MILWAUKEE - When I turned off professional wrestling years ago, I lost track of one of my favorite bad guys, the "Hot Rod."
Roddy Piper is going strong, his trademark wit and mischievous smile still intact, looking only a little worse for wear. Years in the ring have exacted a far greater toll from many others.
Piper's in town for the Great Lakes Championship Wrestling event Friday at Memorial Hall, 72 Seventh St. Mayor John Dickert declared Friday "‘Rowdy' Roddy Piper Day" in Racine.
"Roddy Piper Day in Racine. I tell ya, I just hope I can live up to it," Piper said. "I think that it's really cool that the people would show me that kind of courtesy. In return, I'm going to entertain their little buns off."
There was a time in Roddy Piper's past, when he no doubt earned his nickname "Rowdy," spending long nights crisscrossing the country with a rough-and-tumble band of professional wrestlers.
But on his first night in town, Piper washed down his steak fajitas with a large diet Coke and talked about his wife and four children. Piper's pride in wrestling is matched only by his pride in family.
Wednesday night Piper walked in to Romine's Pool Hall in Greenfield, fresh off a flight from Los Angeles.
For three hours, he held court, regaling a small group with tales from his life in wrestling. It wasn't an easy life, getting smacked around week after week, month after month, year after year. Stepping into the role of bad guy week after week wasn't any easier.
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"I mean, I kicked Cyndi Lauper in the head," Piper said, as he recounted a tale he's told countless times before.
In a short amount of time, one of professional wrestling's most famous "heels" just skims the surface of the sport's storied past. For 40 years he lived it and lives to tell about it.
As for me, growing up I didn't watch westerns or cop shows. For entertainment, I turned to the black-and-white world of professional wrestling. Every week a simple story line pitted good vs. evil in the ring.
That is what's missing today from professional wrestling, Piper says, the simplicity of the story. That was the art.
Even if the story line had good triumph over evil, being a heel was always more fun, says Piper, who turns 56 Saturday. For a guy who made a career out of being mean, Piper greets everyone with a reverential tone, punctuating most sentences with the word outstanding.
Piper's thankful for a sport that he said kept him out of jail. He also credits his career choice with keeping him alive. A back problem years ago sent him to the doctor, where Piper learned he had cancer. He's now a survivor.
"Wrestling saved my life, more than once," Piper said. "Wrestling almost took my life, too."
To what does he owe the success of the sport he gave 40 years of his life?
"Wrestling is an international language. You don't have to speak any language. You don't have to agree with anyone. Alls you got to do is sit back and have fun," Piper said. "There's very few things that are worldwide that you can just sit back and have fun and, matter of fact, the more you disagree with someone the more fun you have. That's hard to beat."