I met professional wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper in an unusual place two summers ago. It was an annual bash thrown by well-known Portland conservative businessman Terry Emmert. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Piper was a conservative. Emmert is big into sports — he owns the arena football franchise the Portland Thunder, and the semiprofessional basketball team the Portland Chinooks. He has a full-size basketball court at his corporate location.
Along with the usual contingent of politically engaged, right-of-center boomers present at the party, there were also quite a few athletes — in fact, you could pick them out in the crowd. They were in the prime of youth, as were the young women who surrounded them. It made for an interesting mix: traditionalist oldsters, upscale suburbanites, and very young adults, Portland’s future, dressed to the nines.
I happened upon Piper standing in front of the pool table in the basement rumpus room. I was on my way to the basement bathroom because the two upstairs facilities had lines outside their doors. There were a few people standing around the wrestler, and one couple posing for the inevitable celebrity selfie.
I did a double-take.
Is that the man who feuded with Hulk Hogan and then faced him in a tag-team match in 1985’s WrestleMania 1?
Is that the man of the kilt, the off-kilter villain you loved to hate, or loved to boast that you liked? I realized yes, I had just seen Rowdy Roddy Piper with fans in front of Terry Emmert’s pool table.
What struck me when I introduced myself as a wrestling fan was how relaxed Piper seemed, laughing, joking around, recalling the matches where giants jumped off turnbuckles and delivered patented coups de grace.
I hadn’t heard much about him of late, not since he tore up wrestling’s top tier back in the golden era. I heard he’d done some acting, but I didn’t want Rowdy Roddy as an actor. I wanted him as one of the most violent and borderline psychotic antiheros in the pro-wrestling business.
When I heard about Piper’s passing at age 61 from cardiac arrest, I was further struck, because the man I shook hands with in the summer of 2013 looked so young. He was stout in a muscular way, though shorter than you might imagine from his ring stature. He still had that maniacal gleam in his eye.
Discreetly at the pool table, I went into reportorial mode.
“Will you ever fight again?”
“If the money’s right, name the place and time.”
“Have you always been a bad guy?”
“According to my ex-wife.”
“What does the future hold for Rowdy Roddy Piper?”
“I’m going to be working with my son, Colt Toombs. There’s a deal with Channel 13 for a new Saturday night wrestling show.”
Other people were coming down the stairs into the basement, and it wasn’t because the bathrooms were jammed. Word was out that Roddy was in the house, and pretty soon it was like any other celebrity maul scene.
I took the short bus Mr. Emmert provided down the hill to where they’d parked my car. Later I saw the show Piper was talking about, Portland Wrestling Uncut, a fact which should give you a clue about my Saturday nights.
There he was, not wrestling, but raising hell, causing electricity when he entered the room, berating, vowing, chasing sons-a-bitches up and down the studio halls. I caught the show on occasion, until it got cancelled.
Now Piper has gone on to the heavenly, or, shall we say, less-than-angelic realms of the many great wrestlers who died too young.