"Rod passed peacefully in his sleep last night," Piper's agent Jay Schacter told Variety. “I am shocked and beyond devastated.”
Upon learning of his death, WWE chairman Vince McMahon tweeted that Piper was "one of the most entertaining, controversial and bombastic performers ever in WWE beloved by millions of fans around the world."
Piper, whose real name was Roddy Toombs, is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame, and was one of the core members of the '80s-era WWE (then known as the WWF). Born in Saskatchewan, Canada, Piper competed in the very first Wrestlemania, working a faux-Scottish angle in a tag-team match (along with Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff) against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, and quickly became one of the sport's most hated villains.
Piper's rivalries with Hogan, Jimmy Snuka and even Cyndi Lauper set the tone for the WWF, helping the wrestling organization achieve the nationwide prominence that it enjoys to this day.
Piper's key gimmick was "Piper's Pit," a mock talk show in which Piper would sit down with fellow wrestlers to talk out the issues of the day. Naturally, the talk lasted less than a minute before the fists flew. Here's a representative installment from 1984, where Piper interviewed Sgt. Slaughter:
Just last week, Piper was on the Rich Eisen Show, talking of his life and times as well as his old rival Hulk Hogan:
The reactions poured in on Twitter:
Vern Gagne too
Vern Gagne too
Eighth Avenue traffic was disorganized, pedestrian traffic was jammed for blocks north and south, side doors at Madison Square Garden were torn from their hinges as the crowd stormed the entrances. It was the largest crowd at the Garden in 25 years — larger than for championship fights, rodeos, tennis matches or the circus. — New York Journal-American, 1957
They had come to see Verne Gagne.
Gagne, who died last Monday at 89, was one of the most celebrated pro wrestlers of his time, known for his quickness and finesse in the ring. “A matador,” the newspapers called him; a “matinee wrestling idol,” “the millionaire wrestler.”
In 2002, Wrestling Digest ranked him No. 5 on its list of the 50 greatest wrestlers of the previous half-century, ahead of titans like Andre the Giant, Gorgeous George and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
But the sport that gave Gagne wealth and renown also exacted a great price. Besides the toll on his body — concussions, broken bones, cauliflower ears, hearing loss and a surgically fused ankle — there was, quite possibly, a toll on his mind: Six years ago, in the grip of the Alzheimer’s disease with which he lived for the last dozen years of his life, Gagne was involved in an altercation that resulted in a man’s death.
Even at midcentury, Gagne was small for a heavyweight: about 6 feet and 225 pounds in his prime. He held 10 world professional titles, was a much-decorated college champion and served as an alternate on the 1948 United States Olympic team. As a pro, he was earning $100,000 a year by 1960, equivalent to almost $800,000 today.