Rowdy Roddy Piper Is Responsible For They Live's Most Famous Line

For John Carpenter, casting professional wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper in "They Live" was an easy choice.

"They Live," Carpenter's 1988 sci-fi action film, follows a nameless drifter who discovers a pair of sunglasses that reveal the world to him as it truly is. When he puts on the glasses, he sees that the American ruling class is made up of aliens, who disguise themselves as humans and enjoy lives of luxury while the rest of us toil away.

Piper, known best for his time as a bagpipe-playing villain in the WWF, played that drifter, who at the end of the film is credited as "Nada." According to an interview in Starlog Magazine, it was Piper's grit and physical toughness that drew Carpenter to him for the part:

"Unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him. He has been hit so many times that he is really broken up. He even walks funny, because his pelvis was shattered and his back was wrenched. He is definitely not a pretty boy. He's the toughest guy I've met. You run a truck into Roddy, and he would still be standing."

It was this working-class toughness and world-weariness that defined Nada. Piper understood that, too — more deeply than anyone. It was because of Piper's deep connection with the character that he was able to ad-lib the movie's most famous line, according to an Entertainment Weekly piece. Yep, it was Piper who came up with the legendary quip, "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum."

Embodying the character

It's a silly line, really. The sort of line that's clever for how not clever it is. Its cheesiness reflects Piper's pro wrestling background. But so does the coolness and the conviction with which he delivers it, turning a stupid joke into a badass declaration. Piper himself was amazed with the line when he ad-libbed it, according to an interview. "Yeah, I couldn't tell you what it really means, either. It was one of those — 'Roddy, you've got bullets on you, you've got a shotgun, you've got sunglasses, you go into a bank, you're not gonna rob it, say something ... action!' 'I'm all out of bubblegum.' 'Lunch!' That was it. No more than that. I know, it's crazy."

Professional wrestling is an oft-looked down upon art form by many, but it's in his "They Live" performance that Roddy Piper showcases all of its strengths. A wrestler's main job is to get a reaction from a crowd of ordinary people, and Piper utilizes his unique ability to do so in the film. "They Live" is, at its core, a story about the working man coming together against the ruling class, and that theme is as common in professional wrestling as it is anywhere else. Piper wasn't just a two-bit wrestler-turned-actor; he was an intensely talented performer.

A potential sequel to "They Live" was teased as recently as 2018, and although John Carpenter doesn't love reflecting on his films, Roddy Piper remained the film's greatest advocate for the rest of his life, helping to cement the movie as an all-time cult classic.