Yesterday I came home to the heartbreaking news that one of my childhood heroes had kicked the bucket. In fact, Roddy Piper was probably the last of my childhood heroes before I turned my back on anything that wasn’t music. Even saying the word ‘childhood’ seems a bit of a stretch – I was eleven years old when I first watched WWF (now WWE).
I remember being sat down, watching a swimming gala with a school friend who was telling me about WWF. Wrestlemania VI was taking place that week, and taking his advice I recorded it. I’m guessing it was shown live in the UK – overnight probably – as I recall there was issues with the satellite feed in the first couple of matches.
From my first experience watching him, fighting against Bad News Brown, he was instantly my favourite. He was painted half in black, in a bold and dangerous move to prove that he wasn’t racist – something that could have easily backfired as he was essentially dressed in semi-blackface.
But he had a big, goofy smile on his face throughout. And I think that’s what it was. Most wrestlers were stone cold (Steve Austin) serious, both in their pre-match patter and in the actual act of wrestling. But not Hot Rod – he acted as though it was all a big joke, as though he was sharing the knowledge that yes, wrestling might be fake but let’s have some fun with it while we’re here. The fact that he’s Canadian may also have helped – existing almost as an outsider in an industry mainly populated with Americans.
From Wrestlemania VI onwards, I was obsessed with the ‘sport’ for a few years. Unfortunately, Piper seemed to take a sabbatical from actual wrestling after Wrestlemania VI – but he was still around, turning his hand to commentating and reprising his Piper’s Pit interview segment.
It wasn’t long until I found his appearance as Nada in John Carpenter’s They Live. Released in 1988, it truly is a hidden gem of 1980’s science-fiction. It still stands as one of my favourite John Carpenter films, and Piper’s makes a great performance alongside Keith David – another favourite, no matter what film or television show he shows up in.
Of course, I went back and found as much Roddy Piper as I could in the WWF archives – fighting against Hulk Hogan in the first Wrestlemania, boxing against Mr. T at Wrestlemania II and generally being an obnoxious nuisance wherever he went. His deeply racist interview of Superfly Jimmy Snuka during one Piper’s Pit segment was typical of his antagonistic behaviour (and odd considering how the WWE have recently distanced themselves from Hulk Hogan, despite the multiple occasions when the organisation appeared to turn a blind eye to racism).
I remember reading an interview with Piper when he said he regretted playing a heel (or villain) for so much of his wrestling career. I’m guessing the black / white approach to his match as Wrestlemania VI was his way at addressing that distasteful element of his past, a shot at redeeming his character. It seems strange that he was a heel for so long – considering how effortless he seemed to be as a hero / good guy. He was just a naturally ebullient character – a great attribute for a role model to young kids.
It’s always said that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, as the experience could disappoint, but I’d always held some vague hope that I’d get to meet him one day – at a Comic-Con style convention or something. He’s off kicking ass and chewing bubblegum someplace else now, and I bet he’s still got a big goofy smile on his face.
Thanks for the laughs.
Thanks for the laughs.