I came to wrestling in my childhood, mostly because no one else in my family liked it at all. I'm the youngest of three, with siblings that are 6 and 7 years older than me, and from age 5 on, we were a single parent household.
So I spent most of my formative years alone or trying to be alone, because being around my siblings was, well, difficult in the way that big age gaps when you are a kid is just difficult. They didn't like wrestling, so I got to watch it by myself. That worked out for all of us.
Wrestling was something that was on when everyone else was asleep on Saturday mornings, or later on, something where I got to see a house show, on our local cable TV outlet, when the house cleared out on Saturday nights. And Piper was the biggest bad guy in the world... for, well, the rest of the world. I think it took me until about age 10 or so to become well and truly sick of the hero in Piper's world, the now-disgraced Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea, and I frankly enjoyed it whenever Piper got one over on him and gave him a weasely beatdown. Better still was when Piper got on the mic and insulted whatever city he happened to be in, with a transcendent moment for me coming when he called Philadelphia "America's Armpit" in a promo for a Spectrum event. I agreed entirely, and went behind the curtain to realize that without Piper getting thousands of people to lose their minds in the hopes that they would get to see him get his brains beat in, this whole enterprise was supremely pointless.
Like most people, I went away from wrestling when A Life (aka, college, women, my rock band, etc.) intruded. I'd still check in on the product from time to time, and smile whenever I saw Piper, because it seemed like ever since I stopped paying attention, the rest of the world came around to love the guy. In the past few years I discovered podcasting, and spent a few dozen hours with Roddy in my ears. He told good, though fairly repetitive, stories. He reminded me of older relatives, conducted shambling interviews with other guys who seemed as cheerfully beaten up as he was, and was absolutely unrepentant about his more out-there work, which included a fair amount of racially charged stuff.
A month ago, there was some kerfluffle where Piper lost primary distribution to his podcast as a result of some skit. Earlier this week, with Bollea becoming persona non grata, Piper sent off a terse aside over how much of an overreaction was occurring, and yeah, there probably should be a higher state of grace for older guys, because expecting older people to just give up racism is kind of nuts. And tonight, he's just dead, for seemingly no reason at all, because if you travel as much as wrestlers do, and get hurt as much as wrestlers do, and spend an untold number of nights in strange beds, the end can just seemingly come at any time. And will.
So remember him as he wanted to be remembered, in my favorite Piper story... as the heel in the middle of the ring before his match against face Latinos in Southern California. He's playing "La Cucaracha" on the bagpipes to drive a Hispanic crowd to riot. The tactic works all too well, and he has to defend himself from charging spectators who think wrestling is real. He's beating the garbage out of people for real while making the terrified ref in the ring with him break down with laughter even while he's afraid for his life by asking him, in mid riot, "Where is the justice?"
Piper was that good at his job, that committed to playing the part. He was stabbed more than once by unhinged patrons, abused by sadistic older co-workers who thought hazing the young was a perk. He once made Vince McMahon say "I love you" by painting half of his face black to give badly needed juice to a fight against a charisma-free black face, only to get pranked by co-workers into having his make up go on permanent, and having to walk through the airport the next day still looking like that. He made a lot of money, probably spent more than he made, and spent his life in the way he saw fit. He was great at his job, and got to do it until he couldn't do it any more. Whether or not you care about his profession or not, there is nothing better than you can say about a man, in my book.
Dead, at 61, from a heart attack, like clear air turbulence.
Where is the justice, indeed?