Dr. Mike Lano Remembers Rowdy Roddy Piper


Article & photos by Dr. Mike Lano

Still trying to process Dusty Rhodes and Verne Gagne’s passings (and that of Hogan’s career).  Now this.

 

This is really hard to take in because he was still a kid at 61.  Way, way too young to leave this world.  The Hodgkins had reportedly been in remission for years, according to him directly to me.

 

 

Roddy Piper with his wife Kitty - photo by Dr. Mike Lano

Roddy Piper with his wife Kitty – photo by Dr. Mike Lano

 

I’d first taken photos of him in KC and Houston before Red Bastien recommended him (think Red had a hand in Paul Boesch’s back office in Houston) to Roy Shire and also to Red’s long-time inner friend circle in Leo Garabaldi.  Red and Leo had been friends for a zillion years and Leo was thankfully taking over the pencil as booker for Mike Lebell from Louie Tillet.  Tillet was a super nice guy, but just was killing our home base Los Angeles/Mike Lebell territory where I was one of the ringside program photographers.  You’ve heard the story – Roddy was going to do a one or two shot for Lebell and then start full-time for Shire up in San Francisco/NorCal territory.  I photographed Roddy’s very first match at the L.A. Olympic for our biggest show of the year = the first show of the year in our January 1976 battle royal.  His hair was bleached blonde, he was skinny with face and back pimples, and debuted before the main event 22 man battle royal as a nondescript face in a face/face “scientific” match with long time terrific journeyman Tony Rocco (who had a lot of NJPW success).  Rocco actually held several of our local titles, played the masked heel “Baron” manager in Houston, and had a lot of success for Leroy McGuirk and Roy Shire’s territories, and loves the biz to this day.

 

Leo Garabaldi saw something in Roddy working that match plus the battle royal, and asked Shire if he could have him the rest of the week.  Tuesday nights were the typical satellite “club” night for San Diego shows, and Leo said he created and crafted (with some phone Red Bastien input) the whole heel gimmick. Roddy already knew how to play the “pipes” and Leo told him what to say, how to act, how to take forever to take his kilt off amidst what would be a regular gimmick to piss off fans and get them to catcall and boo.  He became an immediate hit and soon took over as our top heel after a horrific 1975 where I thought our territory was going to choke.  Just an awful year.  Garabaldi proved a genius and helped Roddy with his motormouth, mile a minute promos feeding him some old Billy Graham lines that the latter had used in L.A. back in ’72 like “TBone Steaks and Barbell Plates, brother.”   Piper’s promo delivery was unique as it was whiney for the day.  Chavo Guerrero and his dad Gory had already come in months before Piper’s debut, and soon Piper and Chavo were paired.  And paired and paired for what seemed like over 2 years of them main eventing every other Friday at the Olympic Aud.  Then Mando and finally Hector were added to the mix as they came in, and when Chavo/Piper got tired (plus the allegations they also worked on Pena’s shows in Mexico City which we doubted slightly as possible phantom matches), they paired Piper with Mando y Hector.   Piper would lose his hair to Chavo, put on a Scottish plaid mask and work with Gory.  Soon in 1977 and 78, Piper was not only top heel, but also managing a stable that included Mr. Mexico (jobber Tony Russo), Mr. America (not sure who he was) and Detroit/Sheik huge star Crusher Verdu who’d worked with Bruno at the old MSG.

 

Roddy Piper with Penny Banner - photo by Dr. Mike Lano

Roddy Piper with Penny Banner – photo by Dr. Mike Lano

 

Something unique in Los Angeles occurred as Leo gave Piper all our area belts including our lead singles belt – the America’s Championship, the America’s Tag Straps (all by himself which was weird), the old Beat the Champ tv title and yes, the Jules Strongbow “Scientific” trophy.  Piper and Chavo swapped with each guy holding all our area titles which made no sense at the time, since it only elevated one person and not 4 or 5.  Piper also debuted something unique to Mexico or perhaps unique for any area in also being assigned as Heel Referee.  He’d do slow counts, everything setting the stage for Mexico’s El Tirantes y el Tirantes Jr. (his son now in EMLL/CMLL/Paco Alonso).

 

And yes, Roddy did debut for Roy Shire in ’77 at Roy’s Sacramento tiny tv studio at channel 40.  I have the original 3/4 master tape of that which is crystal clear.  He soon took over the lead heel spot from departing Bob Roop (along with departing Kev Sullivan who Piper would have a long friendship with and great alligator 1983 stories later on) for Shire feuding with a face turned Lonnie Mayne, Don Muraco, Dean Ho, Pepper Gomez, Jimmy Snuka and more.  Yep, Piper and Lonnie were actually main eventing in two territories at the same time which was really unheard of unless you were Dusty Rhodes.  But they did this until Lonnie’s death in that horrific car crash on his way between these territories.  Lonnie teamed as a heel with Piper in L.A. but they feuded in SF.   Roddy told me a TON of Lonnie stories like the bit we’d already heard of directly from Lonnie himself.  That Lonnie would at times allegedly spit up in the air (where do you think Mick F got it from?- it was a bit Lonnie surely created) when he and his wife were in bed.  She’d want to avoid it and ducked under the covers only to be met with a fart from Lonnie).  Yep.  Lonnie went there according to both the source himself, and Roddy.

