Last week saw the passing of Rowdy Roddy Piper, who I will miss on those evenings when this or that cable channel will toss "They Live" into their movie rotation. Hot Rod was only sixty-one years old, and at last check, he still had plenty of bluster left in his sails. He was the guy who made it okay for me to like wrestling again.
I grew up watching All Star Wrestling on Channel Two out of Denver. I watched guys with names like "Mad Dog" and "Wahoo" battle one another and countless other good guys and bad guys on Saturday afternoons. It never occurred to me back then to wonder where these bouts were taking place, or how the relentless pursuit of that championship belt could possibly be worth all the beatings they took from one another and the occasional sleazy manager. That is to say that all the action was not limited to the ring. Periodically, there was as much bashing and crashing going on during the interview segments between scheduled events as anything that happened within the squared circle. But never enough to obscure the promotion of the upcoming slate of over-sized characters coming to an arena near you.
I learned, following in my older brother's footsteps in junior high school, that real wrestling almost never involved folding chairs. There were rules that kept us from doing the kind of damage I had watched all those superstars do to one another. We didn't wrestle in a ring surrounded by ropes. There were no turnbuckles. Even if we made it to the district championship, there was no steel cage. It gave me pause: Maybe Mad Dog and Wahoo weren't really pounding and beating on one another the way they appeared to be on television. Maybe, just maybe, it was fake.
By the time I was in college, MTV had created the "Rock and Wrestling Connection," thanks in no small part to the promotional talents of Cyndi Lauper and her manager Dave Wolff. This is how I was introduced to the kilted one, Rowdy Roddy Piper. Roddy was a wrestler, but more than that, he was an instigator, a provocateur. He may not have shone as brightly as eventual Governor of Minnesota Jesse "The Body" Ventura, or given guest shots in Rocky III like the Hulkster and Mr. T, but he did land in John Carpenter's sci-fi indictment of the Reagan years. It was like Occupy Wall Street twenty-five years ahead of its time.
I stopped caring if wrestling was real or fake. Rowdy Roddy was great at whatever it was that he was doing, with a wink and a smile. He wasn't a fake. He was a real good guy. For a bad guy, that is. Aloha, Roddy. You stomped around the ring and the Terra.