Hogan. Andre. Savage. Ventura. Piper.
All five of these guys served as the cornerstones of WWF wrestling in the 1980s. Because these guys played such well-known characters during one of pro wrestling’s boom periods, they all ended up transcending their roles to outside the ring.
And now three of them are gone, with Rowdy Roddy Piper’s death on July 30 putting him beside Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Andre the Giant as stars who died way too young.
It’s really starting to suck being an old-school fan raised on Saturday morning WWF wrestling. Savage’s death blew us away in 2011, Hulk Hogan just last week got exposed for his terrible racist comments, and Piper now dies out of nowhere of a heart attack at age 61.
I grew up with Piper during middle and high school – and I know a lot of you who read this blog did, too. I can’t believe Piper – who at his peak was one of the most gifted performers on the microphone and also a good worker in the ring – has been silenced.
Many will quickly peg Hogan as his most memorable WWE opponent, but he also had long-lasting feuds in the 1980s with Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, and Adrian Adonis. Hogan never pinned Piper, which was amazing to us fans back in the day when Hulk always eventually won over the heels. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer said in a podcast that Piper was very protective of his status as the top heel.
“In the WWF days, Roddy refused to job for Hogan because … it was that paranoia thing: ‘If I job for Hogan, I’ll be worthless.’ So he would never job for Hogan,” Meltzer said. “I don’t think he jobbed for anyone – I could be wrong — through ’87.” (Actually, Snuka pinned Piper in July 1984 in St. Louis. I remember seeing that match on TV, although that is the only time I can personally recall Piper being pinned during his initial WWF run.)
Piper, Hogan, Mr. T, Captain Lou Albano, Wendi Richter, and Cyndi Lauper were the leads in a storyline that started in summer 1984 as the Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Connection formed with help from MTV. Piper and Lauper traded barbs throughout the rest of the year, which culminated in the “War to Settle the Score” match between Hogan and Piper in February 1985, which MTV broadcast live as the WWE shot its major angle leading up the first WrestleMania.
When Piper first arrived in the WWF in late 1983, he was the manager and occasional tag team partner of “Dr. D” David Shultz. Soon after, we saw the debut of Piper’s Pit — which RollingStone.com correctly called a “warped talk show” — during which Piper used his tremendous wit and heel charisma to berate the babyfaces and put over the heels. Compared to other wrestler talk segments that have come and gone since, Piper’s Pit was a weekly hit and always funny.
Piper smashing the coconut on Snuka’s head during the Pit may have been the best WWE angle of all time, and if you saw the whole thing back then, you’ll likely never forget what it was like watching it for the first time. However, my favorite Piper’s Pit was when Rowdy Roddy interviewed jobber Frankie Williams.
Piper came across as so agitated to be hosting a prelim wrestler, and Williams was great as he stumbled over his lines while yelling at Piper that he wasn’t afraid of anyone. Piper then smacked him around and uttered a line I had never heard before, but is often associated with Roddy: “Just when they think they got the answers, I change the question.”
So long, Roddy Piper. Wrestling was fun while I was growing up back in 1984 and 1985, thanks in large part to you.
(I’ll have more to say soon about Piper’s history at the old Boston Garden.)