The Roddy Piper Story
Ariel Teal Coombs and Colt Baird Toombs
Synopsis: A biography from Rowdy Roddy Piper's children, trying to differentiate between fact and fiction.
Wrestlers in that era needed a story. With no Internet to provide constant correction, they devised more or less elaborate histories and Roddy's fed nicely into his undersized, angry, picked-on persona. The chip on his shoulder made sense, the way he told it. But his story had other benefits. It erased all the trouble he got into in his late teens. If he had been on teh road and in the gym from the age of fifteen, his teenage years of criminality couldn't have happened.
The idea of turning pro at fifteen is also impressive. It suits the brawler, the guy with no past who lives for the fight, the giant-killer - all the tropes Roddy played for the camera in the years to come.
To call our father's made-up history a lie, though, is missing the point. He was selling a character - it was how wrestlers of his time made a living. Since wrestlers were so recognizable when out in public, they couldn't break with those stories when they were away from the arena. Kayfabe - the wrestlers' code that demands fictions about their characters and feuds never be exposed - kept the drama feeling real. Kayfabe kept a crowd's disbelief willingly suspended when a move in the ring or a recovery from a beating didn't look entirely true. It kept the vitriol at full volume, the seats full and the popcorn selling.
That's not to say that Roddy's origin story was all a fabrication. It might well have evolved over the years, beldning true elements - living on the streets, coming fifth in a world bagpipe competition - in ways that got him through whatever reporter's question, promo or work he was facing. He owed his fans and his business convincing entertainment, not autobiography.
Rowdy Roddy Piper is my favorite wrestler of all time, and to put it mildly, his 2002 autobiography In The Pit With Piper was a bit of a disappointment.
Hell, I've reviewed more than 60 books on this site and "In The Pit..." isn't one of them, even though I've read it a half-dozen times, including once shortly after Hot Rod's passing. But I could never bring myself to review it.
Don't get me wrong, the book was entertaining and definitely worth a read. But every few pages, I tended to shake my head at some outlandish tale and say "This isn't real. There's NO WAY this could be real."
Some fourteen years after In The Pit With Piper, I was proven right.
Ariel and Colt Toombs, two of Piper's four children, were helping their father write a more definitive autobiography, one that would expand on his wrestling career and set the record straight. Unfortunately, Roddy passed away in July 2015, but his children made sure to complete the project.
Rowdy: The Roddy Piper Story follows a similar narrative to Piper's first attempt at a book: a good seventy-five percent of the stories are the same, particularly anecdotes about Piper's career in the AWA, Los Angeles, Portland, Charlotte and the WWF. But where it differs is within the disclaimer Ariel and Colt make (see the above excerpt): the stories sound semi-ficitious because Piper had difficulty seeing reality sometimes.
That doesn't make Piper a hated figure for mixing fact and fiction: if anything, it makes him more relatable, especially given he suffered through an unfair and terrifying childhood and was quickly adopted into a world where his "fathers" (other wrestlers) convinced him to kayfabe virtually everything. It makes sense.
What comes through loud and clear in Rowdy is what a good and decent family man Piper was, and how truly kind he was to both fellow wrestlers and fans. I can attest to this personally: when I met Piper at a convention in April 2012, he was incredibly friendly, respectful and took the time to talk to every last fan who lined up to meet him.
The biography is supplemented by quotes from Piper (specifically as he was interviewed for this book during his last year or so) and comments from various friends and colleagues, including Bret Hart, Rick Martel, Edge, Greg Valentine, Chavo Guerrero Sr., Bruce Prichard, director John Carpenter and Piper's wife Kitty. It definitely helps to round out the adventures of a hard-partying, unpredictable character such as Hot Rod by hearing from his contemporaries.
Overall Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! Rowdy Roddy Piper was always proud of his children, and would be moreso today by the great effort they put forward trying to preserve their father's history by building a better biography.