Rowdy Roddy Piper Always Knew How to Make an Exit
– Mike Mooneyham
Henry Marcus was pacing nervously through the dressing room at County Hall.
“Anyone seen Roddy Piper yet?” the veteran promoter asked a group of wrestlers huddled in the corner.
Glen Lane of Charleston was one of those grapplers on the show that night in 1983. He vividly recalls the sense of desperation that was mounting as bell time neared and one of his two main-event combatants was nowhere to be found.
Although Marcus was simply displaying the angst of a promoter who dreaded finding a last-minute replacement for his star attraction, the other wrestlers in the dressing room were confident that Piper would never let down a promoter or his audience.
But time was nearing for his “New York Street Fight” with Greg Valentine, recalls Lane, and the 15-minute intermission between semifinal and main event had already begun.
“Henry was walking from dressing room to dressing room, asking if anyone had seen or heard from Piper,” said Lane, who had already showered after working the third match on the show. “He was a nervous wreck.”
Mere minutes before bell time, Lane heard someone walking up the stairs toward the locker room. The back door suddenly opened. It was Roddy Piper.
“He had pulled up in the back of the building and left his Cadillac running,” said Lane. “He was in his street clothes, pulled out a link of chain and took his jacket off.”
“I’ll be back in just a minute … watch that for me,” Piper instructed Lane.
Piper walked to the ring, whipped the crowd into a frenzy and left Valentine lying in a bloody heap in the middle of the ring in less than 10 minutes.
Without missing a beat, Piper briskly returned to the dressing room, grabbed his coat, and told Lane, “I appreciate that. I’ve got to go.”
“And he was gone,” said Lane. “Never saw Henry, never said a word to nobody, he just came and did his thing and was gone. By the time Valentine got to the back, Roddy was probably already down I-26. That’s a professional right there. He was old school. He was supposed to be there and he was going to be there and put on a show.”
Just as quickly as he exited that old building more than 30 years ago, Rowdy Roddy Piper left a loving family, countless friends and millions of fans when he passed away suddenly, in his sleep, on July 31.
Never forgot fans
Roddy Piper, born Roderick George Toombs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, left a lasting impression throughout the world during his 61 years.
His exploits in and out of the ring, his film accomplishments and his influence on pop culture have all been well documented.
But what many never got the chance to see was what I found most impressive about Hot Rod. He loved the fans, and never forget his hardscrabble beginnings.
He was kicked out of junior high school and left home at an early age. An outcast of society, the teenage runaway played his bagpipes on the streets for quarters to get into youth hostels. Inexperienced and undersized, he broke into the rugged mat business while still a teenager.
And, in his words, “They didn’t want me in the business. It was simple as that.”
The fact that Piper wore a kilt and played bagpipes as part of his ring act made it all the worse.
The saving grace, he said, was that the wrestling business had given him something to cling to. It gave him a shot at being somebody.
When he made the “big time,” Roddy made it a point to remember his fans. When cameras weren’t running and no one was looking, he could be found signing that last autograph, honoring that last photo request. And when he spoke to fans, it wasn’t an abbreviated, obligatory nod. He would make face contact and engage in conversation.
“He was top of the line,” said Lane. “He was real old school. He was a true classic.”
And, ultimately, Roddy Piper was as big as they got in the sports entertainment genre.
“Do you think they would’ve loved you so much if they hadn’t hated me?” he once asked Hulk Hogan.
No truer words were ever spoken, says Piper doppelganger Ric Flair. “He made Hogan.”
Final exit plan
It was as though Piper knew his ultimate fate long before it befell him.
The fact that he was one of the wild boys of the business was not lost to anyone in the profession. He settled down in later years, but the scars remained.
The wrestling business, with its fame and corresponding adulation, had a great entrance plan, he told Bryant Gumbel in a 2003 interview, but “it’s got no exit plan.” Piper was still working because he couldn’t get anything from his pension until he turned 65, and “I’m not going to make 65,” he said.
It was a cruel twist of fate, to be sure, but nobody will ever say Piper didn’t live life to the fullest.
One of my lasting memories of Roddy was more than three decades ago and early in his run as a top heel in the Carolinas. He had used some nefarious tactics to get the win over a beloved babyface, and while making his way to the dressing room, an irate fan armed with a full cup of beer decided to target the Rowdy One.
Piper ducked, the flying projectile missed its mark, and its foamy contents instead splattered in the face of my future wife, who had made the dubious decision to attend her first live wrestling show with me.
Roddy looked back, flashed one of his devilish winks, and successfully made it to the back.
The kid always did know how to make an exit.
Old School show
Old School Championship Wrestling returns to the Hanahan Rec Center on Sunday.
The show will be highlighted by Brandon Paradise vs. Caprice Coleman; Lodi and Sick Boy vs. Brian Bush and Geter; and the return of Peter “The Superhuman” Kaasa.
Bell time is 5 p.m. Doors open at 4:30.
Adult admission (cash at door) is $10; kids (12 and under) $5. For more information, call 743-4800 or visit oscwonline.com.
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Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.