But here he is, walking around the Reliant Center, once again ready to step inside the ring at WrestleMania for a match. The mere thought of it nearly causes him to well up.
"I didn't believe it would last this long," said Piper, who wrestled Chris Jericho on Sunday along with fellow WWE Hall of Famers Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka and Ric Flair. "Even the first WrestleMania wasn't pretty. Hogan and I didn't get along and T and I didn't get along. [Paul] Orndorf and I didn't get along."
Back then, WWE chairman Vince McMahon hired any celebrity he could, from Billy Martin to Cyndi Lauper, to promote the event. That approach created the kind of back-stage commotion that is largely missing in today's WWE. Every aspect of Sunday's show was scripted down to the final minute, when WWE champion Triple H finished the four-hour pay-per-view on time by defeating Randy Orton in the main event.
"I got towed into this room for a meet-and-greet before the first WrestleMania and I was trying to get to my dressing room," Piper recalled. "Liberace and the Rockettes are doing the can-can in this side of the hallway and someone pulls me in to meet this little gangly guy with a weird voice. He's taking pictures of my boot and I said, "Hey, I got to go and wrestle." On the way back, I asked who that guy was. It was Andy Warhol. I didn't know who Andy Warhol was, but he had a great interest in my feet."
That Piper, 54, is even able to lace up his boots one more time seems like a minor miracle after everything he's been through since the first WrestleMania, including overcoming cancer two years ago. Listening to Piper talk about his need to step into the ring one last time almost sounds like a cross between Rocky Balboa and Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Mickey Rourke, who befriended Piper during the filming of The Wrestler, was actually ringside in Houston for the match and got into the ring himself, punching the victorious Jericho at the end of the bout.
"No matter how I feel, its time for me to go out there and let people know why I'm Roddy Piper, to let it go," Piper said before the match. "This WrestleMania XXV is really important because this is the last one for me. It's so big. I'm going to give you my heart no matter how I feel, I'm going to give everything I got, I don't care if I get hurt. This one is worth it.
"I remember being in Houston when I was 15. [Former wrestler] Johnny Valentine was mad at me and he grabbed me and put me up against the wall and he said, 'I can't make you believe that wrestling is for real, but I sure the [heck] can make you believe I am.' I based half my career on the philosophy. If nothing else, I'm a real-deal professional wrestler and proud to be."
Jerry "The King" Lawler has been in pro wrestling for 40 years, including the past 16 in the WWE, but there is one thing he hasn't done -- wrestle at WrestleMania.
"Two years ago, I had a meeting with Vince [McMahon] close to WrestleMania and I said, 'Vince, I've been here since 1993 and I've never even wrestled on a WrestleMania,' " Lawler said. "He looked at me surprised and said, 'That's a travesty.' He said, 'We could rush something this year, but this is something big, the King having his first match ever at WrestleMania. Next year, I promise we're going to do something big.' Well, that was two years ago."
Lawler figured he would have been in the Jericho match because so many legends were wedged into that angle, but he was once again left out. Lawler is beginning to doubt that he'll ever be given a chance to experience WrestleMania from anywhere besides the broadcast table.
"I keep thinking any minute, boy, one of these nights we're going to be announcing what kind of big match we're going to be in," Lawler said. "And the next thing you know, WrestleMania comes and goes again and no match for me."
Rourke's appearance Sunday may have been one of the worst executed in WrestleMania history. Not only were WWE staffers fretting over Rourke's availability, unsure if he'd actually be doing anything until Saturday night, but when he did actually step in the ring, most in attendance wished he had simply stayed home.
After Jericho had beaten up Piper, Snuka, Steamboat and Flair, Rourke came into the ring and grazed him with an awkward left hook that "knocked out" Jericho.
Afterward, the "Mouth of the South," Jimmy Hart, who has never pulled any punches in his career, shook his head and said, "That's it? That's like going to a movie and it breaks at the end."