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'Rowdy' Roddy Piper dead; WWE legend was 61

"Nature Boy" Ric Flair, left, and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper attend the WrestleMania 25th anniversary press conference at the Hard Rock Cafe on March 31, 2009 in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Ronda Rousey showed up at last year's SummerSlam in Los Angeles wearing a Roddy Piper T-shirt and sporting a nickname -- "Rowdy" -- that she asked his permission to borrow.

Piper, whose wrestling career transcended both generations and genres thanks to his WrestleMania II tussle with Mr. T, his chaotic "Piper's Pit" interview segment and an eclectic stint on the silver screen, died Thursday night from cardiac arrest while in his sleep in his Hollywood home at the age of 61, according to TMZ. WWE confirmed the death Friday night via a news release.

"WWE is deeply saddened that Roderick Toombs, aka "Rowdy" Roddy Piper - WWE Hall of Famer and Intercontinental Champion - passed away today at the age of 61. WWE extends its sincerest condolences to Toombs' family, friends and fans," the release said.

"Roddy Piper was one of the most entertaining, controversial and bombastic performers ever in WWE, beloved by millions of fans around the world," WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon said in the release. "I extend my deepest condolences to his family."

Piper, a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, left home at age 13 and survived life on the streets before breaking into the wrestling business at age 15. As Piper recalled in his 2006 documentary, "Roddy Piper," Born to Controversy," his first match consisted of him getting beaten in 10 seconds by Larry "The Ax" Hennig in the Winnipeg Arena, getting his nose broken in the process.

Mick Foley, a Long Islander who wrestled for several years in the WWE, said he, Kevin Nash, Bushwhacker Luke and the Nasty Boys were at an appearance in Miami when they found out about Piper's death.

"We were in a state of shock," Foley said.

Foley and Piper didn't meet until after their full-time professional careers were over, but bonded over devotion to family and other interests.

"When we would meet, we would talk for hours, " Foley recalled. "We both had one-man shows that we worked hard on. I really admired Roddy. He was a trailblazer and a role model." 

Piper, a real-life bagpiper, recalled getting abused by fellow wrestlers as an teenage upstart wearing a kilt while working his way up in the business. But that ability to get under people's skin ended up becoming his trademark, as he starred in National Wrestling Alliance territories in Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon and Charlotte, North Carolina before coming to the then-WWF in 1984.

"I got my head beat in a lot wearing that kilt," Piper said. "But I wore it."

Piper soon debuted his "Piper's Pit," interview segment, berating fellow wrestlers in a time before today's more politically correct WWE standards. His most memorable moments included knocking out Fijian grappler Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka with a coconut and shaving the head of little person wrestler The Haiti Kid.

That willingness to do anything made Piper the perfect foil as Hulk Hogan and McMahon were teaming to create the "Rock 'n' Wrestling" era that pushed professional wrestling into the mainstream in the '80s. Piper faced off with Hogan in "The War to Settle the Score" at Madison Square Garden in February 1985, a match that aired on MTV.

The following month, Hogan teamed to Mr. T to defeat Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff at the inaugural WrestleMania at MSG. The following year, Piper defeated Mr. T in a boxing match at WrestleMania II at Nassau Coliseum.

By WrestleMania III Piper had become a crowd favorite, defeating "Adorable" Adrian Adonis in his retirement match. He would come back to wrestling numerous times over the ensuing three decades, but took a respite to start a movie career that included cult favorites like "Hell Comes to Frogtown" and "They Live."

Piper was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005, and in 2014 starred in "Legends' House," a "Real World"-type program that featured Piper living in a home with fellow WWE stars of yesteryear like Hillbilly Jim and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan.

Piper is survived by his wife, Kitty, and their four children.


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