Dusty Rhodes A&E Biography: An Honest Review

Who would be more fitting a subject for a WWE Legends documentary than "The bull of the woods, if you will?" But did the Dusty Rhodes A&E Biography capture “The American Dream”?

The WWE Legends Dusty Rhodes A&E Biography documentary follows the journey of one of wrestling's most legendary figures: "The American Dream."
The WWE Legends Dusty Rhodes A&E Biography documentary follows the journey of one of wrestling’s most legendary figures: “The American Dream.”

WWE Legends Dusty Rhodes A&E Biography Review

"The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes was the self-proclaimed "people’s champion." And in the 1970s, nobody had seen anything quite like the plumber’s son who "wined and dined with kings and queens and slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans."

The bleached blonde, lisping, wildly charismatic 6’2″ 275-pounder with a mangled forehead was a combination of Muhammad Ali, Thunderbolt Patterson, and improvisational genius. While gaudily dressed in hugely expensive robes, he nonetheless captured the hearts and minds of the common man.

So, who would be more fitting a subject for an A&E WWE Legends documentary than “The Son of a Plumber”?

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Memories of “The American Dream” in Florida

Many of us first became acquainted with Dusty Rhodes on Championship Wrestling from Florida.

Shown on New York City’s mysterious UHF dial, late-night Tuesdays were must-see TV on Channel 47 as I was riveted to the hypnotic rapid-fire patter and antics of Dusty Rhodes.

"Please let me stay up late just one night, Mom!" became a familiar Tuesday plea for me and so many kids of that era.

Hey, The American Dream was coming on, and how could we miss that?

From the hated Texas Outlaws tag team with Dick Murdoch to a memorable 1974 turn mightily aided by Korean arch-rival Pak Song, Dusty became Florida’s number-one star and draw, and we couldn’t get enough of him.

And back in a time when evil foreign heels ran rampant, Big Dust was just the Marshall to clean up the town, and we adored him for it.

All the while, announcer Gordon Solie was the perfect straight man, bemused at the rap-like flow that streamed from "Stardust" week in and week out.

With the TV show syndicated, it took Dusty around the country, where he soon became an Andre the Giant-like mega-attraction.

The Texas Outlaws: Dick Murdoch and Dusty Rhodes.
The Texas Outlaws: Dick Murdoch and Dusty Rhodes.

Superstar Billy Graham – Dusty Rhodes Explodes

Soon Florida wasn’t big enough to contain Dusty Rhodes, and he exploded into the then WWWF to take on an equally charismatic champion in Superstar Billy Graham.

Or, as Graham himself has stated, "We had almost too much charisma for one ring to contain."

And the fans knew as much, selling out MSG and the adjacent closed-circuited Felt Forum with massive crowds on back-to-back 1977 cards.

I was a teen sitting there with awe and wonder as the two gladiators faced each other mid-ring, my heart beating out of my chest. The cavernous Madison Square Garden literally shook; such was our anticipation.

And while Dusty Rhodes never garnered the coveted WWWF crown, he’d be back at MSG repeatedly. Highlights included his shot at the NWA title against the great Harley Race and a gory 1978 Bull Rope Match with Graham.

He also had a memorable run with Ivan Koloff, main-eventing the Nassau Coliseum. The American Dream versus great foreign heels never failed.

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NWA Crockett Expands East With Dusty Rhodes on Top

Shoot ahead a decade or so, and Jim Crockett’s NWA was making inroads into Baltimore, Philadelphia, and even New York’s Nassau Coliseum.

And the man leading the charge against villainous Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen was Dusty Rhodes.

Whether it was Rhodes versus Flair or Dusty in yet another bloody brawl against Tully Blanchard, he was always in that main-event mix.

An alternative to the then squeaky-clean kids-oriented WWE, the blood-drenched Bunkhouse Stampede brawls and War Games was Dusty’s specialty, resulting in sell-outs and bouts we still talk about decades later.

I cite these loaded cards as the greatest I’ve seen live in fifty years of attending.

Did the Dusty Rhodes A&E Biography Capture “The American Dream”?

Having held the NWA title three times, defeating Harley Race twice and Ric Flair once, few are as deserving as Dusty Rhodes to have a full-length documentary on his extraordinary life and career.

The Dusty Rhodes A&E Biography poignantly captures the sacrifices he and his family made when he was on that seemingly endless road for so many years.

It took quite a toll on the Rhodes clan, and gratefully, the film doesn’t shy away from it.

Son Dustin Rhodes’ pain is palpable throughout, while an emotional Cody and other siblings and Dusty’s widow also pour their hearts out.

Simply put, a dad away from home 340 days a year is a gaping hole. And yes, you read that figure correctly.

While I’m not a huge fan of WWE’s often slapped-together docs- they usually are WWE-centric, spinning a WWE angle or match as the highlight of a wrestler’s career; this one’s among their very best.

Simply put, it’s a winner as it focuses on Dusty’s working-class upbringing and family more than his WWE runs.

I do have a few qualms, however.

Clocking in at a mere one hour twenty-two minutes, it’s heavy on the talking heads. Having supposed experts- some who never met him and one too young to have even seen him wrestle live- is questionable when so many of his peers are still among us and would have meant so much more.

And Stephanie McMahon, of all people speaking on Dusty growing up poor, felt almost silly.

Also, there was no mention of Dusty overly pushing himself, a criticism that followed him throughout his career, particularly during his Crockett run.

Painting him as a nearly saintly mentor of young talent may have been one side of him. But to avoid the accusations entirely made the piece feel less than complete, as it’s a documentarian’s job to show all sides of its subject.

And WWE reps embracing Dusty’s controversial WWE polka dot-clad "character" came off as self-serving. They defended it despite its cartoonishness, but Dusty himself states he needed to get out of there a year and a half into it as it just wasn’t him.

Dusty Rhodes even made polka dots work.
Dusty Rhodes even made polka dots work. [Photo: WWE via New York Daily News]
Finally, with so much wrestling footage of Rhodes available, I would have liked to have seen more actual in-ring action. Don’t just tell me a legend is great. Please show me. And the man could quite handily wrestle when he chose to. The evidence is more than out there.

Yet when the smoke cleared, this was a moving and worthwhile documentary that brought back many memories and nailed home what we set out to show in our own 350 Days film. Wrestlers not only sacrificed their bodies to entertain us- but they also sacrificed their marriages, families, and mental health as well.

In short, Dusty’s guilt and Dustin’s pain are haunting, and this quality work memorably captures just that.

Dusty Rhodes was “the hit-maker” and “the record-breaker.” He would make “your back crack” and “your liver quiver.” Many thanks to the filmmakers for reminding us how unique the once-in-a-lifetime American Dream was.

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Evan Ginzburg is the Senior Editor for Pro Wrestling Stories and a contributing writer since 2017. He's a published author and was an Associate Producer on the Oscar-nominated movie "The Wrestler" and acclaimed wrestling documentary "350 Days." He is a 30-plus-year film, radio, and TV veteran and a voice-over actor on the radio drama Kings of the Ring.