 

You all know the rest. Roddy allegedly quit our territory over money (only to be replaced by Eddy Mansfield doing all of Piper’s stuff-trying to play lead heel, managing a stable including Leroy Brown, heel reefing but Eddy was no Piper).   And from SF, Roddy went to work for a man whom he trusted and felt was a father figure for him in Portland’s Don Owen.  Roddy said on my radio show (I had him on 7 total times over the years) that Portland was the very first territory where he felt comfortable and enjoyed himself 24/7, which was why he ended up settling there and always returning anytime Don needed him (like to get Art Beetlejuice Barr over in that debuting gimmick).  He had all that great MidAt and Georgia Championship Wrestling history (where he really IMO became a true global main event pro wrestler after blooming and finessing in Portland) before being picked up by Vince going national at the earliest stages.

 

You all know the rest. Roddy allegedly quit our territory over money (only to be replaced by Eddy Mansfield doing all of Piper’s stuff-trying to play lead heel, managing a stable including Leroy Brown, heel reefing but Eddy was no Piper).   And from SF, Roddy went to work for a man whom he trusted and felt was a father figure for him in Portland’s Don Owen.  Roddy said on my radio show (I had him on 7 total times over the years) that Portland was the very first territory where he felt comfortable and enjoyed himself 24/7, which was why he ended up settling there and always returning anytime Don needed him (like to get Art Beetlejuice Barr over in that debuting gimmick).  He had all that great MidAt and Georgia Championship Wrestling history (where he really IMO became a true global main event pro wrestler after blooming and finessing in Portland) before being picked up by Vince going national at the earliest stages.

 

Back to homebase Los Angeles, Roddy’s managing stable included people who’d go on to be his friends for life in Outlaw Ron Bass and a then skinny Keith Frankes. Who’d go on to become Adrian Adonis (Roddy used to call him “Frankie” in L.A. during that time).  Professor Hiro Ota all before Roddy lost his hair a second time in a hair/hair match this time with Mando Guerrero along with loser leaves town stips.  So Roddy of course didn’t go anywhere and became the masked Canadian speaking zilch. “I just did a lot of gesturing, hoping fans wouldn’t figure out it was the skinny, pimply but talented kid who started out his wrestling career, jobbing quickly to Larry Hennig in Winnepeg.”  While still based in L.A., Roddy also came to Houston quite a bit to feud with Chavo, Mando, Gordman and Goliath, etc. anytime promoting good guy Paul Boesch asked him to “come in and do some shots.”

 

Roddy Piper, Mitchell, & Ricky Steamboat - photo by Mike Lano

Roddy Piper, Mitchell, & Ricky Steamboat – photo by Mike Lano

 

As wild and hard to figure out as his promos were in L.A., he got better with them everywhere he went next: SF, Portland and really nailed things putting his whole package together in Charlotte and Atlanta.  Forget about all the cool stuff he did his first year for Vince Jr. The real gold appears to be Roddy’s earlier magic for MidAtlantic and Georgia Championship.   Dressed in that cool “Scotch” stereotypical plaid sports coat while doing the first national heel color commentator job so well paired with Gordon Solie – we’ll all have those magic memories of him forever.  Then defending Gordon who Don Muraco threatened to go after, turning Roddy face.  Wow.  That last match before he quit Ole or Ole fired him? was to have been against Jerry Lawler at the Omni, but it never came about.  Both in their prime for what would’ve been more Piper magic with someone at his level in Lawler.

 

More thoughts to come but Roddy should know how much he gave to the biz, and how loved he was by his longtime friends, fans, etc.

 

The perfect way to start RAW this Monday would be to open with Piper bagpipe music.  Besides local and national news showing footage of him in his WWF prime only, bungling his name or accomplishments (GMA called him “Rodder” Piper) our S.F. affiliates here spent some time showing Oakland A’s player (and longtime pro w lover) Josh Reddick have Piper’s WWF bagpipe music entrance as his own entrance music last night, which continued playing the whole time he was at the plate.  Normally, Josh’s walk-up music is Hogan’s Real American music.  Not last night and channel 7/ABC’s sports anchor Larry Biel even commented on Josh tearing up at the plate since he was a super Piper mark.

 

What makes this tougher to absorb is I had lunch with RP the day of Hall of Fame, which I think was March 28th. We’d all ride on WWE’s bus to the San Jose HP Pavillion (the Shark Tank as we call it here), but ate at the San Jose Fairmont Hotel which was the boys’ hotel for all of Mania and where all the credentialing, etc. occurred.  Taker Mark came by and shook hands and talked with RP and got them to pose.  Taker always super respectful to Roddy, as any talent should be.  I”ll also never forget how Roddy protected himself and tried to help others at that 2007 Cow Palace fiasco where the husband/wife neophyte promoters snuck out on night 2 of 3 planned days, with the cash box and all money that was meant to pay the wrestlers and MMA’s there.  On night 1, Roddy told me he smelled a rat ,and before he’d do his one man show the next day/Saturday, he had to toss the promoter (Chris Salisbury who used a ton of other names like Kris Cramer) on the ground in the hotel lobby and threaten to kick his ass if he didn’t get all his money as cash. He along with the TNA talent who Bob Behrens had gotten paid in full in advance, was amongst the few lucky ones who weren’t completely cheated out of all their money and plane/hotel fare by scumbags Chris and Jasmin Salisbury/Cramer.  RP agreed with me years later. The worst ripoff any of us had ever seen from a wrestling convention/markfest.

 

Who wasn’t?   Rod, we miss you already.   No one down here was ready to let you go so young.   Thanks for all you did while you were here.  What a magical legacy you created which no one will touch.

 

– Article & photos by Dr. Mike Lano

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply