Since he was a teenager, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper has been in and out of professional wrestling rings across the world. In addition to being one of the most legendary characters in wrestling, he’s also known for his leading roles in John Carpenter’s 1980 horror/sci-fi/action classic “They Live” and the B-movie sci-fi comedy classic “Hell Comes to Frogtown.” While promoting his most recent film “Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies,” Piper talked with Austin Kaus about the film, his chances of appearing in WrestleMania XXX on April 6th, fighting South Dakota rednecks, and whether or not he and Mr. T still have a real-life problem with each other.
RP: Hey champ.
AK: Mr. Piper, how are you doing today?
RP: I’m a box of fluffy ducks.
AK: I put a basic plot summary together from the title of the movie, but tell me about the film?
RP: (laughs) O.K. Holy baby Jesus. I don’t know that you can get a better title for any movie as descriptive as “Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies.” It really says what it is, doesn’t it? (With) “They Live,” you don’t really know what’s going on.
A series called “Legends’ House” starts April 17th. (The show will be broadcast on the recently-launched WWE Network – Ed.) In it is a guy named Hacksaw Jim Duggan. I have a really hard time living with people or being around people. It’s my nature, but he got me through that darn Legends’ House and so, all of a sudden, he told me he’s going to be in this “Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies.” Then Kurt Angle calls me. Then Matt Hardy. Then Shane Douglas. Huh. It’s sort of like ‘No, I can’t come to the frat house.’ So, I come to look at it and I realize it’s a comedy. It turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s exactly what it is. Eat cookies and drink milk and sit back and watch a lot of guys have some fun.
AK: I heard your interview on the Steve Austin podcast and you had some great Hacksaw anecdotes on there.
RP: (laughs) “Hacksaw, did you order your food?” (in a Hacksaw Jim Duggan voice) “No,” he says, “I asked it nicely.” (laughs) He’s a good guy. He’s a real man’s man. We’re both cancer survivors. We’re both dads. He has two of the most beautiful little daughters I’ve ever seen and a beautiful wife. We’re the kind of guys that are family men and we got along great. I come in and there’s Hacksaw and he’s got a glove on his 2 by 4 which he called Louise and he made (other actors) shake Louise’s hand. Where are you going to find this kind of stuff?
AK: I was watching the trailer and, if I saw it right, you hit a zombie in the head with a coconut. Was that your contribution?
RP: (laughs) Yes, sir. That and I almost killed one of the zombies. When the zombies first come in the kitchen, some of them were just beginning wrestlers. They were wonderful. They were respectful. This kid came in with mummy bandages on his head, gauze and stuff. There was a take and I saw a pot there so I plunked him on the head with a pot. He went on a steel stainless steel sink like you’d see in a jail. He went down. The pot was hitting the sink and it was making such good noises that I just clubbed him to “death”. It turned out it wasn’t hitting the sink. It was hitting his head. We had to call the ambulance to take the poor kid to the hospital. That was the first scene.
AK: Off to a hell of a start, then?
RP: The rest of them started going “Wait a second … he’s as crazy as they say!” I felt terrible. He was a real sweet kid. He came back. He wouldn’t take any time off the set. The amount of respect was second to none and I think that’s why we had so much fun.
AK: You certainly had to pay your dues coming up, so I suppose it’s only fair someone might have to pay a little bit of dues coming into a movie like this.
RP: Little bit. If you want to be a zombie and fight a pro wrestler, you gotta get hit by a pot once in a while. (laughs) We’re making new rules as we’re going along, kind of like I did in wrestling.
AK: Making new rules seems to kind of sum up your whole career.
RP: Isn’t that the truth? My business in the beginning was very lawless and the more trouble I go into, the more the promoters liked me back then. I was on the front page for doing something wrong, the arena was full. Then, all of a sudden, everything changed somehow and they put rules in. You put rules in a gunfight? I’m not so good at following those rules. I don’t’ know what will happen at WrestleMania. We killed the zombies. Now I guess we’re going to kill WrestleMania.
AK: Am I going to see you on my television on the 6th?
RP: Well, sir. I’ll tell ya. It goes like this. A long time ago, they asked me to come, but I heard Hogan was barking up the tree, too. Let me fight Hogan. The L.A. Times put it on the front of the sports page. Then, Hogan couldn’t pass the physical. (laughs) There’s a physical?
AK: New rules.
