Roddy Piper was as unique as they come, ‘the perfect villain’
by Jim Ross [August 1st, 2015]
As I walked into a banquet hall in the Hilton hotel Friday to speak
at the annual NWA Wrestling Legends Fan Fest, I received a message that
my friend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper had unexpectedly died, apparently in his
sleep the night before, at age 61.
My speech was immediately erased from my memory.
Every image in my mind was that of “Hot Rod.” The notes for my speech
had been hastily jotted down but were hard to read through teary
Luckily, at least I had something down on paper.
Even though the legend that was the unpredictable and controversial
albeit massively talented Piper preceded him from his Mid Atlantic
Wrestling (Charlotte), TBS/Atlanta, and WWF in the pivotal days of the
company whose future was deeply mortgaged on the success of the first
WrestleMania concept, I first worked closely with Roddy in 1996.
The “Hollywood Backlot Brawl” saw the bizarre villain Goldust facing a
returning Piper who had been in and out of WWE multiple times since he
was Hulk Hogan’s chief rival in the first WrestleMania more than a
Piper had a long, often times, controversial relationship with WWE
Chairman Vince McMahon and, therefore, had “trust issues” when he was
convinced to come back for a short WWE run that would culminate with the
Canadian-born athlete defeating the “androgynous” Goldust in 1996 at
WrestleMania 12 in Los Angeles.
Jerry Brisco, an old friend of Piper’s from the Mid Atlantic days and
a WWE official, convinced Roddy that he could trust me in my role as
vice president of talent relations. So, I became the primary liaison
between Hot Rod and creative.
Brisco used his long-time friendship with Hot Rod to bridge the gap
between the bombastic trash talker and myself, who represented WWE
Roddy and I became friends during WM12 and remained such until his
death. Through the build to the 1996 mega-event, I had dozens of
telephone calls and “sitdowns” with Roddy to reassure him that all was
good and that his discretionary pay would be to his liking.
Piper, Roderick George Toombs, grew up a child of the streets, turned
pro at age 15, never graduated high school but had a Ph.D. in the game
of life. The trust issues seemingly never went away when it came to the
After his successful performance at WM12, where he drove a white Ford
Bronco during the elaborate presentation, Roddy and I hugged as he was
about to enter a sedan for his ride from LAX to catch his flight home to
Portland, Oregon. My responsibility of care-taking Roddy was near an
He casually asked me what we were going to do with the white Bronco
and I told him I didn’t know, but why? He indicated that he liked the
slick, late-model vehicle so I asked him to not leave and to hold
I sought out WWE Chairman Vince McMahon – who was always a big fan
of Piper’s, especially his villain persona – and asked if we could give
the white Bronco to Roddy. McMahon said, “Of course.”
Hot Rod was as elated as if he’d won a new car on “The Price is Right.”
We dismissed the limo driver because Roddy wanted to drive the white
Bronco from L.A. to Oregon.
Yep, Hot Rod was a unique cat.
The man many feel was the greatest, TV wrestling villain in history
was moved to tears by McMahon’s gift of a used, late-model, low mileage
I compare the wrestling villain Rowdy Roddy Piper to Bruce Dern’s
character in the John Wayne classic film, “The Cowboys.” The perfect
villain to play opposite any hero. A vile character who cheated to win.
Without great villains there are no great heroes in any form of entertainment or sports.
To be a great villain in the pro wrestling genre, an individual must
be legitimately fearless and have a burning desire to truly be despised
as opposed to being “cool.” This describes the kilt-wearing Rowdy Roddy