Friday, July 31, 2015

'Rowdy' Roddy Piper, RIP

Roddy Piper as Nada in John Carpenter's "They Live."
The passing of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at the too-young age of 61 strikes surprisingly hard. Unlike others who have died this year — Leonard Nimoy and Christopher Lee among them — “Hot Rod” died too soon. It’s a fate he shares with too many stars and former stars of professional wrestling.

The matches may be scripted, but wrestling takes a physical toll, none more brutal than what wrestlers do to themselves to make it to the top of their profession.

Still, Piper’s sudden death was a shock. Just hours earlier he was tweeting away on his frequently ungrammatical but always entertaining Twitter account. For a guy who spent the peak of his wrestling career as a heel, Piper always seemed to be the nicest of guys when it came to his fans. And Piper had lots of fans, both in and out of wrestling.

While other wrestlers have come out of the ring to try their luck in movies, few have done it so memorably as Piper did. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson may have racked up more lead roles and a lot more money at the box office, but Piper will always have John Carpenter’s “They Live.”

As a wrestler, Piper was known as much for his mic talent as for his moves in the squared circle. The man had charisma to spare, and that came through just as well on the movie screen.

For me, personally, Piper came along at just the right time. One’s teens are the perfect time to fall in love with wrestling and cheesy movies, and Hot Rod was there for both.

Back in the dark ages of cable TV, when USA Network was really worth watching, a kid could watch Rowdy Roddy ham it up in prime time during WWF (not yet WWE) matches from Madison Square Garden. Then he could tune in late on the weekend to watch Gilbert Gottfried host Piper’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick “Hell Comes to Frogtown” on “USA Up All Night.”

That, my friends, was quality television.

Piper’s death hits my inner teenager pretty hard. Piper was comfort viewing. He played the bad guy, but he was like a best friend. He had your back.

Now the curtain comes down on Piper’s Pit one last time. Cue the bagpipes.

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