I’ve spent the better part of the past 5 days attempting to grasp the concept that the world has one less ass-kicker (bubble gum not included) in it. For as much as I’d think that I would sadly be used to professional wrestlers passing away these days (including the recent death of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes), the loss of the Hot Rod hit me hard. Really hard. Especially after coming to the realization that for as much as I love listening to him telling stories, there won’t be any more new episodes of his podcast to look forward to.
I initially started paying attention to pro wrestling at the age of 11, in that window between WrestleMania 6 and SummerSlam 1990 (back when the then-WWF only conducted four pay-per-view events per year). At that time, Piper had just come off of a match at WM against Bad News Brown, and was floating in limbo until 1991 when he played into the storyline of Virgil vs Ted DiBiase. Nonetheless, he was a polarizing character who immediately grabbed my attention. Going and renting VHS tapes from the local video library store allowed me to go watch older matches and promos of his (this was long before the interwebz, kids). I had become a fan. He also entertained me outside of the ring (and “Piper’s Pit”). Go google “Tag Team” with Roddy Piper and Jesse Ventura. It’s cheesy, yet comical.
Then, I found a way to become an even bigger fan of his. Once upon a time (1993-ish), WWF had a weekly radio show on Saturday evenings, “Radio WWF”. Hosted by Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Ross (and later, Vince McMahon), they would occasionally have guests on the show, and listeners could call in and interact with the guests. On one particular week, their guest was the one and only “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and I got to spend a minute or two on the phone with him. Couldn’t have been a nicer guy. Thankfully, somewhere amidst my archive of old audio cassette tapes, I have (at least most of) this conversation recorded. One of these days, I’ll have to find that tape and dust it off, and convert it over to digital.
Over the years that I’ve followed pro wrestling, some of my favorite characters have been the in-your-face, solid talkers, take-no-crap attitude, kick-ass-and-take-names guys. The Road Warriors. Brian Pillman. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. CM Punk. And currently, Dean Ambrose. Piper paved the road for all of these guys.
Piper was more than just a legend. He was an architect. And the professional wrestling business is a much more solid structure because of the work he put into building it.
Farewell, Hot Rod. Hopefully Heaven is full of bubble gum.