Sadly, we lost another ’80s icon. Roderick George “Roddy” Toombs, a.k.a “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, died in his sleep from a heart attack on July 31 at the age of 61. Piper was always one of my favorite wrestlers.
Hulk Hogan gets all the credit for the historic revival of professional wrestling. However, every great hero needs a great villain. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was more than up to the task. I began watching wrestling every Saturday, beginning in the early ’80s. I watched the likes of “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, and Pedro Morales. Bob Backlund was the world champion, but we didn’t get to watch him on TV. The only time we saw him was on interviews, or if you went to a live show. The downside of wrestling on Saturday mornings was that the matches were way too predictable. A big name wrestler would face off some “no-name” guy, so you would always know the outcome.
Around 1984, a new segment began airing during the show – Piper’s Pit. Predictability went out the window at that point! “Rowdy” Roddy would interview fellow wrestlers. Several times, if Piper was interviewing a good guy, the segment would end with Piper beating the crap out of the other guy. In one of the most famous episodes, Piper was interviewing Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. He was making fun of Snuka’s Polynesian heritage, then smashed him in the head with a coconut and rubbed a banana in his face, and whipped him with a belt.
Piper’s infamy soared with the Rock and Wrestling story arc. “Captain” Lou Albano was a manager in the WWF (as a bad guy) when he appeared in Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” video. He then had a rivalry with Lauper that crossed over to the wrestling world. There was a WWF special, that was aired on MTV, called The Brawl to End it All. Albano managed WWF Women’s Champion The Fabulous Moolah, while Lauper managed challenger Wendi Richter. Richter went on to win, and Cyndi and Captain Lou reconciled, and he became a good guy.
In December 1984, Cyndi Lauper was presenting an award to Captain Lou. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was angry about this Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection where MTV and the WWF cross promoted each other. So, he interrupted the ceremony, and smashed Captain Lou. Cyndi grabbed on to Piper’s leg, and he kicked her across the ring. This prompted Hulk Hogan to come out to the rescue. This set up The War to Settle the Score.
The War to Settle the Score was aired on MTV on February 18, 1985. The lead-up to it was awesome! Piper would hate on popular musicians of the time. And the musicians would say how Hogan was going to kill Piper. I’m not sure if the WWF and MTV were ever more popular, at this point in history, than they were at any other time. Later on that year, Live Aid would take place. So, I think 1985 was the greatest year of MTV. I can easily say that I was glued on to MTV on Febuary 18th to watch this wrestling event. I remember that the match was actually pretty good. Then the referee got knocked out, and all hell broke loose. Paul Orndorff and “Rowdy” Roddy began beating on Hogan. Cyndi Lauper jumped up on the ring apron, yelling at Piper and Ordorff. They were approaching her, then Mr. T came to the rescue. It’s safe to say, 14 year old me lost my shit when that happened! There was no more popular celebrity at the time than Mr. T. Hogan got back on his feet, and he and Mr. T chased off the bad guys.
This led to the showdown at the original Wrestlemania, where Hulk Hogan and Mr. T faced off against Piper and Orndorff in a tag team match. Hogan and Mr. T won when Cowboy Bob Orton tried to hit Hogan with his cast, and hit Orndorff instead.
Then Piper disappeared for a while. He returned to find out that his Piper’s Pit segment was replaced with The Flower Shop, hosted by a bad guy, Adrian Adonis. So, they began a rivalry, with Piper changing roles, and becoming a good guy. They faced off in Wrestlemania III (in my opinion, the best Wrestlemania of all-time) in a hair v.s hair match. It was Piper’s “retirement” match. He ended his career on a great note, winning the match. Then Brutus Beefcake came out and shaved Adonis’ head, and became known as Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake.
It turns out, this “retirement” was needed because Piper was filming a movie – They Live. I haven’t seen that movie in years, but I remember liking it a lot. It is mainly known for Piper’s quote, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.” and for his 3 minute fight with Keith David.
He came back to wrestling as a good guy. He wrestled for many more years, and for different organizations. I fell out of wrestling by the mid-’90s, so I lost track. But, I loved watching wrestling in the ’80s, and a large part of that was due to “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Here is a treat I’ll leave you with. It is the entire broadcast of The War to Settle the Score. It is split up into three parts. Even if you aren’t (or never were) into wrestling, I high recommend you watch these anyway, if you love the ’80s. There are a lot of appearances by your favorite artists. Some of them are so funny! This is especially true in the first and third video. And in the third video, it should be noted that Andy Warhol’s appearance was totally improvised. He was a huge wrestling fan. After the event, he accidentally walked into the room where the interviews were being conducted, and Mean Gene called him over. Priceless! Enjoy!
I’m sad that we lost the Rowdy one. But, he left a lot of great memories.
[twitter-follow screen_name=’returntothe80s’ show_count=’yes’ text_color=’00ccff’]