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  • Robert Farago


Wherein the author snorts cocaine with Rowdy Roddy Piper

I just finished Wrestlers. The Netflix series focuses on America’s last small-time wrestling franchise. Ohio Valley Wrestling is a band of pathetic losers – who gradually reveal themselves as passionate and honorable people. Or so the filmmakers would have us believe.

Wrestlers reminded me of the day I blundered into the world of professional wrestling, back before it became a billion dollar baby. Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1982…

I was working for CNN in the basement of a converted Atlanta mansion (described in the post Information Sickness). One Saturday – when the newsroom was as dead as a doornail – I heard almighty thumping overhead.

“Wrestling,” one my hungover colleagues announced, rolling his eyes.

As a kid growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, I’d seen local wrestling on TV. That was pathetic. Overweight men playing a slow motion game of let’s pretend, making a mockery of an ancient and masterful sport.

When I snuck off to see the noisemakers above the newsroom, my expectations were lower than a pimp’s morals.

The crowd surrounding the squared circle was a living, breathing PSA on the dangers of inbreeding; including a young man who let out an ear-splitting whoop, completely at random. No surprise there. They were bussed-in from a mental home.

Strike that. In the interests of political correctness, let’s just say the audience was equal parts enthusiastic and confused. And evidence of how small Prime Time Wrestling was at Superstation WTBS. At the beginning.

Big things were brewing. Wrestling promotor Vince McMahon had just purchased the World Wide Wrestling Federation from his namesake father. Vince 2.0 renamed the rag-tag-team the World Wrestling Foundation (WWF).

Inspired by his childhood love of comic books, the East Carolinian hard man brought an entirely different vision to the grappling business.

Vince wanted to turn wrestlers into larger-than-life comic book characters: superheroes with superpowers, backstories, plot lines and costumes. Good vs. evil on a scale not seen since the Romans introduced Christians to hungry lions.

Professional wrestling wasn’t there yet. The wrestlers I saw “competing” had stage names, but lacked anything like the full-blown shticks of today’s performers.

Haystacks Calhoun was… big. Nature Boy Ric Flair was… blond. Roddy Piper was… we’ll get to him in a moment.

The wrestling on display that day did nothing for me. It was still a bunch of large men pretending to hurt each other with a pre-determined outcome. Big whoop (literally).

I was, however, impressed by Gordon Solie. The diminutive chain-smoking wrestling announcer called the action using Greco-Roman wrestling terminology (e.g. suplex).

Solie’s commentary was gloriously absurd, bestowing gravitas on an activity that had absolutely none whatsoever.

I met Roddy in the hallway, dressed in a kilt (him not me). Handsome doesn’t begin to cover it. Robert Redford had nothing on the wrestler’s glamorous good looks.

As we passed, Roddy gave me a nod and a million dollar smile.

I hung out in the control room, a Starship Enterprise-like environment with Vince directing the camera shots. When nature called, boy was I surprised!

The bathroom was the wrestlers’ “green room.” Roddy’s “costume” was a T-shirt above his kilt and two of the biggest lines of cocaine I’d seen in my life. More cocaine than I’d seen in my life. Laid out in front of the sinks.

Damn if Roddy didn’t snort the whole thing, switching lines and nostrils without pause. When he looked-up, the million dollar smile had become a billion dollar smile. The wrestler was lit-up like a Christmas tree.

And then he put some coke down for me. Smaller lines, of course; he didn’t want to kill me (bless his heart). But almost did. If memory serves, that was some serious Bolivian marching powder.

I followed Piper into the studio, where he proceeded to do an “interview” with Gordon Solie.

When the history of cocaine rants is written, Roddy Piper will be right up there with Robin Williams. Piper’s rants were insane.

The Canadian wrestler’s “answers” to Solie’s questions weren’t stream of consciousness. They were a raging torrent of consciousness, focused entirely on how great Roddy Piper was compared to any and all wrestlers on planet earth; past, present or future.

The combination of the dour, jargon-spouting Solie and cocaine-crazed Rowdy Roddy Piper was a double act like no other.

Piper would go off on a tirade for minutes at a time, after which Solie would say “So…” and return to what you might call rational analysis. Now that’s entertainment!

As far as I could tell, Piper raised the energy level, the balls-to-the-wall maniacal machismo, for the entire cast. Squad? City? Whatever.

Even though Roddy Piper’s turbo-charged shtick lacked the over-the-top drama of the wrestling characters that eventually sprang from McMahon’s fevered imagination, Piper set the tone for all that was to follow.

Over the years, McMahon hired/created dozens of wrestlers with charisma, acting ability, athleticism and steroid-enhanced beauty. Roddy Piper remained in a class of his own.

A class act too, always happy to mingle with his fans - with the possible exception of the three men who stabbed the professional “heel” (in separate attacks).

During my Saturday visits to the WWF’s electronic home, I learned a lot about professional wrestling from my XXXL homies. At some point, I stopped going. There was a mind-numbing repetitiveness to the proceedings and none of the chemical enhancement of that first encounter.

Under McMahon’s iron discipline, the WWF went from strength to strength, until it filled entire arenas. Rowdy Roddy Piper went on to a hugely successful career in wrestling, movies, TV and voice-over work. He died of cancer at age 61.

When I think of Roddy Piper, I think of that epic double line of nose candy, of course. I also remember the non-pharmaceutical lines from the movie They Live: "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubble gum."

Despite being born Canadian, Roddy Piper kicked ass. My ass too, in his own special way.

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