Rowdy Roddy Piper
Arguably the greatest villain in the history of professional wrestling, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's outsized personality made him a legend in the sport and a popular star in action-packed genre films like "They Live" (1988). Born Roderick George Toombs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada on April 17, 1954, he spent much of his teenaged years on the streets and in halfway houses after a falling out with his father, a Royal Canadian Mountie. Piper found an outlet in pugilistic sports, first as a Golden Gloves-winning boxer, and later in judo and wrestling. He made his professional wrestling debut at the age of 15 and worked as a "jobber" - a wrestler who is assigned to lose matches against main event performers - in various leagues throughout the United States and Canada. The first inkling of Piper's brash wrestling persona emerged in the mid-1970s, when, as a member of Gene LeBell's NWA Hollywood Wrestling league in Los Angeles, he became a gleefully mean-spirited foil, baiting the Mexican-American audience by waging war against the popular Guerrero family dynasty. The attention afforded by these stunts led to even greater infamy in the Pacific Northwest and Georgia wrestling circuits; there, Piper became the "heel," or antagonist fans loved to hate through a combination of brutally underhanded behavior in the ring and a gift of gab that would receive its greatest showcase in the mid-1980s, when he joined the World Wrestling Federation (WWF/WWE). League owner Vince McMahon recognized Piper's talents and granted him a segment between matches called "Piper's Pit," which was intended as a talk show. Piper transformed the format into the pulpit for the cult of his stage personality, which combined the extreme physicality, malevolence and ego of comic book supervillians with a wicked talent for verbal abuse and a "Scottish" temper that often sent interviews spiraling into out-and-out brawls. The segment elevated Piper to national attention, even among those who didn't follow wrestling, as the WWF's top heel status at a time when wrestling was entering mainstream popularity through crossover promotion with MTV and "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ); as a result, Piper became a global superstar thanks to exposure in the first Wrestlemania event in 1985, where he battled the league's premier hero, Hulk Hogan. In 1987, Piper left the WWF to try his hand at acting; his debut feature, John Carpenter's "They Live," was a slyly subversive thriller about a drifter (Piper) who discovers an alien invasion. A cult favorite, thanks in part to a memorable line of dialogue improvised by Piper ("I have come to chew bubble gum and kick ass - and I'm all out of bubble gum"), the film did not translate into screen stardom, though he continued to act in low-budget genre films for the next two decades. Piper soon returned to wrestling for the WWF (which became World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc in 1999) and other promotions, including World Championship Wrestling (WCW). By the new millennium, he had graduated from the brash villain du jour to beloved elder statesman and 2005 inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame, By this time, his relationship with the business had become one of necessity; health issues, including a bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2006, forced him to continue to wrestle in order to collect his pension. He remained active as a wrestler and actor until 2015, when Piper succumbed to a heart attack in his sleep on July 31.