|Even if he wasn't a Scot, Piper was as Scottish as one could get|
Photo via Scottish Wrestling Entertainment
Last night, I got home from a wrestling event in Edinburgh, Scotland (before I start, I'm Scottish, born here, and have lived here all but three years of my life). I had a great time, and took photos until my phone ran out of batteries as the main event was starting. I was buzzing on the bus home, enthusiastically talking with my partner about the show. I couldn't wait to get home, charge my phone, and tell everyone I knew how awesome the main event I had just witnessed was.
I got home, switched my phone on, and felt a lump in my throat at the words that greeted me. Rowdy Roddy Piper passes away, aged 61.
Being Scottish, Roddy Piper was a HUGE deal for me as a kid. In wrestling, places like New York, Florida, Minnesota, all have LOADS of guys. For the longest time, Piper was the only guy on the world stage in wrestling flying the flag for Scotland. We're a small country with a population of only five million (IE not far over half the city of London), so when someone representing us makes it big globally, whether it's in wrestling, other sports, music or acting, we love to see them succeed.
Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that he was Canadian (though I'm led to believe his parents were from Maryhill in Glasgow), but that didn't matter. That's the beauty of wrestling. Here's this guy, whose accent on the 'Not in the least bit Scottish sounding' scale lies somewhere between "present day Drew Galloway" and "Mel Gibson in Braveheart", telling us he's from Glasgow. We wanted to believe him, and so we did. Ask any Scottish wrestling fan, and they'll all tell you the same thing; Roddy Piper is OUR guy. He's one of us.
It's funny. Seeing most of the memories people have posted, Roddy Piper is quite obviously best remembered by most as a heel. Yet all of my childhood memories of him are of him being a good guy. All the stuff people instantly remember, such as the coconut incident, I didn't see until years later. In fact, I saw him on the first show I ever watched, WrestleMania VII, accompanying Virgil during his match. I didn't know who was who (I walked in on my cousins watching the show during the intros for Undertaker vs. Jimmy Snuka, and had no prior knowledge), but Ted DiBiase was covered in dollar signs, and covering yourself in those is a cast iron signifier that you're a villain, which made Virgil and Piper the good guys by default. A Scottish guy sticking up for the underdog. I was sold.
So I went out and bought loads of WWF videos (until WCW videos made it to the UK a year or so later, those were all we had), desperate to see more wrestling. And on every release I could find, whether wrestling, doing Piper's Pit, or on commentary, he was a good guy (older releases were harder to find). The closest to being a baddie I ever saw him was against Bret Hart at WrestleMania VIII (which I rewatched last night, and is still one of my favourites), when he threatens to set about the Hitman with the ring bell. In the end though, he refused to cheat, and it cost him. On the biggest stage there was, Piper snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. If that doesn't make him a true Scotsman, I don't know what does.
Hell, at Survivor Series 1990 on commentary, he accidentally called Rick Martel a bastard. That is literally the most Scottish thing that WWE have ever broadcast.
My favourite memory though actually came a lot later on, in 2006. Sure, he was long past his heyday at that point, but it was the only time I got to see him live. In his HOMETOWN OF GLASGOW, SCOTLAND (I will fight you irl if you question that). This was when he was teaming with Ric Flair, so they paired them with his FELLOW SCOTS (I refer you to the contents of the previous parentheses) The Highlanders, to take on The Spirit Squad. Piper came out first, wearing scarves representing both of the cities rival teams, Celtic and Rangers. This is an act that in any other setting could legitimately cause a riot. Piper was unanimously cheered. He introduced Ric Flair, who got exactly the reaction you'd expect, then gave his all introducing The Highlanders. I know those guys were considered a joke within WWE, but for one night only, thanks to Piper, they were a big deal.
Last year, Piper returned to Scotland as part of a spoken word tour he did. Even before his passing, it still broke my heart that I missed out on that as I couldn't afford it. A few of my friends were lucky enough to meet the man, and by all accounts, he was a extremely nice, warm hearted person who made those around him feel like an equal, rather than just a fan. I saw a lot of the photos with him reposted yesterday as my friends shared memories of him, and he's wearing a genuine smile in every one of them (Especially Lily's, because she brought him shortbread). My heart sank when I saw a picture of him outside Edinburgh Castle, as I had been in town that day and had no idea how close I'd come to meeting one of my heroes. Until yesterday, I still thought "He'll come back soon, I'll catch him next time". The prospect of that never happening is going to take some getting used to.
I'll be honest, I gave this no forethought. I've rambled for this entire piece of writing on the spur of the moment. I have no idea how to finish this other than to say that I speak on behalf of every wrestling fan in Scotland when I say Roddy Piper, we love and will miss you. We were glad to be your home from home.