He was arguably the greatest villain in the history of professional wrestling. His trademark shirt with the word “Hot Rod” and the red kilt he wore, made him stand out in an industry overrun with colorful character. To his family he was known as Roderick Toombs and Dad, but to the world, he was known as Rowdy Roddy Piper. You would be hard pressed to find any wrestling fan who does not know his name or story. He truly was one of the greats of the industry who’s ribbing of other wrestlers and shenanigans during his famous show Pipers Pit, cemented his legacy as a legend. When he died on July 31, 2015, the world was in a state of shock. I simply could not believe the news reports. At sixty-one, he was far too young to depart this earth and after a hard life in the wrestling business, it seemed as if his glory days were ahead of him. His shocking death still causes fans to shake their heads in disbelief that a man so loved was taken so soon. In all of the interviews I have watched or read with stars who knew him, not one had bad word to say about him. He is remembered as a kind soul backstage and a man possessed with genuine and undeniable talent that helped make Vince McMahon, Jr., the legend that he is in the wrestling business. But just who was the real Roddy Piper? And how did the world of Roderick Toombs, father and husband coincide with the public image he worked forty years to build? His daughter Ariel and son Colt took what remained of the second book Piper was writing about himself and decided to complete a biography of their father. The result? One of the best biographies I have read about a wrestling superstar.
Piper’s story begins on April 17, 1954 in Saskatoon, Canada when Roderick George Toombs was welcomed into the world by Stanley and Eileen Toombs. An unruly child, no one could have predicted that he would one day become a celebrity with millions of adoring fans. Because the book is written by his children and also based off his own words, there is an intimacy to the book that would be hard to duplicate by an independent biography. What we have here is the family story and it certainly is one for the ages. To understand Piper, it is necessary to understand his background and it is laid out here by those who knew him best. By his mid-teens, the young Piper knew the corporate world was not his calling and his decision to make his own life and not relocate one last time with his parents, set him on the long and brutal path that would take him to stardom. And it is at this point in the book that his life picks up as he descends deeper into the crazy world of professional wrestling.
The anecdotes from his early days in the business are nothing short of hilarious. I do not think a scriptwriter could have penned better narratives. Professional wrestling, sometimes called sports entertainment, is an often unorthodox business. Yes, ground rules and unwritten rules do exist, but spontaneity and creative geniuses are what keep the business alive. At times when I was reading the book, I was shocked and also on the verge of laughing out loud, even while on the subway. His fight with Victor Bear is literally a story for the ages. And just when you think the book cannot get any more outrageous, there is yet another story of Piper’s adventures. From start to finish, I could not put the book down, eagerly waiting to see what where the story would go next. It took many turns and revealed many facts that some fans may have never been aware of. And as Piper moves through the industry, gaining fame and fortune, he also accumulates demons along the way which he was never able to completely shake.
There is one part in the book that stood out not for the length of text but because it is key in understanding Piper’s grief as friends in the business died young reminding others of their own mortality. On July 4 , 1988, Keith A. Franke, Jr., was traveling with several other wrestlers when their van swerved to avoid a moose in its path. The vehicle descended down an embankment before coming to a complete stop. Franke died several hours later and his death sent shock waves through the industry. No one could believe that the man called Adrian Adonis was gone. Piper said that was the last funeral he went to. He never got over Adonis’ death. Their friendship and the haunting that Piper endured were the focus an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories that aired in 2012 during Season 8. In the episode, Piper reveals that his house has been haunted by Adonis’ ghost since his untimely death and that he was the person who told Piper to buy that particular house. The show itself is chilling and we see a man carrying a life long supply of grief and torment that he is alive and so many of his friends have died in the business. He carried that grief and torment with him until his own death three years later.
No book about Piper would be complete without the Wrestlemania stories with Mr. T, his feuds with Hulk Hogan and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka or his time in Hollywood where he became a cult icon as the character Nada in John Carpenters They Live. The dark side of the wrestling business is also discussed and Piper never holds anything back. His injuries, car accidents, substance abuse and mental state are all on display showing the reader the agony in his life off-camera. In the last few years of his life as his body breaks down from forty years of abuse, the realities of his life style come crashing home. Nonetheless he did not stop doing what he loved, living up to the name “Hot Rod”. If you are or were a fan of professional wrestling and have fond memories of the era when wrestling giants ruled the industry and the names Hogan and Piper were household items, then this is the book for you.