As someone who spent his formative years growing up in rural Georgia, Arkansas, and Southwest Missouri in the 1980s, wrestling was an undeniable part of my childhood. It was the pinnacle of entertainment among all of my friends– absolutely everybody watched wrestling in some form or fashion. WWF, WCW, NWA, it didn’t matter– if there were shirtless beefcakes slap-fighting in a ring, it was “must-see TV.” Hell… even ladies‘ wrestling was cool. G.L.O.W., the “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” was way more fun than regular wrestling as far as I was concerned.
And while my mother may have forbidden me and my brother from watching such shenanigans, she sure as hell couldn’t stop us from sneaking off to our cousins’ trailer to watch it. We would make our own corrugated cardboard title belts out of empty refrigerator boxes before beating the living shit out of one another in the backyard for the right to wear those special pieces of cardboard that had been so carefully colored by Crayola markers.
We all had our favorite wrestlers, and many a Saturday morning was spent debating the merits of Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant. It was a point of pride for some and a popularity contest for others (much like any form of professional sports fandom is), but all of us kids could identify with at least one “wrassler.” The consensus of my childhood was that Hulk Hogan was the greatest, and if you weren’t a “Hulkamaniac,” then you might as well have been a Communist. My black friends liked Junk Yard Dog (I liked him too, but more for the fact that he had the coolest name in wrestling rather than the color of his skin). Misfits rooted for “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, latent homosexuals liked Jake “The Snake” Roberts, while the more cultured wrestling afficionados appreciated the subtle genius of the techniques of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat or Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. My cousins were both big fans of The Ultimate Warrior and Sting (the wrestler, not the rock star), and I think it might’ve had something to do with the fact that both wrestlers painted their faces. I dunno. As for me, well, I didn’t care for Hulk Hogan, so I tended to root for the wrestlers who shared my sentiments, namely “Macho Man” Randy Savage and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Both of those fellas hated Hulk’s guts waaaaay more than I did.
Macho Man was awesome because not only did he dress snazzier than any other wrestler (he was kind of the Elton John of professional wrestling), but he also had the most intense speech delivery of any human being ever. Nobody on this earth could say “snap into a Slim Jim” with the same gusto he did– he was just a really unique dude. But Roddy Piper was cool for completely different reasons: he was Canadian, he wore a kilt, he had the infectious laugh of a crazy person, and he was a motormouth and a smart ass. He was like the Muhammad Ali of professional wrestling in that he had a special kind of charisma and a knack for smack-talking his opponents better than anyone. [Side Note: and we come full circle, as Muhammad Ali’s career was heavily influenced by the old-timey professional wrestler Gorgeous George. Ali’s famous “I’m so pretty” was lifted directly from the overly vain wrestler who was known for looking at himself in the mirror and throwing out personalized bobby pins to the crowd as souvenirs, and his sense of showmanship and business accumen were inspired by George as well. Ali learned from Gorgeous George’s example that the best way to sell out an event is by playing the villain. By making an audience hate you, you have effectively given otherwise disinterested folks who aren’t rooting for anyone a vested interest in rooting against you, and more butts in the seats means more dollars in your pocket. Who cares about getting booed when you can laugh it off all the way to the bank? (Mark Twain also figured this out with his King and Duke characters and their performance of “The Royal Nonesuch” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I digress.)]
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s obnoxiously caustic personality and talent for smack talk made him the perfect fit for the role of villainous heel to Hulk Hogan’s all-American hero babyface, and it didn’t hurt that the man also happened to be funny as hell. Remember the iconic line about chewing bubblegum and kicking ass from They Live? Roddy wrote that. During production of the film, he gave Director John Carpenter a list of wrestling lines to consider using in the movie, and Carpenter read that one and was like, “Yep– that’s it.”
If you’ve read this far into my blog, I’m sure you’re wondering why in the hell I’m rambling on about wrasslin’. Well, it’s because the nostalgia bug bit me full on in the face yesterday when I heard about the death of Roddy Piper. He died on July 31 at the age of 61 from a heart attack, yet I’m only just now hearing about it. (I’ve really got to get out more.) I thought it only right to devote a blog post to a man who managed to keep me equally entertained as both a child and an adult (there aren’t many of those, honestly). So R.I.P., Roddy Piper. I’m gonna pour a few drams of expensive scotch whilst watching my favorite John Carpenter film (They Live) in your honor tonight.
And I’ll leave you, again, with that infamous scene from the film and what is arguably the single greatest line from an action movie in the 1980s– all from the brain of Roddy Piper: