Pro Wrestling broke for real in the mid-eighties. Before then, wrestling was a bloody spectacle with a niche audience, unconnected regional leagues and no natioanl TV coverage. The WWF transformed wrestling into primetime, technicolor entertainment. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper straddled the two eras, beginning his career in 1969 in the Pacific Northwest wrestling league, and retiring in the nineties after appearing in over 7,000 fights, several feature films and a cartoon. After the publication of his autobiography In the Pit With Piper, the kilt-wearing grappler spoke with Freezerbox.
Q: I was wondering if you could tell me what makes a good wrestling match?
A: I'm a real deal professional wrestler, however you want to define that. I'm not an entertainer. I don't go out there to entertain the public. What makes a great wrestling match? Two guys that want to wrestle.
Q: And what would be a bad wrestling match?
Two guys that want to entertain the people, get in the ring, flex their muscles, listen to the crowd, jump on the turnbuckle and do back flips. I've had as many street fights as I've had wrestling matches. If a guy came up to me and did a back flip off a car I'd spike him right into the ground. If two professionals wrestle, their efforts are what entertains the people. That simply is why the WWE now is failing.
Q: You've fought over 7,000 fights as a professional wrestler. Is there one fight that stands out?
A: There was a dog collar match between Greg Valentine and myself. The promoters wanted a brutal match that people would keep coming back to see. That sounded good... in principle. And one time? But to do it every night? Never crossed this dumb wrestler's head. I had special collars made up with sheep's wool on the inside, thinking that it would be a little easier on the neck. Greg Valentine and I did this match about 40 times. He had me by the hair and he had his fist wrapped inside the chain and he was wailing on my ear. He was mad at me, not because I was beating him with a chain but because by the 29th match, we both had a rash around our necks from the sheep's wool that looked like herpes.
Q: In your book, you talk about the sickness. What is the sickness?
A: Let me give you an equation: The amount of sickness in the wrestler is directly proportional to the amount of manipulation by the promoter.
Q: What happens to the wrestler?
A: It'll kill him. I can give you an example. There was a league called the XWF. Was that your name? Adam Butler?
Q: Adam Bulger.
A: Bulger. Right. Imagine they said "Adam. We want you to come to Tampa, Florida and we're starting a magazine." You move your family and your kids. Then they change the deal. They say if you don't sign this piece of paper, we won't give you the next check. And if you do sign it, you only get one more check. One of these guys was named Mike Lima. I heard him say, as pressure was put on him, "Man, I'm going to have a heart attack." He's a man in his forties. Poor guy.
Q: What happened?
A: He had a heart attack. He's dead. Left four children behind. And I saw it. It's real. And no one has ever talked about it because no one has ever been able to put it into words. Wrestling has the highest suicide rate of any sport. 3 People died in the last week and a half. That's ridiculous.
Q: This last week and a half?
Q: Then why do men like yourself continue to wrestle?
A: The first match I saw, I realized I needed that place in my life. I left home when I was thirteen. I was fifteen years old when I started pro wrestling. I was the youngest person ever to wrestle full time. I just fell into it. I can imagine the reason that folks have gotten into it in the last 18 years is for the limelight, the fame. A lot of guys are surprised when they step into the ring. Like Lawrence Taylor [Ed's note: Former Giants line-backer Lawrence Taylor took time off from his crack habit to appear in Wrestlemania XI]. I saw him huffing and puffing half of the match. It takes a lot more than it looks. And to find that out when you're in your early twenties, you'd be thirty before you knew what you're doing. Three years goes by and your knees go, and everything else, and boom! Some other young kid comes out. You're thirty three and you're out of the job market.
Q: It's almost like being a cowboy. You're the baddest man in town and then some young punk comes riding in.
A: Exactly like a cowboy. They have an entrance plan for wrestlers and no exit plan. Except for death. They don't give you anything, they don't set anything up for you, they just take you behind the barn and shoot you in the back. Either that or you end up setting up the ring and dying in a bottle of whiskey.
Q: You're working on a retirement plan for wrestlers right now.
A: Father Jason Sanderson, the number one highest powerball winner in history is working with me. 66 million, I think. He's donated 44 Acres of land in Vermont. I'm tired of seeing all my frat brothers [Ed's note: Mr. Piper refers to his fellow wrestlers as frat brothers] get screwed. I've been blackballed three times in wrestling. And that's why I'm building the home. Why do people get into it? Because they're tricked into it. Then they can't get out. It's like roach motel, brother.
