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Face to Face with a Legend!
-A Rare Glimpse at the Real Rowdy Roddy Piper.

Written by: Elliott S. Thomas

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Attending the E3 Expo is a magical experience. Although the show only comes but once a year, the memories it creates can last a life time. I have been extremely lucky to have attended the expo every year since 1999. Since that time I have had many wonderful experiences on the show floor. It’s my honor and pleasure to share this special memory with you today.

The year was 2002. Pro wrestling video games have always been a huge draw at the show. Acclaim Entertainment was getting ready to release their latest wresting game, titled Legends of Wrestling II. The game was something akin to a fantasy sports league for wrestling fans. Titans of the industry battled for dominance of the squared circle. The aptly named “legends” featured major players spanning the vast history of professional wrestling.

The game had an all star lineup that was filled with some of the biggest names from the past 30 years. All of your favorites were included. The illustrious list of characters read like the alumni directory at the WWE hall of fame. Big time stars including Hulk Hogan, Brett Hart, Eddie Guerrero, Jerry “The King” Lawler and so many other stars were featured in the incredibly robust character line up. Even cult icon, and fan favorite, Andy Kaufman made the cut. Over 60 stars filled the ranks of this impressive title. However, there was one star that was a particular favorite of mine. When I heard that he would be appearing at the show to promote the game I was really excited and I could not wait to meet him in person. That man was the infamous Rowdy Roddy Piper.

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It was early in the morning on the second day of the show. As I read the daily schedule I discovered that Mr. Piper would be doing a special autograph signing to help promote the new game. I immediately started to plan my day around this event, vowing that I would be first in line to meet one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the sport.

When I arrived at the Acclaim both I noticed that people were already lined up to meet Mr. Piper. Even though I had showed up well in advance of the actual signing, which did not begin for almost two hours, there were already people waiting in line ahead of me. Roddy Piper was just that popular. I chuckled for a moment at the dedication of my fellow wrestling fans and then I quickly joined them in line.

While I waited for the signing to begin I struck up a conversation with the person standing in front of me. He was a product buyer for one of the biggest retail chains in the country, but he was also a devout wrestling fan. We talked about our favorite matches, and then laughed about some of Piper’s many hijinks. Specifically we both loved Piper’s Pit. This was a notorious commentary and interview segment hosted by Piper himself. Mr. Piper was always an impressive speaker, or as they say in the wrestling biz, he had great mic skills. He was an outspoken trash talker who really had a way with words. Inevitably the Piper’s Pit segments would end in total chaos, like the time he hit Super Fly Jimmy Snuka in the head with a coconut.

Now I have been a resident of Hollywood, CA for almost three decades. Roddy Piper actually lived right here in the neighborhood for many years. I had heard from people who had met the “Hot Rod” in person that he never broke character. He was always in character, on camera or off. This tradition is known in wrestling as “kayfabe.” It means that no matter what happens, you stay in character at all times. I imagined that it was probably easy for Mr. Piper to stay focused because the person you saw on TV was the real Roddy Piper. What you see is what you get.

Finally the big moment arrived. Roddy Piper took to the autograph stage and a huge cheer rose up from the excited crowd. He was dressed in his classic, iconic attire; a Scottish kilt, a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Hot Rod” and a leather jacket. Mr. Piper talked for a bit about the game and then he sat down at a table to begin the signing. Acclaim was generous enough to provide everyone with glossy photos of Mr. Piper, which he happily signed for fans. He also graciously posed for pictures and chatted with everyone who came to see him. I immediately noticed that despite his volatile reputation in the ring, Roddy Piper was actually a warm and approachable person. He truly appreciated his fans, and he took the time to let you know it. He made everyone feel really special, and it was an incredible thing to witness.

It was finally my turn to meet the legend. I was very nervous, to say the least. As I approached the table, I noticed that Mr. Piper was distracted by something, or to be more specific, someone he saw in the crowd. Before I could greet him he said “can you hold on a minute?” Then he walked around the table, departed the stage, and left the signing area.

I remained on the stage and observed him walking into the crowd. There I saw him approach a young fan who had been watching him from the audience. The young man was confined to an electric wheel chair, and could only move around with the aid of a joystick which he controlled with his chin. He obviously could not make his way up the stairs to the signing table. So upon seeing him, Mr. Piper instantly stopped what he was doing, left the stage and came to greet the young man in person. Roddy approached the boy and the two immediately struck up a conversation. The boy’s face lit up like it was Christmas morning. He was so happy.

The boy was accompanied by a friend who was holding a small disposable camera. Mr. Piper put his arms around the boy and posed for many pictures. Then he motioned for one of the lovely female booth attendants to join him. The lovely lady and Roddy got on each side of the young fan and put their arms around him in a warm embrace. When I looked at the boys face I could see that he was smiling ear to ear. I could tell right away that this was one of the happiest moments of his life.

It was just then that I noticed something I will never forget. As Mr. Piper prepared to return to the stage, he reached down and put his arms around the boy one last time. He then bent down, and gently kissed the boy on the top of his head. I was truly touched by this sincere and humble display of genuine compassion. At that moment I realized that I was witnessing the real Roddy Piper. Not the sports legend, not the movie star, but the real man. He was breaking kayfabe right in front of me. This was a man who had been called the greatest villain in the history of professional wrestling. Gone was the volatile “Hot Rod” character that I knew and loved for many years. In its place was a kind and gentle human being, humble and gracious. There were no press cameras around, and I was probably one of the few people who witnessed this event. He wasn’t doing this to make himself look good, or for the publicity, he did this because he loved people, he loved his fans, and he wanted them all to know it.

I felt a tremendous swell of emotion after seeing this act of kindness and compassion. When Mr. Piper finally returned to the stage I was a bit choked up. I was so excited to meet him. Here he was, the legend, seated right in front of me. He gave me a warm greeting and reached out to shake my hand. I told him how much I loved his work in movies and in the WWF (WWE). He was always one of my all time favorite wrestlers. He graciously thanked me. Then I said “Mr. Piper, I still remember that time you hit Jimmy Snuka in the head with a coconut.” He let out a boisterous laugh and said “yeah, he was never the same after that.”

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About The Author: Elliott S. Thomas is our resident professional wrestling fanboy. He watched his first match with his grandfather, many years ago, and continues to be a life long fan of the sport. From the WWF, NWA, WCW, ECW and the modern WWE, he's always got his eye on the action.