Dustin Runnels has played the character of Goldust in WWE (with brief hiatuses) for 23 years now. The character has remained an entertaining highlight whenever he’s on TV and this is a testament to Runnels’ dedication to the role.
Always known as The Bizarre One, Dustin Runnels’ Goldust character has gone through many changes throughout the years in order to stay cutting edge or relevant, but there were none more bizarre than his “Artist formerly known as Goldust” run in 1998.
During this period, Dustin Runnels would come out in various different outfits each week, each more bizarre and controversial than the last, in order to push the envelope and get people talking. But what many people don’t know is that behind the scenes, Dustin was pushing the WWE management into letting him get breast implants as an attempt to recapture some of the controversies of his androgynous ’95-’96 character. This is the story of Dustin Runnels’ breast implants pitch and the WWE’s reaction to it.
Dustin Runnels – Becoming Goldust
Dustin Runnels began his wrestling career in 1988 wrestling as Dustin Rhodes. As the son of the legendary wrestler Dusty Rhodes, Dustin had some success early in his career, partnering with his father in WWF and having a singles run in WCW as “The Natural Dustin Rhodes” capturing the WCW United States Championship in 1993. In March 1995, Dustin was fired from WCW after blading (cutting himself on across the head to draw blood) in a match against the company’s orders. Later in the year, Dustin started having meetings with WWF executives Vince McMahon and Bruce Prichard, in order to return to the WWF with a new character.
At this point in time, Dustin’s relationship with his father had deteriorated and it was important for Dustin to create a new character without the attachment to the Rhode’s name, proving to himself that he could make it in the business on his own.
The idea that came out of this creative meeting was that Dustin Runnels would become an eccentric movie buff film director/artist called Goldust, who had come to WWF to create and star in his masterpiece. Dustin loved the idea and was immediately receptive to a chance to get away from the Rhodes name.
Bruce Prichard, on the 79th episode of his Something to Wrestle podcast, remembers Vince McMahon saying, “I don’t want to see Dustin. What if you were completely covered in a bodysuit and you painted your whole head, not just face, but your whole head gold? That’s GOLDUST! And you’d wear gloves and your entire body would be covered.”
One thing Dustin hadn’t banked on was that Vince wanted the character to be androgynous, to be neither male or female, and the character would use this in the ring to confuse his opponents, gaining a psychological advantage.
Bruce Prichard remembers how a hunting, beer-drinking, tobacco-chewing, 260-pound Texan redneck reacted to the news of being turned into a non-gender-specific character. “At the time, he’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I love it, oh my god, that will be so cool!’ I think that Dustin was caught up in the meeting and the excitement of it all. We were creating on the spot literally, so he was excited about it, we were excited about it, so, ‘Yeah, man, I’ll be androgynous. That’s awesome!’ I’m not sure Dustin knew what the hell androgynous really was.”
When being pitched the idea of Goldust, Bruce Prichard wasn’t sure the 260-pound Texan redneck Dustin Runnels even knew what androgynous really meant!
Dustin recalls the meeting on the Edge and Christian Pod of Awesomeness: “[Vince] kept saying, ‘This is an androgynous character,’ and I’m just agreeing with him but I have no idea what the hell that means. So, I’m like yeah, sure, I’ll give this a try because I really wanted to do something on my own other than the Dustin Rhodes name, to try to accomplish something that is fresh and new and then go from there. I hung up the phone with them after agreeing to meet with Music and Costuming and all that crap that they do up there at Stamford, and opened up the dictionary and look up to see what androgynous was. I shook my head and I’m like, “Oh, well, I can’t back out now… Let’s go! I gave it my all, you know”.
And gave it his all he did.
Dustin Runnels’ Dedication to the Character of Goldust
Dustin went all in with the gimmick, and within a few months, he completely embodied the character. There was seemingly nothing he wouldn’t do in order to get the character over. He realized that in certain US towns he could generate so much heat through playing on the fears and prejudices of the crowd that he nearly incited a riot in many venues.
Bruce Prichard remembers, “Goldust was controversial and we knew it. That’s what we were looking for we were looking for controversy. So, he was accomplishing what we wanted.”
