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Rowdy Roddy Piper: An appreciation — of They Live's iconic fight scene

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Rowdy Roddy Piper died, at age 61, of a heart attack on Thursday, with news of his death spreading yesterday evening. Best known as the WWE's top bad guy during its rise in the 1980s, Piper leaves a unique legacy even for those who don't watch pro wrestling:

Piper (real name: Roderick Toombs) was the protagonist in 1988's memorable action-comedy They Live, and battled Keith David in one of the most celebrated fights of movie history. While They Live is well known for Piper's improvised line (later ripped off by Duke Nukem) as he enters a bank to clear it of alien infiltrators, it is his five-minute, 20 second throwdown with David for which he and this movie are so fondly remembered more than 25 years later.

A fight so badass it kicked another fight's ass.

They Live showcased Piper's fighting talents for those who didn't know him as a wrestler or didn't care to watch pro wrestling. (To establish the scene, in They Live Earth is secretly run by aliens who are pillaging the planet; a special pair of sunglasses allows Piper to see the aliens and the subliminal messages that pacify humans. Piper wants David to put on the glasses and see this, too.)

David (yes, Capt. Anderson of Mass Effect) later said he never felt safer fighting with any on-screen partner, despite the colossal can of whoop-ass director John Carpenter told both actors to open. Carpenter wanted an homage to John Wayne's brawl with Victor McLaglen in 1952's The Quiet Man, and boy, did he ever get that. This fight is so badass it kicked another fight's ass.

Finding a full sequence without some kind of adulteration is difficult on YouTube, as a straight rip would easily be taken down on a DMCA claim. Here's the best I could do.

It's full of sucker-punches, combos and counters, but the real highlights are the wicked two-headbutt combination that lays David out for the first time; a textbook standing back-drop (where has that move gone from today's WWE?); a free kick to Piper's noggin; David ramming his knee repeatedly into Piper's jewels; a powerbomb by David (probably the best-sold move of the sequence) and a suplex to finish things off.

Iconic is an overused word in this line of business, but They Live's fight truly is. It was memorably copied, move-for-move (if not shot-by-shot), by South Park when Jimmy and Timmy threw down in Season Five. David and Piper returned to play themselves and reenact their fight in 2013's Saints Row 4.

David took to Twitter yesterday evening to remember his dueling partner.

They Live was rated R but all of my friends and I managed to see it as teenagers. (Some indifferent clerk let us one of us rent it, or maybe a friend had dubbed it from a neighbor who had it.) Seeing it always takes me back to our wide-eyed whooping, holy-shitting and goddamming the first time I saw it, egged on by those who already had.

It's just plain fun, and speaks highly of Piper as a performer who was always mindful of his crowd appeal and did his damndest to live up to it, whether that was in a ring or on a screen.