taken the place of Razor Ramon in a Hollywood Backlot Brawl against Goldust (Dustin Rhodes) since Razor did not want to work with Rhodes.

The fight was entertaining and even cinematic. Unfortunately, both men got hurt.

Piper suffered a broken hand when he punched Goldust on the forehead. Goldust suffered a concussion.

Trouble in WCW

That same year, Piper made his first appearance in World Championship Wrestling.

“I’m an independent contractor. WCW, Hogan had been there, Hall, Nash, etc.; you know they’re on a roll. I had not been working for Vince. I think I was doing movies,” Roddy explained, “Why did I leave WWE? Money. More money.”

Hogan wanted to renew their legendary feud. Piper would defeat Hogan at Starrcade but lost to Hogan at the SuperBrawl.

It seemed as if his glory days were now behind him. He had backstage heat with Hall and Nash of the nWo (you can learn more about his backstage fight with them here).

Piper’s future at the company was looking uncertain. He even took WCW to court and left there in 2000.

A fight between Kevin Nash and Roddy Piper took place backstage at WCW’s Slamboree ’97 pay-per-view. Here, both men give their differing takes on what happened.
While in WCW, Roddy Piper had backstage issues with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.

Final Years

In 2003, Hot Rod returned to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) after a hiatus at WrestleMania 19 and interfered in a Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon match. He also managed a young up-and-comer named Sean O’Haire.

Soon later, Piper transitioned to a different and much smaller organization called TNA. His most epic moment in TNA was his segment with Vince Russo. He accused Vince Russo of killing Owen Hart.

In 2005 Piper was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Pipers Pit continued with many superstars, some of whom were up and comers in the business. In addition, Piper continued to wrestle from time to time. He even teamed up with Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat to take on Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 25.

The Death of Rowdy Roddy Piper

In his later years, Roddy Piper fought and beat cancer. However, he would sadly die of a heart attack on July 31st, 2015. He was 61 years old.

Roddy left behind his longtime wife Kitty and children Ariel Teal, Colton, Falon Danika, and Anastacia Toombs.

Roddy Piper was unique, outlandish, and rowdy. His talents will continue to inspire future generations of wrestlers.

Long live Hot Rod!

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Geries Tadros is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories and has written for Furious Cinema and Grind House Database. He can be reached on Instagram at @geriestadros and by e-mail at geritadros@gmail.com.