A wrestling community still reeling from the passing of the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes was dealt another crushing blow this weekend; the shocking death of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
In the 24 hours that followed the announcement of his passing, the Internet positively blew up with comments from fans, friends and colleagues of the Hot Rod, all paying tribute to one of the industry’s all-time greats.
Indeed, I’ve no doubt that this will be only one of countless articles paying homage to the bag-pipe wielding maniac that was such a prevalent part of many a wrestling fan’s childhood. It was the same when Dusty passed away, and the Warrior, and the irreplaceable “Macho Man” Randy Savage before him, and it’s for this reason that this writer normally avoids writing tribute pieces to our fallen heroes.
After all, what could I possibly say about Piper et al that hasn’t been said a thousand times before, and probably by people far more qualified to talk about his life and career than I? Very little, that’s what. But it’s still worth saying for the simple, raw, honest truth that few deaths in pro wrestling have hit me quite as hard as that of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
As morbid as it may be to say, certain aspects of life have led me to an acceptance that death is a big part of it. As much as it hurt on a personal level to hear that Dusty, or Savage or even my own personal childhood hero, Davey Boy Smith The British Bulldog, passed away, it was possible to come to terms with those.
Birth, life, and then eventual death, that’s what happens to mortals, but Piper was no mere mortal, and this wasn’t supposed to happen to him.
Every time I saw the man on my television, on the web, or at a live show, he had this youthful exuberance about him that was positively infectious. There was an undeniable energy that just surrounded him, radiating throughout whatever arena he happened to be in, sinking beneath the skin of both the live crowd and those he shared the ring with and pulling them all along for one hell of a wild ride.
And then there was that smile. You know the one I’m talking about. You can see it now, can’t you? That delirious, wide-eyed, maniacal smile. The kind of wonderfully genuine smile that always seemed to suggest the Hot Rod was privy to a big secret the rest of us would never learn. I almost thought I’d learned it though, every time I saw that smile, something in me told me that beneath whatever crazy, captivating promo he was delivering, he was looking at us all with a wink and smile and saying ‘I’m gonna live forever, baby.’
And in a way, he will. Sure, Hot Rod may have passed from this Earth and gone on to raise hell in heaven with Dusty, Adrian Adonis and all those other fallen heroes, but is there any doubt that those moments he left behind will live on even after many of us reading this have done our time?
I could spend the rest of this article reminding you about some of those moments. I could tell you how his dramatic, intense WrestleMania 8 battle with Bret “The Hitman” Hart over the Intercontinental Championship is one of my favourite matches of all time. I could tell you about how his -admittedly ridiculous- ‘Hollywood Backlot Brawl’ with Goldust four years later remains something of a guilty pleasure. I could even tell you how much I enjoyed his run at the commentary table at the turn of the 1990s. Trust me, you haven’t heard comedy until you’ve heard The Hot Rod cutting insane promos against Saddam Hussein or doing his best to convince us that The Gobbledygooker was a hit with fans in the Hartford Civic Center one fateful night in November, 1990.
I could remind you of his legendary feud with the Superfly, his role in the main event of WrestleMania 1, or all those classic brawls and promos for which he’s renowned far more than any of those personal favourites listed above.
But really, Piper’s legacy isn’t defined by any single event, angle or match. It’s something that transcends even his entire body of work as a whole. It’s that aura, that captivating presence, that feeling you got whenever those bagpipes blasted through the PA, a feeling that just about anything could happen now that Hot Rod was here, and that no matter what it was, you were sure to be entertained. It’s that alluring eccentricity, that untapped energy, and that undoubted passion that he poured into everything he did. It’s the fact that, whether he was a maniacal heel -a role we all know he was born to play- or an equally-as-insane- babyface, Piper always managed to subtly let us know that he absolutely loved what he was doing.
And of course, it’s defined by that smile, that wild, crazy, knowing smile. A smile that said ‘I’m Rowdy Roddy Piper, and dead or alive, I’m going to live forever.’
image credit – Walter Iooss Jr. – Sports Illustrated/Getty Images