Born Roderick George Toombs, he made his wrestling debut in Canada at the age of 15, where he made his way to the ring playing bagpipes, and, as a result, was given the nickname “Roddy Piper.” The moniker stuck, and when coupled with his background as an amateur boxer, he quickly developed a reputation as a man not to be messed with – a trait that made him a natural heel. During the 1970s, he’d work as a villain in several territories, including the AWA and NWA, had memorable feuds with the likes of Chavo Guerrero Sr. and Ric Flair and had a tremendous impact on a wrestling fan named Rick Rubin, who’d later credit Piper’s smack-talking bad guy character as a major influence on the Beastie Boys.
In addition to his toughness, Piper’s quick wit also made him a standout, and despite his heelish tendencies within the ring, he slowly earned a legion of fans. In the mid-Eighties, his notoriety earned him a spot in WWE, where he donned a kilt and quickly became one of the promotion’s top villains, feuding with face of the franchise Hulk Hogan and working the mic as the host of “Piper’s Pit,” a warped talk show that saw him smash a coconut into the head of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, insult the legendary Bruno Sammartino and blast acerbic loudmouth Morton Downey Jr. with a fire extinguisher.
He also became a key figure during WWE’s “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” era, appearing in music videos for Cyndi Lauper and as an animated character on Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. He challenged Mr. T to a boxing match at WrestleMania II (he’d lose by DQ after bodyslamming T) and brawled with Bad News Brown at WrestleMania VI, a bout that saw him cut an infamous pre-match promo with half his face painted black. His tenure in WWE lasted until the mid-Nineties, when he’d leave to join the surging World Championship Wrestling promotion. He’d eventually return to WWE in 2003, and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2005.
Piper also had a memorable career as an cult actor, starring in John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live and Hell Comes to Frogtown. In recent years, he also made several cameos on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
As news of his death began to spread on Friday, his contemporaries expressed their sadness. Hulk Hogan, the man recently fired by WWE for making racist remarks, called Piper “my best friend” and “a legend.” The Iron Sheik, Kevin Nash, Bill Goldberg and wrestling announcer Jim Ross also shared memories of working with Piper.
In a statement, WWE chairman Vince McMahon called Piper “one of the most entertaining, controversial and bombastic performers ever in WWE, beloved by millions of fans around the world.”