Q: When you were wrestling, you were always the bad guy. Why were you never a good guy?
A: Well, I never considered myself a bad guy.
Q: Well, you know.
A: No, I understand what you mean. My first fight, I got beat in ten seconds--but I had a full Scottish pipe band play as I walked into the ring. That's a three count so that's seven quality seconds of wrestling. I went against--you ever heard of Mr. Perfect?
A: Well, it was his Dad. I was fifteen years old. I came into the ring and the announcer didn't know who I was. He saw the pipe band and said here comes Roddy, uh, the Piper. The "the" just got dropped. So that's how I got my name. Could you tell me the question again?
Q: Why where you always the heel and never the babyface?
A: Those terms are things that those little Internet journalists came up with. Those terms don't really apply to anybody who knows what they're doing. I never tried to make you hate me. But the antics that I did, I went full steam ahead a hundred miles an hour. I was like the Qaddafi of wrestling. I had kicked Cyndi Lauper in the head, I heckled Mr. T. That's why they didn't like me. I went out and did stuff. I hit this guy in the head with a coconut one time, so hard it would have killed a mule.
Q: Yeah, yeah. That was Jimmy Snuka.
A: Oh man, I hit him hard.
Q: Any regrets about that?
A: (Pause.) Yeah. A little bit. Jimmy Snuka. He's one of the greatest. He outranks me, man. They told me that when he got back to his dressing room he just sat there for like ten, fifteen minutes. Nobody could talk to him. He just stared down. He's never quite been the same. And for that I... I hold no grudge against anybody, but you know, I did some brain damage there, ahh, you know, like, where do you draw the line?
A: I did the first pay-per-view in '83 and the first Wrestlemania in 1984. I had been in the business since 1969. All of a sudden, Time Magazine was interested. And all these people wanted in. Dr. Ruth Westheimer said on TV "Don't pay any attention to him, he is just wearing the kilt for attention." Geraldine Ferraro said "Roddy Piper, you're not fit to wear a skirt." Cyndi Lauper won the Grammy that year, and at the end of her speech she said "Roddy Piper, you're gonna get yours." I smashed people in the head with coconuts, I smashed the award over Lou Albano's head, I kicked Cyndi Lauper, I knocked out Mr. T--and that was just that month!
Q: In your book you talk about the issues you had with the WWF's manipulation in the eighties.
RP: I've had my shoulders pinned in the WWF once. I wouldn't take a dive for Mr. T. in Wrestlemania I, I wouldn't take a dive for Hogan in War to Settle the Score and I wouldn't take a dive for Mr. T in the Boxing Match. '85 or '86, I was just as hot as Hogan. I had bath towels, lunch boxes, ice cream bars, I don't know what. I just got the checks. I'm on the same level as Hogan. So I say why the hell should I let him beat me? So I refused. Then, flash forward to Wrestlemania II. They asked me to take a dive for Mr. T. I said not a chance, buddy.
Q: You didn't like Mr. T, right?
A: He's a piece of shit. He's dogmeat. Sucking oxygen out of a tent.
Q: What did you have against Mr. T?
A: Here's an example. There's a famous restaurant in Los Angeles called The Palm. I was there with T and a couple of managers. He has one of those purple bags of Crown Royal and he pulls out a pure gold goblet with jewels in it. He pours in the Crown Royal and says "If its good enough for the Pope, its good enough for Mr. T." And then he orders a mimosa with crystal.
Q: What about Hulk Hogan?
A: I'm the reason he's got no hair.
Q: You guys were wrestling rivals and that rivalry carried over outside the ring. Why was that?
A: I had wrestled in about 15 different places before I got to the WWF. Hogan had been wrestling in Japan working with this guy named Vince McMahon Jr. They were plotting this takeover of the world. Hogan was going to be the star, but they could not get Hogan more popular than Jimmy Snuka. Because Jimmy Snuka was just plain great.
Q: He was Supafly.
A: Yeah. He was supafly. They had to hurt Snuka's real estate value so Hogan could get ahead. They cottonballed Hogan to make him their man. I see what they're doing to Hogan, and I say "why do you want him to fight me then?" "Well," they said, "because you're the most hated guy around." Why do people go to a wrestling match? To see the good guy? No. To see the good guy kick the shit out of the bad guy. It all depends on how bad the bad guy is. If Hogan didn't have a belt, he would have died in six months. I didn't need a belt. They offered, and I said no. They're too heavy, they beep in the airports and they won't make me any more money. So everybody's like Roddy Piper, you'll get yours, Roddy Piper, you'll get yours. Nobody's saying "go Hogan, go." So I said "Go fuck yourself."
