Growing up a pro wrestling fan in a pro wrestling obsessed family, I was fortunate enough to not have someone constantly hovering over and telling me, as adults tend to tell kids, “You know this is fake, right?”
Whether I was told that it was pre-determined, or fixed, or rigged, or however else you want to put it, my belief in what was happening on my television was properly suspended, at least to a point. I knew these guys weren’t actually trying to kill one another, but I respected the craft and the artistry that went into their performance. And while I understood it wasn’t a completely legitimate contest, in my childhood naiveté, this knowledge didn’t quite transfer to the performers themselves. As far as I was concerned, Big Boss Man really was a cop, and George “The Animal” Steele really was some sort of crazed wild man.
Most importantly, in my mind, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper really was a fiery, Scottish ass-kicker, and as a young, Scotch-Irish fan, someone I could finally relate to.
In the prime of 1980’s WWF, the scrappy Piper felt like the genuine article, especially so among his cartoonish contemporaries. Before he made his way to my television I didn’t see these performers as truly three-dimension people, with their own various thoughts, feelings, and agency. Whether he was talking trash to the competition or hosting interviews in his “Piper’s Pit” segment, he articulated the reasons and emotions behind his actions in a way that made him feel so much more authentic when compared to the typical, raving lunatic promos of the 80’s.
Though to be fair, Piper’s typical, raving lunatic promo was stellar, too.
Beyond the chaos and attitude that tends to most define the work of Roddy Piper, its his humility as a performer that always resonated and influenced me as a fan of professional wrestling. To see this first hand, I encourage you to watch his Wrestlemania VIII bout with Bret “The Hitman” Hart for the Intercontinental Championship. I don’t want to spoil this in the event that any of you haven’t seen it first-hand, but here you’ll watch Roddy come from being an incorrigible family friend, to the villainous monster that defined his career, to finally, an honorable man and champion. It’s a master class of in-ring storytelling and no one could have ever of pulled it off better.
Roddy Piper may have actually hailed from Saskatchewan, Canada, but in my mind he was truly from Glasgow, Scotland. He wore the kilt with pride and he never pandered. He barked and he scrapped and he fought, and even in a loss he never let it defeat him. In a world of crummy stereotypes, Roddy Piper was the real deal.
Growing up in a land of giants, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper helped me realize that you didn’t have to be the biggest, or the strongest, or even the most successful to get ahead in life. You just had to fight hard enough for it.
And maybe smash a dude with a coconut at some point. It couldn’t hurt.