Remembering 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper (from The Oregonian archives)

Remembering 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper (from The Oregonian archives) - 31st July 2015

By Tom Hallman Jr. | The Oregonian/OregonLive


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WWE wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper arrives at the World Wrestling Entertainment SummerSlam in 2009. Roderick George Toombs died at the age of 61 on Friday. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)

Editor's note: This story originally ran in The Oregonian on November 29, 2006. Rowdy Roddy Piper died on Friday, July 31, 2015 at the age of 61.

Before trendy stores and million-dollar condos changed the place, Rowdy Roddy Piper took the stage in a run-down industrial area that respectable Portlanders avoided after dark. The professional wrestler worked out of the old Portland Armory, in a smoke-filled arena that's been transformed into Portland Center Stage's new theater.

Back when the Armory filled up with the kind of people parents warned kids to avoid, nothing could keep Piper flat on his back. Not the sucker punches, the blind referee or even the amazing super-secret death grip brought to Portland from the distant shores of the Orient. No matter how bad the beating, Piper struggled to his feet before the ref slapped the mat three times.

So it came as a surprise to learn a cancer has knocked Piper out of the ring. The prognosis, at least according to the website where it was announced, looks good with radiation therapy.

Even so, the Hodgkin's disease that has sidelined Rowdy Roddy is a sign that time waits for no one -- how could Piper be 52? -- and that another chapter in Portland's small-city history is drawing to a close.

Armory bouts took place on Saturday nights and for a while were broadcast live in prime time. One wrestler, Lonnie Mayne, ate light bulbs on camera. When the TV announcer interviewed the wrestlers during breaks, threats and insults invariably launched a melee that was all part of the show. And before his skills and acting took him around the world, that is where Piper plied his trade.

He was a caricature, loud and over the top, and he had some driving-under-the-influence run-ins with the law. On stage and in the ring, he was the kind of wrestler fans loved and hated, sometimes in the same match. Piper played the crowd like a maestro, but Tuesday's cancer announcement was a reminder that the man and the actor were separate people.

Piper -- always a man of, oh, about 100 words -- was succinct in his website statement. He and his family expressed thanks for the "overwhelming support" from fans across the world. "It seems like I have been fighting someone, something, someplace, in some manner, my whole life," Piper wrote. "But this fight is one I am gonna win!"

Piper has put down roots in Oregon. He and his wife, Kitty Jo, plus four children and a granddaughter live near Hillsboro. Although he may travel the world for World Wrestling Entertainment, Hillsboro has been home for the past 20 years.

The organization released a statement saying that Piper was "sent home early from WWE's early November tour of the United Kingdom and hospitalized for surgery, where doctors removed a mass at the spinal cord with an enlarged lymph node. The mass was completely removed, but the lymph node was positive for Hodgkin's lymphoma."

"Radiation therapy is used to treat Hodgkin's lymphoma. It is an extremely successful procedure; so the prognosis is very good."

Joe Villa, a WWE official, was unsure where Piper was receiving treatment or when the family would release more information.

News of Piper's illness sent ripples through the wrestling world. Greg Tingle, a fan in Sydney, Australia, has a Web page devoted to his hero.

"Roddy Piper is one of the world's most successful and respected wrestlers of all time," Tingle said in a phone interview. "He is a true icon."

Piper has said he's fought a record 7,000 matches as a pro and was the youngest pro wrestler, at age 15.

"He started as a brawler and over the years matured and treated it as a profession," said Tingle. "He knew it was entertainment and a business. He helped bridge the old school and the new era of pro wrestlers."

Piper has appeared in more than 30 movies and is the co-author of a book, "In the Pit With Piper: Roddy Gets Rowdy," referring to his "Piper's Pit" segment on World Wrestling Federation TV.

"I've been around the world seven times," Piper once said, "been stabbed three times, been down in an airplane and once dated the Bearded Lady. I've had Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy as a tag-team partner. I've been in 30 car crashes, none of 'em my fault, I swear on a stack of midgets. . . . OK, they were probably all my fault."

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'Rowdy' Roddy Piper in 1989. Steven Nehl/Oregonian file photo


Mickey Rourke, left, star of "The Wrestler," poses with former pro wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper at the premiere of the film at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008. (AP Photo)