Q: What's your final take on Vince McMahan Jr?
A: I think our problem is that both our egos are much too big. We work very well together. As a family man, I had a lot of respect for him. But I've lost that.
Q: Because he's putting his kids into the business.
A: That's so dead against the rules I was taught. I live in a mountain forty-five miles outside of anything. How could you put your daughter in the ring and have some 320 pound Samoan named Rikishi put ass on her face. Then he had his son or daughter--I can't remember which one--slap their own mother on television. Vince Mcmahan justifies this by saying he put his life into his business. But he's really only been successful in the business his Dad gave him. He's gone broke in every other business he tried, including rock n' roll, football, body building. He's saying its OK to let a Samoan sit on his daughter's face when ratings are down.
Q: What do you think of Governor Jesse?
A: I love him. I was with the Gov. for a long time. He's a pain in the ass. But he's got a unique way of looking at things. He was a great color commentator for wrestling. When McMahan didn't pay him for some voice-overs or something, he told McMahan "I've been under fire before, you don't scare me." He got $937,000 in a lawsuit from McMahan. And then he became Governor--how could you not like a guy like that?
Q: Disappointed that he didn't go for a second term?
A: No. It's like how I've had 7,000 fights and people want me to fight again. You get tired. I'm a little disappointed because I think he could do greater things. But he's a supporter of the wrestler's home. Not a great wrestler, but he was a great announcer. He had charisma.
Q: On your wrestling interview show "Piper's Pit" you had a unique approach. What was your interviewing philosophy?
A: I would try to get a rise out of the people I interviewed. Whether that meant subliminal stuff, sexual stuff, personal stuff. I never told people what I was going to ask them.
Q: Do think your interviewing style influenced Bill O'Reilly from the O'Reilly factor?
A: That's funny. You're the third person that's asked me that.
Q: Are you serious? Look at me thinking I'm all original. When is there gonna be a Criterion special edition DVD of Hell Comes to Frogtown?
A: That was my evil twin brother that did that movie. You don't think I'd do something that dumb, do you? Hell comes to Frogtown. Who would have ever thought that would become a cult classic. I just did the DVD for They Live.
Q: Nice. Did you do voice-over commentary for that?
A: Yeah, with Carpenter.
Q: They Live has one of the greatest one-liners ever, "I came here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum."
A: Carpenter thought that when I came into the bank in that scene that the audience would think I was robbing the bank--I had on sunglasses and was carrying a shotgun. He told me to say something. The clap boy yelled roll, I said "I came here to kick ass..." and it was done. Next scene. No idea it would ever catch on.
Q: I heard the fight in the alley was real, that you guys were really hitting each other.
A: You can get a DVD of the best fight scenes from movies and that's on there. John Carpenter had me watch John Wayne in The Quiet Man. He wanted a fight that would be longer and better than the fight in that movie. There was another five minutes to the They Live fight that got edited out.
Q: Tell me about meeting Andy Kaufman.
A: How did you know about that?
Q: It was in your book, dude.
A: I'll be darned. When I was 19 I was the light weight champion of the world. He approached me in the Olympic auditorium. The cops at the Olympic always let Andy in because he did an Elvis impersonation. I didn't know who he was, just thought he was a wrestling fan. He brought me to the Improv comedy club. When he was on stage he did my interview. People were yelling for him to get off the stage. To me it was pretty damn funny. I told him it was good, but that he would never sell out Carnegie Hall.
Q: And years later he did.
A: I was in the back of his van and he said "say something funny." I told him a joke. He looked at me totally blank. He said "no, say something like what you said at the Olympic." I had started a riot and people were pulling the chairs out. I had the mic and while I was trying to just survive the riot, I blurted out "Is there no justice?" Andy rolled over from laughter. The last time I saw him, he gave me a hug and said "I'm gonna make you real proud of me someday." He was a really nice guy. A little to the left, but a nice guy.
Q: Do you have any tips for guys interested in wearing kilts?
A: Wearing kilts has got me into a lot of fights. I wore a kilt at Madison Square Garden and had 20,000 people chanting "Faggot, Faggot, Faggot."
Q: How do you think Axl Rose looked in a kilt?
A: Axl? From Guns n' Roses? I kicked them out of my studio in England one time. Those assholes.
A: They were OK, just drunk.
Q: Who looked better in a kilt, Axl or the guy from Korn?
A: Neither one of them had tits, so it don't matter. (Laughs)