RP: Yeah. I would never in my imagination thought of me and Hogan just going toe to toe in the ring and be able to expect a great performance from us for an event so big. That’s not where I was coming from. Put in a Piper’s Pit or something that we could handle. With that said, I’ve had no indication that I’m going to be on the actual card of WrestleMania. You know, what started it was a match called “The War to Settle the Score.” I don’t know any other entertainment or sport where, 30 years later, you’ve got the two guys that started it that could get back in the same form and to some extent, entertain again. It’s something created by the WWE and I think it should be celebrated with the fans. Talk about WrestleMania in New Orleans and have Hogan and Piper there. If you’ve got Hogan in there and you don’t hear the bagpipes, that’ll (mean) two things. One, I don’t think you’re doing good business. That’s my opinion. Two, you don’t want anything to do with Roddy Piper anymore. You want to use his name to sit in the crowd and get a shot of him at the Hall of Fame. Use him for garnish. I can still get in there and hang with anybody in Piper’s Pit or whatever. So, I’m leaving it up tot them. I’m really proud to be there. If I’m not in where I can wave and say hi, then it’s probably time to say goodbye and I probably hang it up. I’m going to let the WWE make that call. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know.
AK: It sounds like if they said they were ready for you to jump in the ring with Hogan, you wouldn’t say no.
RP: I would be in there in a shot. To hell with the physical. Bring it on.
AK: Maybe you could do something else, like induct Mr. T in the HOF.
RP: Now, brother, that would be an induction speech that people would remember for life. (laughs)
AK: How do you feel about him being inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame?
RP: They’re putting him in the Celebrity Hall of Fame. If I’m being honest, at the time that we did WrestleMania, it didn’t’ have a number. Mr. T. was probably the world’s best known television celebrity and so you’ve gotta give credit where credit’s due. He brought that to WrestleMania. He was really hard to deal with it because he thought he was tough. Most of the guys that I know that are really tough don’t’ even think they’re tough. So, I was the guy put in charge to squish the tough guy. That’s not a fun job, but it’s a job that needed to be done. I’m going to be there when he gets inducted. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Neither does anybody else. I don’t know where he’s coming from. I hear that he still has a big problem with me. This is a guy that really thinks he’s tough that doesn’t like me. Well, it’s got all the components I need to draw a house. Don’t ring the bell if you don’t want to fight. I think that maybe then we should air the problem and get it done once and for all.
AK: You are a direct kind of guy.
RP: If you’re waiting for me to be the afraid guy, you got the wrong guy. (laughs)
AK: How do you feel about the current state of things in wrestling now? It’s certainly changed since you started.
RP: No kidding. I worked 14 territories before I got to New York. There were no rules. Nobody knew what to do. It was dangerous but, at the same time, you had free reign. Now, it’s a publicly-traded company. You’ve got a lot of kids and you’ve got to be responsible for those kids. I think that I have all the respect in the world for everybody who answers the bell to it. They’ve got tremendous talent. It’s just a little more difficult for them because they’re not being allowed to do their best creatively. If you don’t let them do that, after a while you, just get drones. You don’t get anything special. I’m a big booster and I try to stick up for the younger guys. Just let them go. It’s O.K. if they make a mistake. It’s all right. I painted myself half-black one time. How bad can they be? I encourage them. Then again, it’s going into 120 countries every Monday. That’s significant. I don’t know of any other show that goes into 120 countries every week. Vince and I butt heads a lot but, credit where credit’s due, he’s done a good job of keeping it mainstream.
AK: It seems like promos are dramatically different than they were when I was growing up. I think a lot of them are now scripted which, as a kid who grew up in the 80s, scripted promos are unheard of to me. Is that something that’s pretty prevalent?
RP: You know, back in those days, when you came into a place, the promoter came up to you and you said “Who am I wrestling?” “Hogan.” “When?” “Monday night.” “Where?” “The Garden.” “What time?” “7:30”. “Goodbye.” Set the camera up and that would be it. I wouldn’t allow a promoter to tell me anything. I’ve been sitting in this kilt since I was 5. What are you going to tell me about cutting a promo, Mr. Promoter? Then, there were guys that couldn’t cut promos, so they started to try to help them and then there was job creation and then came the ark and Noah. They’re trying to create a new product and they don’t know how to do it. I know what they’re trying to do and I know how to do it. Vince has trouble trusting me, I think.
AK: The man might have trust issues.
