Top-Down Smackdown: Is WWE Legends House Irresponsible About Addiction?



Some five two years after it was shot – and luckily, given the wrestling business, none of the participants died in the interim – Legemds House aired on the WWE Network last week. I admit it made for compelling TV, but it also made me full awkward for being compelled, and not in the way that I expected.

Legends House features WWE talents who could now legitimately be called old men – most are retired wrestlers, though some are better known for other things. Jimmy Hart is a motor-mouthed manager every bit as verbose as his onscreen persona, Howard Finkel is a ring announcer, Mean Gene Okerlund an interviewer, and Pat Patterson, while a former competitor has long since been retired from in-ring work as a booker behind-the-scenes. Of the wrestlers involved, we quickly learn that Tony Atlas loves to eat, Hillbilly Jim comes across as congenial as his more na?ve persona was, Hacksaw Jim Duggan likes to rile people up, and Roddy Piper is the wild card everybody’s nervous about.

The initial paces they’re put through are tame by reality show standards: the guys are forced to pair up into teams and go meet the neighbors, in a series of bits that would have to have been consented to first by said neighbors, and then later they have to go grocery shopping so that Patterson can cook cabbage rolls, an apparent treat that everyone actually looks forward to. Then Gary Busey shows up just because this is what he does nowadays, and Piper gets very angry at a blender he can’t operate properly.

While Busey’s tactlessness generates some minor grumbling, what happens after that gets mildly disturbing. It’s a pretty open secret that most reality shows keep unlimited supplies of alcohol on hand, all the better to catch the talent being sloppy or aggressive on camera as a result. Mean Gene, being a journalist, is naturally one of the first to bust out the booze, with Patterson an enthusiastic imbiber also. But then there’s Piper. A recovering addict of multiple substances, he starts to have what basically looks like a full-blown PTSD attack, leading to him escaping from the house and finishing out the episode by howling at the moon like an injured wolf.

Now, normally I’m all for people who volunteer for reality shows taking what they get and deserving it, but it’s a bit different when the company that has employed you and fired you, and knows of your long history of problems, persuades you to do a show of its own devising for the fans (Piper was reluctant to join the show at first, but fans on Twitter helped persuade him) and then puts temptation right in front of you. This is a company that just put two guys into the Hall of Fame whose rehab was paid for by the McMahons, and who barely escaped death from all their bad habits. Is it not hugely irresponsible to ply Piper with booze? Can we honestly say that when the others wait for Piper to arrive, worried that he’ll stir things up, that alcohol is not one of the factors they’re thinking about?

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to see Piper on Sober House either – Dr. Drew’s TV rehab record is horrendous. And Piper has to make his own choices in life. But as Hall of Famer Jake Roberts would tell you, poking a snake isn’t wise; we need only look at what a trainwreck Chyna became after her stint on reality TV. The fact that this show is a couple years old now, and Piper is still around, is the only reasonable “out” here, a way of telling myself it’s okay because Roddy didn’t get rowdy enough to hurt himself that half-decade ago. Watch this interview, in which he says he did the show to feed his family, and you tell me:

I’d be a hypocrite to say that I don’t enjoy drunk wrestlers – the Iron Sheik seemingly relies on cold beer to fuel his Twitter tirades. But having seen real PTSD attacks up close and personal in my life – and knowing how hard it is to actually get them treated, because it’s not taken seriously, still – I don’t feel great about watching them happen on my TV screen in ways that could have been avoided.

Let’s talk about tonight’s Raw. That’ll be more pleasant.