Rowdy Roddy Piper wrestles with a new foe: cancer

Rowdy Roddy Piper wrestles with a new foe: cancer, by Tom Hallman Jr - 3rd December 2006
(Credit: The Oregonian)

Rowdy Roddy Piper wrestles with a new foe: cancer
Hodgkin's disease - The Hillsboro resident and famous brawler vows to beat the illness

Rowdy Roddy Piper, the Portland-area wrestling bad boy familiar to fans worldwide, has Hodgkin's disease, according to announcements posted on his Web site and by World Wrestling Entertainment. Piper
vows to defeat the aggressive lymphatic cancer, which often responds well to radiation therapy.

Piper, now 52, started his professional career at 15. He built his reputation with flamboyant performances, a smart mouth, appearances in dozens of low-budget movies and highly publicized feuds with the likes of Hulk Hogan. His wild persona sometimes played out in private life, and he has had some driving-under-the-influence run-ins with the law.

Born in Canada, his real name is Roderick George Toombs. He's married, has four children and a grandchild. And even though wrestling has taken him across the world, Piper -- as he is generally known -- has considered the Hillsboro area his home for the past two decades.

Piper was succinct in his 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 is affiliated with World Wrestling Entertainment, and the organization released a statement saying 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 or consent to be interviewed.

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."

In his official bio, Piper claims to have fought a record 7,000 matches as a pro. He became a local hero/villain among Portland fans during the years he was a featured attraction on Portland Wrestling, which was broadcast for nearly 40 years on KPTV. A TV announcer interviewed the wrestlers during breaks. Threats and insults would be
hurled their way, prompting a melee -- all part of the show.

It was the perfect setting for Piper, who arrived in the late 1970s. The real entertainment didn't occur in the ring but during the interviews. The camera loves Piper and he knows it. As much an actor as an athlete, Piper could ad-lib with the best of them. He was cocky, smarmy and yet all at once charming, able to trash-talk in an instant,
feign indignation and then trade blows -- all before the commercial break.

Piper, who'd spent years on the road honing his act, knew exactly what the crowd expected. He wore a kilt, and bagpipes sounded when he approached the ring. He was named "Rowdy" because of his temper. And he had all kinds of moves: the sleeper hold, the eye poke, the inverted atomic drop and, of course, the infamous low blow.

Show by show, his popularity grew.

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

Piper joined the World Wrestling Federation, which later became WWE. Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine named Piper the Most Hated Wrestler in 1984 and 1985. In 1985, Piper and Paul Orndorff teamed up against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T in Wrestlemania 1. In 2005, Piper was elected to the WWE Hall of Fame.

He 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. . . . OK, they were probably all my fault."

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