RP: (laughs) I love you. Maybe it was me, too, but I was never a rebel just to be a rebel. Never. I was feeding a family. I wouldn’t take a dive for Mr. T. He wasn’t in our business and I had kids to feed. I wouldn’t take a dive for Hogan. I wouldn’t take a dive for anybody because I had earned my position and I was drawing a lot of money. If they had their way, they would have had me beat in “The War to Settle the Score” and you’d never hear the name “Roddy Piper”. The reason Roddy Piper’s around is because he kept fighting, not because they gave it to him. I think they still have a little animosity towards that. I’ve grown up a lot and tend to try to give credit where credit’s due, but I’ll give you an example with the WWE. When I went and did the movie “They Live,” Vince McMahon did not want me to do that. He made it real clear. I got a message: “You tell Piper (that) Hogan and McMahon are the only two true blue WWFers.” I went and did “They Live.” The reason I did “They Live” is because, at WrestleMania 2, the entire audience just started chanting my name. Hogan got all sideways. I heard, “Oh, we’ll take care of Piper,” meaning “We’re going to try to downplay his product.” Well, I went and did a movie. So, that stuck harshly with Vince. It stuck in his craw and then Hogan and Vince did “No Holds Barred” as an answer to “They Live.” That’s just stupid.
AK: One has probably aged better than the other.
RP: Yeah. What’s wrong with me going to be the first guy to do a movie and come back and spread the fame in wrestling? What’s wrong with that, Vince? So, here’s my point. Because of that, Vince – we’re talking about tv that goes into 120 countries – (will) have the announcers say when I’m out there “Roddy Piper, the greatest wrestler to never hold the WWE title.” I’ve been world champion, but not a WWE one. Let’s just think about that for a second. You’ve got air time worth whatever it is. Roddy Piper isn’t in the building. He’s not on the mixed card … and you spend the time to say “Roddy Piper, the greatest wrestler never to win the WWE champion.” Don’t you find that odd?
AK: Sounds like bullshit to me.
RP: (laughs) Complete bullshit. I’m like “What’s your point?” What they did is they created a martyr and they took the shine off the WWE championship because people we’re all “Piper wasn’t (WWE champion) … what’s it worth, then? Myself, I’ve never said much about it other than when confronted, the truth is – I don’t mean this bad – I was that good. I didn’t need the WWE championship. The only reason you need a title is so you can draw money. I never had that problem.
AK: Do you have any memories in wresting in either South Dakota or the Midwestern area?
RP: (laughs) Oh, yeah. (laughs) Dakotas. Wow. I used to come up from Winnipeg and do TV for (former American Wrestling Association promoter/owner) Verne Gagne. (Gagne’s AWA was based in Minneapolis – Ed.) My first match was against Mr. Perfect’s dad, Larry “The Axe” Henning. I lost that one in 10 seconds. That was in Winnipeg. My second match was in Minneapolis. That was against Superstar Billy Graham. I didn’t ask how fast I lost that one. I didn’t want to break my former record. I (traveled) as a wrestler, ref, and ring guy all through the Midwest. I did whatever I had to do at 15-, 16-, 17-years-old. (Midwestern) people are the salt of the earth. They’re great people there. Anybody that can stand that kind of cold…
Photo courtesy of rowdyroddypiper.com
AK: The cold can make you do crazy things.
RP: It speaks to the people. They’re tough people. They’re family people. They love their family and they have no problem getting out there in the snow and having some fun.
AK: We’re salt of earth. I appreciate that. We also have some crazy rednecks. Did you have any dealings with them?
RP: I must’ve fought every one. I had more (fights) in the Dakotas going to the ring than I had in the ring. (laughs) You know, they tend to drink a bit. Whatever town I was in, the only restaurant open (after a match) would be a fine French restaurant, La Denny’s. I’d fight my way in. The first thing I’d do is go to the kitchen. I’d give the cooks 20 bucks so they wouldn’t spit in my food. Then, I would find a bench with my back to the wall and I’d try to have a dinner. It was probably 50/50 for whether I had dinner or not, whether I got into a fight or not. It was very Wild West-ish in those days.
AK: Do you want to end this interview with a joke?
RP: I have an Irish poem. For those who love us, may God bless them. For those who don’t, may God turn their hearts. If he can’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles so we can recognize them by their limp.
You can follow Rowdy Roddy Piper on Twitter @R_Roddy_Piper. To learn more about “Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies,” go to prowrestlersvszombies.com.