Roddy Piper & The Longest Fight

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Rock 'n' Roll at 2:27 pm by George Smith

Over the weekend one of pro-wrestling’s greatest heels, Roddy Piper, died at 61. His obituary is here.

“Mr. Piper also had a brief acting career, starring in the 1988 film They Live, directed by John Carpenter, about a man who discovers, with the help of magic sunglasses, that the world is secretly ruled by aliens,” reads the Times obit.

It’ a bit dry, doing “Mr. Piper” and They Live some amount of disservice.

Carpenter’s They Live is the most prescient of movies on life in the American corporate dictatorship. Disguised as science-fiction.

Piper plays a semi-employed drifter named John Nada in a hot, dusty and bleak Los Angeles. He stumbles upon a pair of odd sunglasses, just like older people wear to reduce glare, and finds they turn the world gray. But they also reveal the ruling class, media personalities on tv, and bankers to be aliens who’ve infiltrated the country and taken over.

All for the sake of looting. Also revealed are subliminal messages embedded in every sign and print surface.

Obey! Consume!

The aliens have given the local oppressive police force little round aerial drones to spy on the populace, too! And, naturally, they’ve recruited the most amenable among the human herd to have a piece of the grift, too, as their well-compensated assistants in the creation of the movie’s vision of a predatory and poisoned concrete and asphalt Eden of capitalism where people have only the freedom to shop, languish and be indentured servants/sleepwalkers.

Wearing the sunglasses for too long gives Piper a blinding headache. Just like life in our rigged capitalist paradise. It was a nice touch.

They Live also has what feels like (if it isn’t) the longest fight scene in movie history, ever. Waged between Piper and Keith David in a Hollywood back alley lot you’ve seen in hundreds of movies, Piper as Nada discovers a box of the sunglasses and wants the David character, Frank Armitage, to try a pair on, to see the aliens.

Armitage refuses. It’s been another horrible day on the construction site and he just wants to give the lunatic wanted by the police, Nada, his last paycheck and get home.

The fight rolls on and on, the two men beating each other to swollen-faced black-and-blue pulps. And, surprisingly, it’s never boring.

In my homemade video for “Rumble,” made a few years back, I excerpted some of the scene at the garage tune’s climax. It begins at about one minute in.

Piper made his primary rep, certainly, as a pro wrestler, where I came to regularly know him in the Saturday tv slots for the bottom-out-of-sight crowd that advertisers shunned.

But which were adored by many young people, including me. And in future years that fan base and attraction would turn pro wrestling into huge money. But by 1988, the time of They Live, it still hadn’t quite arrived although pro-wrestling admiration was widespread in Pennsy’s Lehigh Valley.

“[John] Carpenter called Mr. Piper ‘an underrated actor,'” continued the Times.

That he was. In the long run, Piper’s legacy is as much a result of that one movie as his turn as star of pro-wrestling.


  1. anon said,

    August 5, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    It was sad to see him go, at a relatively young age. I wasn’t a big fan of him as a wrestler, but I loved him in *They Live.* I guess if I had to pick one movie role, past or present, to serve as my “acting legacy,” I’d probably take John Nada or Otto from the original *Repo Man* film.

    Both of those films were seriously underrated, took some interesting risks, and made some prescient and still-valid comments on society.

    On another site, someone posted a Youtube clip from the movie where he puts on the sunglasses for the first time. It was about a five minute sequence that included my favorite part of the film. While wearing the glasses, he opens his wallet and thumbs through the paper money he was carrying.

    Each bill had a hidden message: “This is your God.”

  2. George Smith said,

    August 12, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    That was indeed one of the best parts of the movie. A friend and I were roaring at it the other night.

    As a wrestler I don’t recall many things that were remarkable in the ring on Saturday TV. Although my memory may be flawed, I don’t recall his bouts being much more than above average heel fare. It was the mouth, though, mostly outside-the-ring in his little interview space.

    Piper had to contend with the trend toward ridiculous bloat as the sport picked up speed. The promoters rewarded Hogan and Hogan-like.

    It was sort of the same with Jesse Ventura who was far more interesting at the mike than as the bad guy in a ring. Paradoxically, Ventura also went into movie-making, of which only one — Predator — is worth watching for his presence.