Even though “Rowdy” Roddy Piper ruled wrestling for over 30 years, some of the WWE legend’s greatest work happened on the big (and small) screen over the last three decades. Here’s just some of Hot Rod’s finest film and TV work.
If you’re a regular here at Laser Time, you know that we like our pro wrestling, but that our expertise stretches across all mediums. So while we’re bummed about the recent passing of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (real name: Roderick George Toombs) and will talk about his in-ring legacy on Cheap Popcast, our resident wrestling experts (Hank and Dave) are going to use this opportunity to discuss how the Hot Rod was one of the most influential performers out of the ring this side of Dwayne Johnson.
THE GOONIES ‘R’ GOOD ENOUGH (1985) — BY DAVE RUDDEN
As much as defamed racist Hulk Hogan pushed the WWE into the stratosphere in the mid-80s, the “Rock ‘n Wrestling” phenomenon started by Cindy Lauper and Captain Lou Albano played an equally vital role in bringing ‘rasslin to the mainstream. Lauper’s biggest foil during her foray into the WWE? None other than Roddy Piper, one of the few wrestlers of that era who could stand toe-to-toe with Lauper as they slung insults at one another. In the ring, Lauper stood across from Piper as he challenged Hogan for the World Title at The War to Settle the Score, but out of the ring, the duo faced off in the music video “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough.” You may recognize the song from when the Goonies make their way towards the Fratelli’s diner and also over the credits.
In this epic two-part 12-minute mixture of 80s pop, pro wrestling, and The Goonies, Piper and his heel pals antagonize Lauper and her mom-and-pop-gas-station-running family (which includes a face-turned Captain Lou), chasing the pop star into a nearby cave (?!) where they encounter the rag-tag adventuring Goonies(?!?!). While Piper and company briefly have the upper hand after turning into pirates, the faces eventually prevail and Piper’s pit crew gets chased away by Andre the Giant. While he’s far from the only wrestling icon in the music video, Piper is given the lion’s share of the dialogue and is treated as the leader of the music video’s evil faction due to his impressive comedic abilities, shown in the video’s first half below. This was far from the last time that Piper would steal a scene, however…
BODY SLAM (1987) — BY HENRY GILBERT
In 1985 the WrestleMania era had just begun, though it really got its start as the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling time that preceded it. After the surprise success of wrestlers in Cyndi Lauper videos, MTV and WWF worked together to co-promote rock music and wrestling, and obviously Hollywood was ready to show interest as well. So Hal Needham, stuntman-turned-director of classics like Cannonball Run and Smokey and The Bandit, jumped on the bandwagon with the action-comedy Body Slam. And Roddy Piper was a costar in his first real film role.
To be honest, Piper is cast a bit against type, playing the rough but good natured wrestling hero who stands up to dastardly managers and tag teams. Ideally that should’ve been someone like Hulk Hogan or Ricky Steamboat as the hero, with Piper teaming with Bob Orton to take ’em on. Clearly the filmmakers didn’t know just how good Piper was at being bad, as he’s instead playing second fiddle to A-Team’s Dick Benedict and a bunch of corny attempts at rock ‘n’ roll humor that lacks any bite or cleverness. At least Piper gets to bleed a bit to add some interest to the action.
However, it’s worth watching just to witness this beautiful time capsule of mid-80s wrestling. The Tonga Kid is Piper’s tag teammate, Captain Lou Albano is Captain Lou Murano (seriously), and wannabe Road Warrior Barbarian is one of the lead heels. Even the likes of Ric Flair, Bruno Sammartino, and Classy Freddie Blassie make appearances. For all its faults, Body Slam is still a fascinating piece of wrestling history.
THEY LIVE (1988) — BY HENRY GILBERT
By the late ’90s, I’d become a huge wrestling fan again, and was enjoying Roddy Piper’s resurgence as a fixture of WCW. Playing face against the newly heel Hogan, Piper took on the nWo and countered Hogan’s egotism by saying Hulkamania wouldn’t exist without the Rowdy one. Thanks to their broadcast synergy, TNT had Hot Rod take a brief break from Nitro to be a guest on MonsterVision, the cable channel’s late-night horror movie showcase. I followed Piper there and learned all about cult cinema, starting with They Live.
I’ve seen it about a dozen times since, even at San Francisco’s renowned Castro Theater. It’s one of the best examples of how pulpy, genre films can straddle the line between entertaining violence and social commentary. Just as I was becoming the insufferable liberal you know today, here’s this John Carpenter film about the destructive power of ’80s greed and consumerism. Only it’s being caused by an alien menace and Roddy Piper is the tough-as-nails drifter that will kill all of them.
Piper’s performance shows that John Carpenter was likely the best director he ever had. Piper’s wild side could still come out in the form of one-liners as he used a shotgun to murder old ladies, but he could still get serious when venting frustration about America losing its way. Everyone remembers “Kick ass and chew bubblegum,” but I was just as drawn to the quieter side of Roddy’s performance. Given the tales of his actual childhood, Piper’s speech about his father holding a blade to his neck feels all too real, revealing the pain simmering beneath his joking anger. Carpenter found a way to expose both sides of the man.
Obviously, you can’t talk about how great They Live is without Piper’s costar, Keith David. His booming voice and incredulous demeanor played off Piper well, especially in what I’d say is still the greatest fight scene ever filmed.
Forget CG or wire fu. This bloody knuckle fight gets intensity from the two actors going all out and Roddy puts his wrestling skills to work to make it feel painfully real. Just when you think it’s over, one of the guys gets back up and has a second, third, or fourth wind, and it’s all over an argument about wearing sunglasses. The fight is a bit like a very long, drawn out joke. It’s exciting at first, then it keeps going so long you get a little uncomfortable, then it goes SO LONG that it becomes fun all over again.
And the fight inspired some great parodies, including the Cripple Fight on South Park, as well as Piper and David recreating it in The Red Throne episode of Adventure Time. The two most recently got together to reignite that chemistry during a similarly themed alien battle in the game Saints Row 4.
There are dozens more little things I love about They Live, including the fact that Piper pretty much no-sells getting shot with a machine gun AND gives authority the finger with his last breath. It showed that Piper could act just as well on film as he could in the ring. Years later, so many artists and rebellious souls are influenced by They Live’s anti-establishment nature, and its oppressive symbolism works well no matter where your politics lie.
Not too long ago, I was shocked to find out Vince McMahon tried to stop Roddy from appearing in it, and that the ridiculous No Holds Barred was Vince’s jealous attempt to outdo They Live. I’m glad Roddy didn’t OBEY, and instead gave the world one of the most influential films of the ’80s.
Piper teams with Jesse Ventura on a cop comedy and freaks out the Always Sunny gang on the next page!