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Roddy Piper Tribute: They Live

RIP ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper

Roddy Piper

The news of the death of ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper Friday night has spawned a lot of tributes and appreciation from his fans and peers alike. Piper was best known for his professional wrestling career. He was best known for his work with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) in the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Many tributes will likely focus on his professional wrestling career, but I wanted to focus my tribute on Piper’s acting career, specifically, the 1988 cult classic sci-fi film They Live.

They Live (1988) d. John Carpenter

Roddy Piper’s best known movie role is that of John Nada in John Carpenter’s They Live. When we first meet Nada, he’s an aimless drifter who discovers the ruling class are in fact aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to spend money, breed, and accept the status quo with subliminal messages in mass media.

How does he discover this? Through the use of special sunglasses, of course! After putting on a pair, he sees the world in black and white and discovers it is not what it seems. Media and advertising hide constant subliminal totalitarian commands to obey and conform. Many of those with wealth and authority are actually humanoid aliens with skull-like faces. Nada immediately doesn’t like what he see’s and sets out to do what he does best, kick some ass and kill all of them.

Though the performance by Roddy Piper isn’t Oscar worthy, he’s perfectly cast as the audience proxy to these bizarre events. The premise of the film may sound corny and ridiculous, but They Live is actually one of the best political films ever made. It has a lasting impact because today because much like near the end of Reagan’s America in 1988, the ruling class continues to dominate America.

Carpenter cast Piper because, “Unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him.” Unlike many wrestlers who make the transition to acting, there’s nothing gimmicky about Piper’s performance unlike the film’s of Hulk Hogan. Instead, Carpenter made great use of Piper’s physicality, creating (along with actor Keith David) one of the best fight scenes in cinema history.

It’s the perfect casting of Piper and his understated performance, along with Carpenter’s directing, that has allowed They Live to achieve great cult status. The film continues to be a major part of pop culture to this very day.

About Knox Harrington

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