It was a huge shock to hear of the sudden passing of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper who died on July 31, 2015 from a heart attack at the age of 61. Many of us remember him from his wrestling days with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) where he battled Hulk Hogan and Mr. T in the ring, and for also making Cyndi Lauper’s life (in her music videos anyway) a living hell.
But for me, I’m always going to remember him best for his performance in John Carpenter’s “They Live” in which he played a nameless drifter who discovers that the earth has been taken over by aliens disguised as rich people. While he may have seemed an unusual choice for a movie role, Carpenter said he cast Piper because he had life written all over his face, and that’s a quality that not enough people in Hollywood pay attention to these days.
The following is an article I wrote after I attended a special screening of one of Carpenter’s best movies.
Former wrestler and actor Roddy Piper visited New Beverly Cinema on June 10, 2012 to talk about his role in John Carpenter’s “They Live.” Once the film ended, Piper made his way to the front and leapt onstage and yelled out for all to hear:
“I HAVE COME HERE TO CHEW BUBBLE GUM AND KICK ASS!!! AND I AM ALL OUT OF BUBBLE GUM!!!”
This screening was put together by the horror convention Days of The Dead, and moderating the Q&A was Brian W. Collins from the website Horror Movie a Day. During the time he spent with the audience, Piper looked so incredibly happy to be there.
When Brian asked him how he got cast in “They Live,” Piper said he was doing Wrestlemania III and got asked out to dinner by Carpenter afterwards. Piper had, as he said, “been on the road since he was 15 years old,” and he admitted to the audience he “had no idea of who John Carpenter was.” But once he realized he was a movie director offering him the lead role in a motion picture, Piper was eager to work with him.
In talking about filming the destruction of the shantytown, Piper pointed out how many people in that scene were actually homeless and not your average Hollywood extras. He also said the filmmakers had to pay two gangs off so that, when they left at night, the trailers would still be there in the morning. Piper said he also knew the president of each gang, and that really helped.
Then there was the discussion about the “bubble gum” line which Brian heard was improvised by Piper. Piper confirmed it was his idea and jokingly described it as “lame,” and it came about when Carpenter told him just before the cameras started rolling:
“Roddy, you know you’re going into a bank, you got bullets on, you got a shotgun, you got sunglasses. You gotta say something because you’re not robbing it. Action!”
Piper said the line, and then Carpenter yelled cut and immediately said, “Lunch!”
One audience member asked Piper if he did his own stunts in “They Live,” and he admitted he did all of them except for when Meg Foster pushes him out the window. Piper, however, also said if it was the last shot of the movie, then they would’ve let him do it. Speaking of Foster, he confessed he did indeed trip out over her eyes because they are so beautiful. Looking back, he marveled at how she brings you right in with those eyes.
We never do learn Piper’s character’s real name, and he is called Nada in the end credits which in Spanish means nothing. In describing Nada, Piper said, “You don’t know where he came from, you don’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing, you don’t know why he’s wearing a wedding ring. You know nothing about him.” Carpenter told him the thought behind this was if you don’t know anything about him, it makes him more intriguing to where you want to watch more.
Piper ended the evening by speaking profoundly about his role:
“Nada is you, he is every one of you, not blue collar or white collar. He’s you and that’s why you know nothing about him because it depends on if it’s you, then that’s what’s about him. He’s supposed to represent everybody, not just America, but everybody in the world. And that’s kind of why you as an audience fill in the nothing with whatever ethics and morals you’re fighting for at the time.”
Upon hearing of Piper’s death, Carpenter said he was “devastated to hear the news of my friend Roddy Piper’s passing today. He was a great wrestler, a masterful entertainer and a good friend.”
RIP “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.