Luckily for a wrestling geek like myself, ”Rowdy” Roddy Piper was willing to get on the phone – fresh off a trip from New Orleans — to talk about the Klondike Celebrity Challenge, along with a fascinating discussion about the state of modern wrestling.
I'm so happy the coconut made an appearance in your Klondike Celebrity Challenge video. Classic ”Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
I remember when he hit me with it. I thought, “You think that’s going to hurt me?” I’m not really sure how they got stuck with me. I’m a big Klondike guy. I always have been. The fans on Facebook suggested some pretty crazy things for Roddy Piper to do for a Klondike bar. They got Joel McHale to do a presentation of it. I threw a chair at him but I missed him. Now he’s my friend. Alfonso Ribeiro and I did these videos for the very first Klondy Awards. I can’t wait to see who wins.
There’s a great moment in the video where you have the urn. I have to ask, how tempted were you to use a prop like that?
It was just killing me. You know what I really wanted to do? It’d be like we were back in Piper’s Pit. When I was finished, I just wanted to take that urn and lay him out with it. But, you know, I didn’t want to kill him or something like that. That’d be no good. Maybe at least take the ashes out and bark at him while I dump them on him.
In your career, have you ever used an urn as a prop?
The Undertaker and Paul Bearer always had one, but I don’t remember ever hitting The Undertaker with an urn. I think I went after Paul Bearer with it because he used to carry one. But, you know, it would have been a first for me.
Speaking of Piper’s Pit, you were back on WWE RAW just a month ago. Do you enjoy coming back for a Piper’s Pit segment?
No. It’s easy to pick apart something, but building it is another thing. The company — as much as I’m a fan of it, and I don’t always express that – they’re getting to the point where they’re forgetting who started things. They want to write something and have me memorize it and go out. A lot of times they’ll give me something five, 10 minutes before I’m going out. And I don’t know who else is going out. That doesn’t bother me, but the other guys all might be on different pages. They’re all great, but it doesn’t allow the best performance for the fan watching. Even if I don’t do as well as I want to, I can try my best and be happy with that. But don’t give me a piece of paper and have big expectations.
No one tells me anything to my face, but I heard they weren’t happy with my last one. It’s like, “why don’t you come and tell me?” Vince was going to come down. And I’m like, “Well, come on down!” But I don’t even know if any of that is true.
All I know is this: If you want me to do a Piper’s Pit, there’s a reason they call it that. My last name is Piper, so I don’t need you to write anything. Don’t tell me what you’re looking for. They’re getting anal about it. You can’t just stamp people out, otherwise you’ll never find anyone special. You’ve got to give them some kind of license to perform. With that license to perform comes failure, but you’re going to give it as hard of a try as you can because no one wants to go out and fail. They’ve lost that concept. They think that if you give them that license, it will mess up their show. That’s not true. I have no idea how many I’ve ever been on, but I’ve never messed up anyone’s wrestling show in my life. It’s not a sensible claim unless they’re brand-new and have never done an interview before. I don’t need the help, just let me go. I’m doing it for you guys, the fans, not the office.
I’ve given a lot of my life for this business. I’ve been stabbed three times. I had cancer. Went down in an airplane. Been electrocuted. The list goes on, but I’ve never missed a gig. No matter what they say about me, never drank before getting in the ring. I must have drank once to know I didn’t like it, but it was never my M.O. I’m really proud of what I do when I go out there and I think they need to get back to that. Because it gets boring…
I’m going to try to stir it up once more time, champ. I can’t help myself.
You’ve played a heel for most of your career, rather than playing a face. Did that ever bother you? Or did you decide you were just going to own it?
Well, I’m a born heel. In the third round at Nassau Coliseum for WrestleMania 2, they just started chanting my name. I don’t know why. I whipped Mr. T. I spit on him. I did everything I could think of and they started chanting my name. As far as I’m concerned, I had a lot of pent-up anger before I started professional wrestling. I had two years on the street. All the sudden, I had a lawless stage where I could do anything I wanted if I could get away with it and live through it. I wasn’t afraid of a lot of things. Either that or how you can be so afraid that you’re afraid of nothing.
Being a renegade was natural to me. I wasn’t really born anywhere or raised anywhere. I was born in the coldest place on earth, a town called Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, but I couldn’t tell you anything about it. From there I went to one of the toughest Indian reservations in Canada. I never really had a place. There’s no school reunion or a buddy that I grew up with. That makes you a loner. So if you’re a loner and you’re in a business like this, that kind of makes you the Outlaw Josey Wales, in a younger form. Then when I got older and was encouraged to do, that was the last thing I needed. I’d torture you with bagpipes, too, just to get creative with it. So I’m a naturally-born heel.
Your matches with Andre the Giant were so legendary. You must have wrestled him hundreds of times. Was Andre your favorite matchup?
