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An hourlong sit-down with wrestling legend and Hillsboro resident "Rowdy Roddy" Piper



A sit-down with “Rowdy Roddy” Piper is a happening, a roller-coaster ride in stream-of-consciousness fashion orchestrated by one of the greats in pro wrestling history. Seat belts are required.

At 60, the World Wresting Entertainment Hall-of-Famer and longtime Hillsboro resident has slowed down — but only a little.

The legendary “heel” keeps busy acting, doing stand-up comedy, and hawking his own soda pop these days. The native Canadian christened Roderick George Toombs is a storyteller, and often the topic gets shifted in midstream. If you can hang on, though, it’s a worthwhile journey.

From an hourlong chat, sharing some nonadult beverages, and a lot of laughs:

Portland TRIBUNE: How is life as “Rowdy Roddy” Piper these days?

PIPER: Holy cow. What a life. Over the last 15 years, I’ve been in 120 countries. I’m known all over the world. I just got back from a tour with my one-man show in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. I did 26 hours of improv on stage in 13 days. I’d do an hour and a half stand-up, give them a break and then go into a Q&A. I’m asking, “Am I boring you?” They said no. It was a wonderful experience.

TRIB: Didn’t you get your start in improv at Harvey’s Comedy Club in Portland back in the mid-2000s?

PIPER: I did. The owner, Barry Kolin, helped me put together my one-man show. An hour and 15 minutes on stage is difficult. I’d never done anything like that before. It was as hard as it could be, but good.

TRIB: How much stand-up have you done since then?

PIPER: I spent a year and a half working the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard. Everybody there, including the guys who park cars, wants to be a comedian. I’m in their Hall of Fame. I’m not sure I deserve it, but I’ll take it. My name’s on their wall, next to my buddy, Robin Williams. He was my friend.

TRIB: You recently took part in “Monday Night Raw” at Los Angeles, doing the open with the Iron Sheik. How was that?

PIPER: It was cool. Some of us old-timers — (Hulk) Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, (Ric) Flair, myself — were sitting together reminiscing. Hulk said, “We could have swapped the (championship) belt back and forth, Piper, but no.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I wouldn’t take a dive back then. We were all ribbing on each other, but it was a warm, class bunch of guys who have been through a lot of stuff together.

TRIB: You also were in Portland for the recent WWE show that celebrated Hulk’s 61st birthday. That was quite a cavalcade of some of the greatest names in wrestling history.

PIPER: Standing in the ring at one time were Hall, Nash, Hogan, Flair and Piper. Brock Lesnar comes in, and he looks at me and I said, “You expect me to back down?” Once you fight Andre the Giant 50 times, you’re a pretty hard guy to scare. It was like, “Vince, just put the money right here. We’ll go right now.”

TRIB: What do you think of pro wrestling these days?

PIPER: The entertainment of the sport is so big right now. It’s the biggest traveling show in the world. The respect for the sport has grown considerably, too. It’s not a dirty business anymore. When I got into it, it was a very dirty business. Very black cloud; very disrespected business. It was very rough for a long time. I’m proud to see what it has become. I’m not mad at anybody. Well, I’m mad at a lot of people, but mostly because of mistakes I’ve made.

TRIB: You won a 20-man Legends Battle Royal in 2011 at WrestleReunion 5. Was that your last match?

PIPER: There is nothing I haven’t done in wrestling. I was voted by the industry the greatest villain in the history of my business. I guess it must be time to do something else.

TRIB: You made a recent appearance at a Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop in Beaverton that carries Rowdy Roddy Piper’s “Bubble Gum Soda.” How did that product come about?

PIPER: My attorney in L.A. said these two guys have a candy store, would you say hi to them? We sat down in a little corner store and they said, “We have all these stores rocking nationwide. Have you ever heard of us?” I hadn’t. They have a lot of celebrity soda pop. We decided to put a deal together. The “Rowdy Roddy” bubble gum is outselling all the others combined. It’s being sold all across the country. God bless America.

TRIB: The name comes from your line in a scene in the John Carpenter film called “They Live”?

PIPER: Yeah. The saying was, “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum.” So you want to make sure that store in Beaverton is stocked with bubble gum soda.

TRIB: You were born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. How long did you live there?

