8 Facts About "Rowdy" Roddy Piper

Matthew Peyton/Getty Images
Matthew Peyton/Getty Images

It takes a strong personality to stand out in a sport full of them, but Roderick George Toombs, otherwise known as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (1954-2015), managed to sustain a career as one of the most colorful characters in the history of professional wrestling. For more on “Hot Rod,” including his martial arts background and his unlikely turn as a big-screen hero, keep reading.

1. Roddy Piper was a very accomplished bagpipe player.

Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada on April 17, 1954, the future “Rowdy” Roddy Piper earned his nickname early in life. According to Piper, he was “too much” for his parents to handle and wound up leaving home at the age of 13. Piper lived in youth hostels and hitchhiked. Despite his nomadic lifestyle, he was an accomplished bagpipe player and claimed he played in the Rose Bowl at age 12 before being nationally recognized for his abilities on the instrument at age 14.

It was the bagpipes that led to Piper’s career in wrestling. Playing with a band one night at the Winnipeg Arena when he was still a teenager, Piper—who was also an amateur wrestler and boxer—volunteered to step in for a wrestler who didn’t show up for a scheduled bout against Larry Henning. Piper came to the ring in a kilt and was announced as “Roddy the Piper.” Though the bout lasted just 10 seconds, he had found his calling.

2. Roddy Piper once wrestled a bear.

Before Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (later World Wrestling Entertainment) organized pro wrestling in the United States, various regional organizations would do whatever they could to garner attention and fans. While performing in Fresno, California, a young Piper got an offer to wrestle “The Bear.” Piper believed this was one of wrestling’s theatrical nicknames. It wasn’t. The promoter, Roy Scheiers, wanted Piper to grapple with a real Kodiak bear that had been declawed. Though Piper was expected to try and pin the bear, the animal maintained a dominant position until its handler used a tranquilizer to end the match. Piper later discovered a friend had smeared honey in his trunks to make the bear more aggressive.

3. Roddy Piper was a black belt in judo.

Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka look on as "Rowdy" Roddy Piper battles WWE Superstar Chris Jericho during WrestleMania 25 in 2009.Bill Olive/Getty Images

When Piper moved to California in 1973, he wrestled frequently at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. The promoter for the territory was Mike LeBell, who had a half-brother, Gene LeBell, a renowned martial artist who practiced judo. Piper and Gene LeBell became friends. LeBell taught him judo and eventually awarded Piper a black belt in the art.

4. Roddy Piper suffered permanent hearing loss as a result of wrestling.

While wrestling may sometimes be dismissed as fake, injuries are a very real and common occurrence for its athletes. In 1983, Piper agreed to wrestle a “dog collar match” with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. In the bout, the men would be connected via a chain attached to their respective neck collars. When one wrestler had enough slack on the chain, he would use it to assault his opponent. Having the chain smashed into his head broke Piper’s left eardrum and cost him a 50 percent loss of hearing in that ear. Owing to the nature of wrestling tours, Piper and Valentine wrestled the same dog collar match dozens of times over the next two months.

5. Roddy Piper did not get along with Mr. T.

When McMahon had consolidated a number of wrestling territories in the 1980s, his next move was to create a large-scale event with a lot of hype behind it. WrestleMania debuted in 1985 and featured Hulk Hogan and Mr. T taking on Paul Orndorff and Piper in the main event. Mr. T was a celebrity thanks to his performance as Clubber Lang in 1982’s Rocky III as well as the NBC television series The A-Team. But Piper was wary of losing a bout to someone who was only making a passing appearance in the wrestling world and told McMahon he wouldn’t allow Mr. T to defeat him in the bout. It was Orndorff who was pinned. For WrestleMania 2 the following year, Piper and Mr. T faced each other again, this time in a simulated boxing match. Piper lost by disqualification after body-slamming Mr. T, a clear violation of the rules.

6. John Carpenter cast Roddy Piper in They Live because the wrestler walked funny.

Roddy Piper stars in They Live (1988).Shout! Factory

In 1988’s They Live, a drifter with the enigmatic name of John Nada (Piper) discovers a subversive alien plot to control humans via subliminal messages. Director John Carpenter cast Piper after meeting the wrestler following his match in 1987’s WrestleMania III. “Unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him,” Carpenter told Starlog in 1988. “He has been hit so many times, that he is really broken up. He even walks funny, because his pelvis was shattered and his back was wrenched. He is definitely not a pretty boy. He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever met. You could run a truck into Roddy, and he would still be standing.”

Piper’s shopworn physicality won him the role. They Live went on to become a cult classic, in part due to a ridiculously long fight scene between Piper and actor Keith David.

7. Roddy Piper became a member of G.I. Joe.

In 2007, Hasbro unveiled a limited-edition G.I. Joe figure of Piper as an Iron Grenadier Trainer from the Scottish Army for their annual International G.I. Joe Convention. He joined fellow wrestler Sergeant Slaughter, who debuted as a Joe in the 1980s. Piper also appeared at the convention to sign autographs.

8. Roddy Piper released a pop song in 1992.

Along with Hulk Hogan and other wrestlers, Piper helped popularize the WWE in the 1980s by appearing alongside singer Cyndi Lauper in music videos and on MTV. Lauper even got in the ring on occasion. In 1992, Piper got out of his own comfort zone by recording a single, “I’m Your Man,” that was released in the UK by Epic Records. You can watch Piper croon in the video above.

