The Good, The Bad & The Badass: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper
I was very sad to hear that Roddy Piper had passed away at the tragically young age of sixty one. Now, Im not much of a wrestling fan so I must admit that Im pretty ignorant about his long career in the ring. Having been born in 81, I vaguely remember him as the WWFs number one villain and I think I might have owned his action figure at some point, but when I think about watching wrestling as a kid, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant are the guys that come to mind. No matter, Piper was surely an icon and the outpouring of grief from his fans paints a very flattering picture of a guy who was far from the heel he played to perfection in the ring.
Truth be told, I debated whether or not I should devote this weeks column to Piper as his film career was always secondary to his time in the WWF/WCW. While he made a bid at big screen stardom in the eighties, it never quite worked out with him more-or-less confined to B-movies like HELL COMES TO FROG TOWN and a slew of DTV titles co-starring people like Billy Blanks. Yet, Pipers still guaranteed big-screen immortality all thanks to his turn in John Carpenters THEY LIVE. Given his limited screen career, Im going to break format with this column and devote it to celebrating that film and Pipers part in it.
A flop upon its initial release in 1988, THEY LIVE became a real cult classic before the internet could help spread the word. Back then, its legend grew via VHS tapes coveted by fans and eagerly recommended by your cool neighborhood video store clerk ya know the same dude who told you about BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, HIGHLANDER and THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION. While movies that out grossed it by tens of millions in 88 have slipped into obscurity, THEY LIVE is remembered as one of the essential action films of its era. Cleverly mixing satire with knuckle-dusting action and shoot-em-ups, Piper made for an ideal blue-collar working class hero. With his mullet, and working man plaid/denim clothes, Piper while not as dynamic as Carpenters other alter-ego Kurt Russell brought a sense of integrity to the part that shouldnt be overlooked.
Yet, what people most remember about THEY LIVE are the crowning moments of bad-ass glory, and certainly those are the scenes that have guaranteed Piper a lasting place in the pop culture. There are two key scenes in THEY LIVE that everyone knows and rank with the coolest action moments of all time. The first is Pipers take-down of the aliens in the bank where, he ironically says (an ad-lib), I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum.
This line was ripped-off wholesale in the popular nineties PC first-person shooter, Duke Nukem 3D. The other iconic bit is the badass street fight between Piper and co-star Keith David. One of the best and most realistic fist fights ever committed to film, legend has it that Piper and David just decided to improvise a real fight once Carpenter called action. The truth is that the fight was actually rehearsed for three weeks, although the on-screen blows were real minus the groin and face shots. Truly, its one for the history books.
While its a shame Pipers action hero career never really took off, hell always have THEY LIVE and his wrestling career is still considered one of the most successful of all-time. Off-screen, Piper was exceedingly gracious, never turning down autography requests and always game for a little chit-chat with his fans. While I never had the opportunity to meet the man, two good friends of mine, Chris and Joey (whos a wrestler himself as The Green Phantom) did and theyve told me he was everything youd want him to be and more, and he happily posed for photos with them like the one below.
Truly, Piper was a legend and his passing is a tragedy that hit his fans hard, especially considering how active he was, with him still posting on Twitter just hours before passing away, eagerly teeing up an interview he was going to do later that day. Yet, fans can take comfort in the fact that his legacy is untarnished (unlike a lot of his contemporaries) and no matter what, hell always be remembered for THEY LIVE.
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