PIPER: That’s one of my major problems. I don’t have a home. I was born in Saskatoon. When I was 6, I went to live at an Indian reservation, The Pas in Manitoba — as the only white kid. It’s to this day the roughest Indian reservation in Canada. You didn’t mess around.

TRIB: Were your parents not involved in your life?

PIPER: (Long pause) I had a great mom and dad. But I don’t have a place that is home. I’ve been on the road since I was 13.

TRIB: Why did you leave home at such a young age? Was it because, as some reports say, you were expelled from junior high? Because you had a beef with your father?

PIPER: (Another long pause) I was too much for that institution, for my folks at that time. I came along late. Money was tight, things were tight, and it was time to go. They didn’t need me anymore. I lived in youth hostels for two years. I hitchhiked and would play my bagpipes. I played with a group of young musicians in the Rose Bowl when I was 12. I came in fifth in the world playing the bagpipes when I was 14.

TRIB: That’s how you got the wrestling character, wearing the kilt?

PIPER: It didn’t start out as a character. I’ll tell you what happened. I was 15 years old, wrestling (as an) amateur and also boxing Golden Gloves. I was also playing bagpipes in a band — four bagpipers, a bass drummer and two snares — that was playing the Winnipeg Arena one night. Somebody didn’t show up to wrestle (veteran pro) Larry Hennig. I was going to get $25 to wrestle him and lose my amateur status. I had never even seen a match before. I went to play my bagpipe. I was wearing the kilt from the band. The announcer didn’t know who I was. He just knew my first name was Roddy. So he said, “Here comes Roddy the Piper.”

TRIB: How did you do against Hennig?

PIPER: Shortest match in the history of Winnipeg Arena — 10 seconds. He was 6-5 and weighed 320 pounds. I was a skinny kid, maybe 6-2 and 180. Broke my nose. It was sawdust for the floor in those days. But I caught on real quick after that.

Check back next week for part two of the interview.

TRIB: When you look back at your Hall of Fame career, what are the highlights?

PIPER: The highlight of my life is my four children. As far as wrestling, I was the first pro wrestler to star in a major motion picture that became No. 1 the weekend it came out (“They Live”). And I changed the course of wrestling from an interview standpoint. That started in Portland.

TRIB: Before we ask about that, you were one of the greatest interviews ever as a wrestler, and later became one of the best interviewers. What was your secret?

PIPER: Everything wasn’t natural. I changed my pattern of speech, improved my grammar. I went from “I ain’t got none” to “I don’t have any.” Live with Mad Dog Vachon for a few years — that in itself would kill most people. He’d do interviews and (tell other wrestlers), “I’m going to rip your eyes out,” but then that would never happen. I started to realize whatever you said in the interview, you had to do in the ring. Otherwise you lost credibility and (fans) wouldn’t pay to come back and see you again. I never said anything that I didn’t at least try to do, or couldn’t back up. (As an interviewer) With “Piper’s Pit,” that revolutionized the entire business. All of a sudden we had doctors and lawyers watching. Am I sticking with the question?

TRIB: Not really. But that’s OK, I’m buckled in. How long did you wrestle in Portland?

PIPER: For only two years, maybe 1977 through ‘79, for Don Owen. When I was with the WWF after that, I wouldn’t come back to Portland to wrestle (in competition with Owen’s cards) out of respect to Don. He was good to me. I wouldn’t do it. I remember the first card in Portland with Don. I played the Scottish national anthem on the bagpipes. I played it like Jack Benny — just horrible. I’d literally torture (fans) until they booed me. Don whips the microphone out and says, “Stop it. I can’t play the bagpipes, and neither can you.”

When I first came to town, I lived in an apartment in Beaverton with Rick “the Model” Martell. Every night we’d come home, there’d be girls in it. We’d climb over the balcony. I used to read letters from girls: “Roddy, I think you’re great. Can you get me a date with Rick Martell?”

TRIB: Why did you decide to make the Hillsboro area your home?

PIPER: Because of my wife, Kitty. I met her during my time wrestling here. She was working graveyard at a JoJo’s restaurant, the only place in the area to get something to eat late. She was 19, really cute. I went in there with my friend, “Killer” Tim Brooks. He told her, “You come here.” She didn’t. I went back every day for six weeks, trying to get her (phone) number. Finally I gave her mine. We hooked up, went to Hawaii, partied for a couple of months. On Oct. 12, we’ll have been married 32 years. In my opinion, she is the world’s greatest woman.