Wednesday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Computer Monitors, Plant-Based Protein Powder, and Blu-ray Sets

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 2. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Perfect Gifts for The Pop Culture Connoisseur in Your Life

Funko/Pinsantiy/Lil Cinephile/Amazon
Funko/Pinsantiy/Lil Cinephile/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Over the past year, most everyone has been marinating in all kinds of pop culture. More than any other era, this moment in time has revealed how much we as a society should value our creators and artists. From cinematic comfort food to walks down nostalgia lane, the holiday season is a perfect time to celebrate the pop culture moments and icons that have kept us happy, engaged, and awed.

Here are 10 perfect gifts the pop culture connoisseur in your life is sure to love.

1. A is for Auteur; $30

Lil Cinephile/Amazon

The same team that put out the delightful, surprisingly adaptable Cinephile card game ($18) last year is out with a new book perfect for the cineastes in your life who love Agnès Varda. This alphabet book goes from A (Paul Thomas Anderson) to Z (Fred Zinnemann) and celebrates the unique elements of more than two dozen filmmakers’ careers. It’s a tongue-in-cheek delight, and if you don’t actually want your child to know about Quentin Tarantino just yet, it makes a gorgeous addition to any adult’s coffee table.

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2. Schitt’s Creek Funkos; 4 for $77

Funko/Amazon

Eww, David! This set is ideal for fans of the Rose family who’d love Moira, Johnny, David, and Alexis peering down on them as they work or sleep or fold in the cheese. If you’re going the extra mile, grab the Amish David edition with hoodie, sunglasses, and rake. Individual figures run from $9-$30, and they all pair perfectly with a banana rosé.

Buy Them: Amazon

3. The Bruce Lee Criterion Collection; $68

Criterion Collection/Amazon

This is a stunning collection showcasing the best of the best of a true master alongside Criterion’s usual insightful commentary. Enter the Dragon has never been released as part of a collection before, and it stands as the crown jewel among The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, and the infamous Game of Death—all digitally restored in either 2K or 4K. The collection also features documentaries about Lee; an interview with his widow, Linda Lee Caldwell; and a conversation about the “Bruceploitation” subgenre that blossomed following Lee's untimely death.

Buy It: Amazon

4. NES Cartridge Coasters; $11

Paladone Products Ltd./Amazon

For the entertainer happy to have guests place their IPAs on SM3. These stylish coasters will protect your tables from coffee rings, wine stains, and barrels thrown by kidnapping apes. Plus, you won’t have to blow into these if they’re not loading correctly.

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5. Van Buren Boys Tee; $16

Underground Printing/Amazon

Deep into its eighth season, Seinfeld was still making iconic, quote-worthy moments. With this pre-shrunk, 100 percent cotton T, your favorite fan of the show about nothing can celebrate the comical street gang named for the 8th president (and the first president hailing from New York). It’s a handsome, comfortable shirt that comes in four colors and goes great with a Lorenzo’s pizza.

Buy It: Amazon

6. This Television History Puzzle; $49

White Mountain Puzzle/Amazon

This pop collage of more than 250 stars and scenes from TV’s past is a 1000-piece puzzle from acclaimed artist James Mellett. It’s probably the only image in existence where Kunta Kinte is between Superman, Gumby, and Norm and Cliff from Cheers. A gorgeous walk down memory lane, it’s also a healthy challenge that, at 24x30, would make a fine wall hanging if you don’t want to toss it back into the box.

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7. Pictures at a Revolution; $17

Penguin Books/Amazon

Entertainment Weekly veteran Mark Harris is one of the most respected film historians of this generation, and this book, which goes deep on five pivotal films, is a must-have for serious cinephiles. Exploring Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and the surprise box office bomb Doctor Doolittle, Harris explores how 1967 marked a tectonic shift in American cultural preferences. Pair it with Five Came Back for bonus gifting points (and a book you can watch together on Netflix).

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8. The Art of Mondo; $44

Insight Editions/Amazon

This is high on the list of gifts you’ll end up keeping for yourself. This sublime book boasts 356 pages of gorgeous prints from everyone’s favorite films. Cult, classics, blockbusters, and buried gems, the Austin-based Mondo is world-renowned for limited release posters from the best artists on the planet. One sheets typically sell for hundreds of dollars, so this book is the cheapest way to get them all. For your friend, of course. Right?

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9. A Princess Bride Enamel Pin; $10

Pinsanity/Amazon

I do not think this pin means what you think it means. This playful piece features Vizzini’s shouting face above a stately “Inconceivable!” banner. It’s made of quality metal with vibrant enamel colors, and buying it should also send you down a rabbit hole looking for dozens of other pop culture pins.

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10. Marvel’s Greatest Comics; $23

DK/Amazon

Someone in your life is bound to want three pounds of Marvel comics. This definitive tome showcases 100 issues that changed the world and built a powerhouse pop culture company, from Marvel #1 in 1939 to Avengers #6 in 2018. The eye-popping artwork is accompanied by smart commentary from industry trailblazers and experts, which makes it as informative as it is entertaining. Just remember to say “Pow!” when you gift it.

Buy Them: Amazon

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