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Rooting for 'Rowdy' Roddy was easy to do

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Rowdy Roddy Piper, known locally and internationally as a legendary pro wrestler and entertainer, regaled the Portland Tribune in a lengthy August 2014 interview about his life, career, family and more.If “Rowdy” Roddy Piper wasn’t one of a kind, he was a member of a very select fraternity.

I don’t mean as a professional wrestler, though he was one of the greats through his 30-plus years in the game, a headliner who won 34 championships of various degrees through his career.

More than that, Piper — who died Friday of cardiac arrest at age 61 — was an entertainer, one of the very best in a profession that accentuates the ability to put fans in the seats and eyeballs on the television set.

Piper was a true character, but he was more than that. He was a genuinely good man, kind and thoughtful, a family man and a proud Oregonian for the past three decades, though he spent much of his time in Hollywood in recent years.

I didn’t know him well — just well enough to call him a friend. He went out of his way to make time for me on several occasions since our first interview in February 2001, just two weeks after the inaugural issue of the Portland Tribune. He told me then that he was going to pursue a rap album “with no profanity” because he was exasperated that his 15-year-old daughter was listening to Eminem’s expletive-laced chants.

During our last interview last October, when I asked Piper about career highlights, he began with, “The highlight of my life is my four children.”

Piper and his beloved wife of 32 years, Kitty, raised Anastacia, Ariel, Falon and Colton in a pair of homes in the Hillsboro area since 1984, shortly after Roddy’s two-year stint with Portland Wrestling.

“We have really good people here, for the most part,” Piper told me. “Portland, Oregon, is a good place if you want to raise children properly. It has a good pace. (Promoter) Vince McMahon wanted me to move. At one point, Vince told Kitty, ‘Go find a house. I’ll pay for it if you’ll move to the East Coast.’ Kitty says, ‘No, Vince. My kids wouldn’t stand a chance there.’ It’s been good, even though I’ve had a few problems.”

Piper came from humble beginnings and an unhappy family background in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He lived on an Indian reservation for seven years before going out on his own at age 13. “I had a great mom and dad, but I don’t have a place that is home,” he told me.

Piper wasn’t well-schooled and told me he was dyslexic and had a hard time reading. If he wasn’t book smart, he was savvy and instinctual and eminently likable. He was a spell-binding storyteller, even if the tale veered off path in many directions over the course of several minutes of monologue.

Piper was a cancer survivor who said he’d lived through 30-some auto accidents and a hard life of drugs and alcohol, but he told me in October that he hadn’t had a drink since 2009. He had big plans for the future, including stand-up comedy, movies and a potential family reality TV show, though he said he was “a little scared” of involving Kitty and the kids. “I’d rather do the ‘Rod’ one,” he said.

In our October interview, I asked Piper what he’d like as an epitaph on his gravestone.

“I told you I was sick,” he said.

I took it as a joke — Piper could wisecrack with the best of them — but maybe it wasn’t.

Now he’s gone. I’ve lost a friend, and the world has lost one of the giants of the entertainment business. There haven’t been many to come down the pike like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers