Rowdy Roddy Piper ‘spent his life as a class act’

Wrestler Roddy Piper attends the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania press conference at the Hard Rock Cafe, Tuesday, March 31, 2009, in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A public memorial for WWE Hall of Famer Rowdy Roddy Piper, the kilt wearing trash-talker who headlined the first WrestleMania and later found movie stardom, was held Monday morning.

Piper, 61, died July 31. Piper — born Roderick George Toombs — died from cardiac arrest in his sleep at his home in Hollywood and discovered the next day, TMZ reported.

A private service will be held Tuesday. The private service was scheduled to coincide with the Tuesday night taping of WWE Smackdown at the Moda Center. His family wants fans around the world to observe a moment of silence at 10:30 a.m. PT Tuesday.

Matthew Merz spoke at a public memorial for Rowdy Roddy Piper at the Mount Olivet Baptist Church in North Portland, Aug. 10, 2015. (KOIN)
Matthew Merz spoke at a public memorial for Rowdy Roddy Piper at the Mount Olivet Baptist Church in North Portland, Aug. 10, 2015. (KOIN)

Friends and fans who gathered at the public memorial said he was a good person. Several dozen people attended the service at Mount Olivet Baptist Church in North Portland, a spot chosen because one of the buildings used to house Portland wrestling.

He had more than 30 titles to his name and before he hit the big time, he was already big in Portland.

“The truth is that Roddy Piper was so good at his job that he never needed a title belt around his waist to make people pay attention to him,” friend Matthew Merz said. “WrestleMania wasn’t built on a big world title match. It was built on Rowdy Roddy Piper.”

Len Denton, aka The Grappler, attended a memorial service for fellow wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper, Aug. 10, 2015 (KOIN)
Len Denton, aka The Grappler, attended a memorial service for fellow wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper, Aug. 10, 2015 (KOIN)

“He was truly honored to have all of you as his neighbors and he legitimately cared about the people of Portland and the entire Northwest,” Merz said. “I personally find it so moving that these same people gathered here together one more time at the Portland sports arena to show their love for Rowdy Roddy Piper, a man who spent his life as a class act.”

Fellow wrestlers said Piper never lost sight of what was important.

“One thing Roddy lived by, he always says this right here, ‘Family comes first, no matter what,’” said Len Denton, perhaps better known as The Grappler.

His fans were also at the top of the list for Piper, who was said to make sure all the people who wanted an autograph got one.

He was described as a thoughtful, humble human being and an ambassador of goodwill.

Piper was born a Canadian, but friends said he lived and died an Oregonian.

Piper also went by the nickname “Hot Rod” during his career. Although he was Canadian, he often appeared in a kilt and came to the ring blowing bagpipes in a nod to his Scottish heritage.

Piper was best known for his lengthy career with the World Wrestling Federation, now the WWE. He had more than 30 titles to his name and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame 2005.

“Saddened about the passing of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper,” tweeted Paul “Triple H” Levesque, a wrestler and top WWE executive. “He was truly a legend and icon, and will never be forgotten… #ThankYouRoddy #RIP.”

Piper became a household name because of his rivalry with Hogan, and the involvement of pop star Cyndi Lauper and her friend Captain Lou Albano, also a wrestler. The feud led to an MTV special “The War to Settle the Score” in 1985. Piper was cast as the villain, and his disqualification led to Hogan claiming the WWF championship.

A brawl at the end of that fight would lead to the first WrestleMania.

In addition to his celebrity in the ring, Piper appeared in John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic “They Live.” In that film, he delivered the memorable line: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass — and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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