A truly sad day for people who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s. WWF (later WWE) wrestling champion and actor “Rowdy” Roddy Piper died in his Hollywood home on Thursday following a heart attack. He was 61 years old. His agent, Jay Schacter, confirmed the news, saying Piper died peacefully in his sleep.
Piper was a ubiquitous presence for people of my generation. I was never really allowed to watch wrestling, but the celebrity of pro wrestlers of the day permeated everything, and I vividly remember Piper with his trademark kilt and bagpipe music, screaming at people in that way only professional wrestlers could.
He was born Roderick George Toombs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada (and not Glasgow, Scotland, as his wrestling persona had him billed) and joined the WWF in 1984, the year I was born. He was literally in the public eye as long as I’ve been alive.
Perhaps his best-known, non-wrestling contribution to entertainment came in 1988 when he starred, rather surprisingly for the day, in John Carpenter’s sci-fi action classic They Live, playing Nada, the drifter looking for work who stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses which allow him to see our alien overlords for who they really are. He brought a huge amount to the role, ad libbing the film’s signature line, “I came here to chew bubble gum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubble gum.”
The movie also has what is inarguably the best fistfight ever put to celluloid. Piper and Keith David rehearsed the 6-minute brawl for two weeks and shot for three days, fully expanding what’s a quick thing in the script to one of the most iconic (and imitated) fights of the ’80s. His physicality and dedication to that role and that scene is evident no matter when you watch it.
Carpenter expressed his sadness about Piper’s passing on his Facebook page and Twitter profile, saying, “Devastated to hear the news of my friend Roddy Piper’s passing today. He was a great wrestler, a masterful entertainer and a good friend.”
Piper had been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2006, but was reportedly deemed cancer-free last November.