L.A. Invasion, circa 1988: Iconic 80s legend Roddy Piper in “They Live”

By on July 31, 2015

Roddy Piper may be best known to 80s wrestling fans — he was admitted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005 — but we here at Night Flight are particularly fond of the movie he starred in back in 1988, John Carpenter’s They Live.

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They Live was written and directed by Carpenter but based on a short story story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by sci-fi writer Ray Nelson, and starred Piper — newly retired from the WWF at the time — as Nada (which literally means “Nothing”), who is homeless now that he’s drifted all the way from Denver to Los Angeles.

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We learn through a pirated transmission that breaks into the signal on the TV set at the homeless camp early on that some heavy shit is about to go down in L.A.:

“Our impulses are being redirected. We are living in an artificially induced state of consciousness that resembles sleep. (…) The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society, and we are their unwitting accomplices. Their intention to rule rests with the annihilation of consciousness. We have been lulled into a trance. They have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on our own gain. Please understand. They are safe as long as they are not discovered. That is their primary method of survival. Keep us asleep, keep us selfish, keep us sedated.”

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The next morning, in a box hidden in the wall of a church, Nada finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the subliminal fascist meanings behind everything.

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Advertisements turn into billboards with slogans bearing simple messages, easy to understand if you’re wearing the right pair of Ray-Bans, because they say things like “OBEY,” “BUY,” “CONSUME,” “STAY ASLEEP,” and “SUBMIT,” etc. He sees the meaning behind everything now; for instance, he sees that the print on dollar bills reads “This is your God.”

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The sunglasses also give Nada the ability to detect an alien race that has infiltrated the population in L.A., and using subliminal mind control devices and living and working amongst us, these intelligent beings have found a way to control the human race and convince the rest of us that they don’t exist.

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Their aim is to take over the planet, of course, quite a delicious “big brother” sci-fi storyline that reads as a critique of not only blatant consumerism culture, but also an exposé on how we are conditioned from birth by a hidden ruling elite who covertly control, manipulate and exploit the masses, believing that we humans are inferior, and living in fear.

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The film still feels as timely as it did in 1988, really, and it continues to influence filmmakers, artists and others who recognize the message behind Carpenter’s story. Shepard Fairey is said to have been influenced by the film for his OBEY Giant propaganda campaign.

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Born Roderick George Toombs, Piper joined the WWE in 1984 after getting his start with the NWA in the late 1970s. He will always be best remembered for his time in the ring –- he was a headlining wrestler for several pay-per-view and big television events, took part in the first WrestleMania in 1985 and despite never winning an outright title was named the sport’s No. 1 villain by the WWE.

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Here’s an excerpt from his WWE bio:

Although today he enjoys favored status as a beloved member of the WWE Hall of Fame, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper began his WWE career as one of the most-hated villains ever to step between the ropes. After making his bones in the NWA during the late ’70s, the Hot Rod came to WWE in 1984, where he quickly rose to astronomical heights. His battles with Hulk Hogan became a WWE mainstay, and the two often engaged in heated banter during interview segments that rank among the most-entertaining interview segments in the company’s history.

Hogan and Piper also locked horns in the ring on several occasions. One of their most memorable bouts came at “The War to Settle the Score” on MTV. This landmark event set the stage for Hogan and Piper’s climactic clash at the first-ever WrestleMania. At that event, Piper teamed up with “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff with “Cowboy” Bob Orton in his corner to take on Hogan and Mr. T. Although The Rowdy One didn’t clinch the victory, the match more than lived up to the hype, ranking as one of the marquee main events in WWE history.

Here’s a clip of “Mean” Gene Okerlund interviewing “Rowdy” Roddy Piper about his upcoming match with Hulk Hogan in the Boston Garden. (Championship Wrestling, October 28th 1984)

Piper is survived by his wife Kitty and their four kids: three daughters and a son, Colton, who’s currently pursuing a career in professional wrestling.

Legendary wrestling champion and occasional actor Hot Rod” Rowdy Roddy Piper died at his home from cardiac arrest on July 31, 2015, age 61. R.I.P. Roddy Piper, we will never forget your role in this memorable 80s film. You were quite a character.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.