I was born in 1964. Around the time I was 10-12 I discovered the UHF channels on my parents' black-and-white TV and found some WWF wrestling from Allentown, Pennsylvania. I loved wrestling right away. But somehow my parents banned me from wrestling for a while (I recall it had to do with me elbow dropping my 9 year old brother and him complaining about a bump on his head).
By 1978 or so, the ban had still not been lifted, but I stumbled upon Mid-Atlantic wrestling one day. It was a production put on by the NWA (I was confused by the constant references to Harley Race, the great NWA champ, who never appeared on my TV). In any event, the stars of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, in my opinion, were Ric Flair and Greg Valentine who feuded endlessly and beat the living hell out of each other. There were a lot of other wrestlers whom I would later follow out of North Carolina and Georgia. But I recall most vividly the Flair-Valentine feud.
One day Roddy Piper came into the Mid-Atlantic region. He was a terrible person, someone so villainous that you just hated him immediately. He was a great "heel."
Looking back at old clips, the shtick from 1981 or so is so tired and old that it seems like the guys are fighting over whether vanilla or French vanilla is a better ice cream flavor. Piper calls guys old and fat and they say Piper wears a dress (he always wore a kilt, thus obviously opening himself for this insult, a pretty obvious character flaw in 1981).
Piper and Flair fought against each other and fought together at times. They made a good combo, regardless of how arcane their stated differences were.
Then Piper disappeared, I know not where. Well, he turned up in the WWF where he continued his reign of being the #1 overall heel. Piper was just a guy you hated. He was loud and had a squeaky voice when he wanted to put on that affect. He liked to act crazy....but more maniacal than crazy. And he could just explode with hatred and bile, physically and verbally. His coconut to the head attack on Jimmy Snuka on "Piper's Pit" was one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen, but it was preceded with some of the most loaded racist conduct you could ever put together. Remember, this was a PG or PG-13 world, so the actual words Piper was saying weren't necessarily outrageous. It was how much he loved saying them.
I saw Piper wrestle in person in Buffalo and do a "Piper's Pit" segment live in the arena. I also saw Piper wrestle Rick Rude in 1989 at the Met Center in a "country whipping match" in which the men took leather straps to one another for 15 minutes or so (Piper defeated Rude, but both men were in awful shape by the end of the match).
Piper was a character. He really wasn't a great technical or scientific wrestler, and he really didn't have much profound to say. (The top of my blog features the sort of quotes Piper could provide -- this one from a movie, "They Live.") Yet he became so popular that I had two thumb wrestlers given to me as a gift, Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper. No one ever asked, "Who is that other guy?" Piper for serveral years was the publicity equal of Hogan.
For those too young to remember Piper, looking back at his old highlights won't do much to show you who he was. It was a different time. We didn't inquire as to who our entertainers really were. If you acted poorly on screen, we hated you. If you acted as a nice guy on screen, we loved you. We didn't dig down any further. My mom once met a soap opera actress from the late 1970s who played the evil person on her show. She told my mom how she could not walk in a mall or go to a public beach without someone calling her a whore or spitting on her. We didn't look very hard at the "acting" part of the equation. Piper took advantage of that fact. He was a bad guy 90% of the time, and while he made some turns to the good side, he could never really be effective there. He needed to be evil and maniacal to be great. And he was. He was a great, great "wrestler" in the sense that he showed up and did his job in the way that brought him and his companies the most fans and the most money.
Losing Dusty Rhodes and Roddy Piper in one year is very hard on a wrestling fan born in 1964. At least Ric Flair survives. But when Flair dies, I may need to take a couple days off.