Unlike almost everyone else, I loved wrestling Andre. I knew what he needed and he trusted me. I’m one of the few guys who would tear him down on his face. Wasn’t easy because he’s a real-deal giant. Even to the point where at Madison Square Garden — the most prestigious venue in the world — he got carried out bleeding, but then came out in a very “Spirit of ‘76” way.
He did that for me. It was strange. I’ve never said this before, but that was Andre’s way of thanking me. Because of treating him with the respect that was due and vice versa, he did me that favor. I don’t think he ever did that for anyone else.
As a kid, I really loved the WCW vs. WWF Wars in in the mid-90s, just before the Attitude Era really start to take hold. As someone who lived it, what was that era like in its prime?
It was great for the fans. Second of all, it was great for the wrestlers. I also think it was great for the promotions. What went south was a couple of guys who had access to the microphone that made it a war. Myself, I never looked at it as a war. WCW would come on TBS five minutes before WWF and give the results of what’s going to happen. When I was at the WCW, I was like, “Woah, I’m not at war with anyone. I’m here making it the best I can make it.” That doesn’t sell a ticket. That doesn’t make any money. It got to where the tail was wagging the dog with egos.
Before that happened, it was great. It gave Stone Cold a place to go. It gave The Rock a place to go. We finally all left New York. They needed other people, so it gave those guys a spot and they did great with it. It opened up new guys like [Diamond Dallas Page] in the WCW. It showed us that there were a couple of guys who thought they had a lot of talent that didn’t. From many aspects, it was a great showcase for all the things that can go right and wrong. Of course, each league would only want to pick out the right things, but, you know, sometimes the faults make it as good as the good parts do. When the WCW got underhanded and started giving away matches in another league that had already been taped, that’s where things inside the locker room got really ugly. That’s what led to its demise.
It’s too bad. Around the 10-year mark of being in wrestling, your ego is pretty heavy. Around the 15-year mark, you’re sorta “eh.” Around the 20-year mark you really realize that without everyone else, you’re nothing. They had a lot of people who were 8-10-yearers there. At that time, I was probably around a 25-yearer. I got into a couple of fights backstage. I was telling people they were full of beans and wrong about how they were doing it. They didn’t want to hear it. At the end of the day, it was great for everybody. Now the WWE is in China and Russia. The WCW could have been too.
I’m very proud to be a part of one of the greatest runs of wrestling in the pro era. I was on top on every side. Can’t get much better than that.
Looking back on your career, if you had a chance do something all over again, what would it be?
When I came into the business, I was being raised by legitimate rebels: Don Fargo, Mike “The Alaskan” York, guys that lived outside the system. Here’s one of the things they would do with me. When I was young — like 15 or 16 — I’d have my match. After coming from ring, old-timers like The Beast would grab me by the back of the neck and throw me out of the venue. They’d do it to me every night for a month. I got used to getting beat up. They were doing it because I was a brand-new kid — all fluffy and pretty — who would get the people and the girls to scream at him. They’d throw me out before the promoter would come back to bring me back out. They’d do the same thing for weeks until the promoter would be chasing me. It was all part of a psychology these guys would use to get the the promoter to pay me more.
What I would change? I would try to learn how to push it down the middle instead of just trying to take a dive for everyone. I think I could have been a little more intelligent in how I served the business better. I was on the rebel side and that’s all there was to it.
You just celebrated the 25th anniversary of “They Live.” What was it like to relive it again this past year?
Oliver Stone’s son, Sean Stone, just had me over to his house to record a show with Alex Jones. He has a million listeners and he’s a conspiracy theorist kind of guy. He was really kind. I must have been on the show for 45 minutes. He uses “They Live” as the skeleton structure for how conspiracy theories work around the world. He’s into The Illuminati and all this stuff. He’s dead serious about it and he uses “They Live” to show everyone about what’s going on.
I was just in Philadelphia at a theater that had about 750 people for a screening. They’re going to do one in Denver soon, too. I’ve never watched “They Live” from beginning to the end. I just haven’t had the chance. I’ve never watched it with people, for sure. I was upstairs in the balcony and all these people were shouting out the lines and mimicking the moves. I didn’t know they did that! I did a Q&A about it afterwards and we had a great time.
The movie is just that strong because of the path of the world today. It gives it credibility.
One last question: What advice would you have for a young person looking to make a go of a wrestling career?
I would tell him to do this: You know the moves, you know how to get in them and out of them. But wrestle with your heart, not your head. When you wrestle with your heart, you’re giving everything you’ve got to what’s in front of you, which is the match. You’re not trying to go in there and make someone like you or hate you or have the audience form an opinion of you. When you go in there, open your heart up because it takes a very courageous man to open his heart up. It’s not a courageous man who puts a suit on, gets on a horse, and grabs a sword. I’m not saying it’s easy to do, but it’s just more chance and ego. But if you strip down to your underwear and you open up your heart and just let it go, those people will recognize it. That will endear them to you and allow you to have redemption when something is right.
Wrestle with your heart, not your head.