TRIB: So you’ve lived here since what year?

PIPER: I think 1984. We’ve had two houses up on Bald Peak Mountain.

TRIB: Why have you stayed?

PIPER: We have really good people here for the most part. Portland, Oregon, is a good place if you want to raise children properly. It has a good pace. Vince McMahon wanted me to move. At one point, Vince tells Kitty, “Go find a house. I’ll pay for it if you’ll move to the East Coast.” Kitty said, “No, Vince. My kids wouldn’t stand a chance there.” It’s been good, even though I’ve had a few problems.

TRIB: At one point, you left Hillsboro for Los Angeles due to problems with local law enforcement officials.

PIPER: There were some things with my kids. I got four DUIs. I learned from it, though. I haven’t had a drink since 2009. And we had stalkers — two brothers. One did three years, the other five years in the penitentiary. They’d robbed a gunstore, and I couldn’t get anybody to help me, so I did it myself.

TRIB: What did you do?

PIPER: I stopped them from bothering my family. It’s hard for people to understand. ... (long pause) the policemen, all in all, they’re really good. You need them. I just had an unusual situation. I’m a different kind of guy. One night, I knocked out Mr. T, kicked Cyndi Lauper, chased Dick Clark back to his locker room, and slapped Little Richard. That was just one night.

TRIB: You’ve had some injuries along the way.

PIPER: Been stabbed three times. Had 30-some car crashes. Went down in a plane and broke my neck. Have seven screws in my neck. Was electrocuted. I died on the operating table at Cedar-Sinai Hospital (in L.A.) one night in 2003. (Surgeons) brought me back (to life).

I had an apartment in Burbank. There was a fellow I had to get rid of. There was some money stolen. He came to get me. I was in my pajamas. I said, “Just leave me alone.” I got dressed and we drove off, and he found a pole and ran me into it. Boom! Then a couple of Suburbans ran over me. They called the ambulance. I broke my right ankle, cracked four ribs and (sustained) damage to my liver, my spleen, my back. They had to cut my chest open for a blood clot.

TRIB: How do you feel physically these days?

PIPER: Some things, you can’t fix. My shoulder needs to be replaced. It’s just, “Ouch.” But I’ve had over 7,000 pro fights.

TRIB: Are you officially retired?

PIPER: In my head, no. But I’ll be honest with you. Those boys are so big and strong now. It would be a dumb move for me to get back in there.

TRIB: You and Kitty have four children — Anastacia, Ariel, Falon and Colton. Did any of them follow you into the world of entertainment?

PIPER: Ariel is an actress. Colt was undefeated as an amateur MMA fighter. He’s been doing it since he was 17, but he hasn’t done it the last two years. Maybe it was one of those things he needed to prove to himself. I don’t know what it would be like to grow up as my son. When I knock out Mr. T, I don’t know what happens at school the next day.

Colt still lives in Portland.

Falon is going to Oregon State in the fall. She wants to be a doctor. Pretty cool. Pretty expensive, too. Ariel is in L.A. She married a Green Beret. Anastacia lives outside of Philadelphia. She married a captain in the Army with two Purple Hearts.

TRIB: You have nearly 100 credits acting in TV and movies. What has been your favorite project?

PIPER: I’ve never done anything I like, to be honest with you. Well, I just shot a film called “Cabin.” I did a role I’ve never done before. That one might be OK. I haven’t done my best work yet. I started acting because a fighter can’t get insurance. As an actor, I could get into the SAG (Screen Actors Guild). I needed it for my family.

TRIB: You survived a bout of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the mid-2000s. How is your health now?

PIPER: The cancer is gone as far as I know. I’ve passed the five-year mark. It’s one of those things that haunts you a little bit, especially when you go as hard as I did. I’m doing OK, but about a year ago, I was driving home and I couldn’t breathe and almost passed out. I was trying to ignore it, but I had a blood clot in my lung and spent some time in the hospital. I need to start being careful. I’m not sure we’re invincible anymore.

TRIB: It would seem as if whatever you’ve done, you’ve tried to have fun with it. Is that your philosophy?

PIPER: Fun is important. My childhood was very tough, both physically and emotionally. Now it’s about staying on the right side of life, with God on your side.

TRIB: When they write an epitaph for your gravestone, what would you like it to say?

PIPER: “I told you I was sick.”

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