The character had great success throughout 1996-97 and was involved in many memorable feuds with Razor Ramon, Roddy Piper, and Undertaker, in large part due to Dustin’s fearlessness in portraying the character. His dedication to the role lead to him appearing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien completely in character.
Former WWF head writer Vince Russo describes this in his autobiography, Forgiven: One Man’s Journey from Self-Glorification to Sanctification:
“Goldust was on fire. Everybody was talking about him – not just the fans, but also mainstream media. He became so popular, I even had the opportunity to write and produce a skit between Goldust and Conan O’Brien on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Predictably, Vince started to get a lot of public flak over the character, so he came up with the notion that Goldust wasn’t, in fact, gay, but simply playing on the homophobic fears of others. A great concept at the time – and it made all the sense in the world. There is no doubt people weren’t forgetting the name ‘Goldust.’ Man, it was magic. I wrote it, Dustin played it, and it was the hottest thing on WWF programming. No question this character was ahead of his time. At that point, nobody knew what was around the corner. Nobody realized that in about a year wrestling would be out – and sports entertainment would be in.”
Dustin’s fearlessness in portraying the character was never more evident than in his feud with The Undertaker. Dustin describes a casket match where he got a little too hands-on with Taker in his highly recommended autobiography, Cross Rhodes: Goldust, Out of the Darkness: “We built up to the Casket Match and Bruce Prichard wanted to play a joke on Undertaker. The idea was that when I had Undertaker down, and before he sat up, I would crawl between his legs and grab his crotch. It was all in good fun.”
Bruce mentions this on his podcast: “I might have played a little joke on the Undertaker in this instance, not on TV, to see if Undertaker would break. He no-sold it and then he sat up and kicked Dustin’s ass. Which by the way, I did warn Dustin would happen. And then Taker came to the back and came after me!”
Eventually though, playing a heel character who played on the gay panic of the era received too many complaints (and certainly hasn’t aged well) and Dustin was told to tone down his character.
The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust
Goldust started to stagnate after being told to downplay the sexually ambiguous aspects of the character. The intention appeared to be that they would heighten the bizarre aspects of the character instead.
Vince Russo recalls some of the ideas they had for Goldust at the time. “When we were desperately trying to come up with a new identity for Goldust, Vince [McMahon] came up with the idea of dressing up Dustin in a full-body stocking and letting him prance around as the ‘Naked Guy’.”
Clearly, they were trying anything they could to make the Goldust character interesting again. He soon teamed with Luna Vachon and became The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust, in which they would come out in bondage gear and other bizarre outfits each week.
Dustin writes in his autobiography, “I had an idea that would get Goldust back into the ring. ‘Vince, I want to do something different with this character.’ I had a person in mind to help Goldust become a crazy, bizarre type of bondage character. I had this picture of being led around on a dog leash with a collar and a ball gag in my mouth. Luna Vachon was the perfect fit for the role. Vince gave me the go-ahead and it turned out to be awesome.”
For the next few months, Goldust would come out as different characters/outfits each week, such as Marilyndust (dressed as Marilyn Manson), Sabledust, a baby in a diaper and even one week did a pretty good impression of his father Dusty Rhodes. It was interesting for a while but eventually, crowds lost interest and Goldust was seemingly in trouble again. Dustin felt he needed to gain back some of the controversies of his 96/97 character and to do this he still had one more idea he’d been keeping close to his chest.
Goldust’s Double D’s – Pitching the Idea of Breast Implants
Vince Russo writes in his autobiography, “Moments before we were about to pronounce the character dead, I got a call from Dustin.
“‘Vince, I’ve got an idea,’ he said. ‘Tell Vince if he pays me one million dollars, I will get implants.
“‘What?’ I said. ‘A penal implant?’
“‘No’ answered Dustin. ‘Breasts.’
“Let me break that down for you. Dustin Rhodes was considering getting breast implants for the wrestling business. Mind you, I’m sure Dustin was reacting out of panic. I’m sure if he’d really thought this through – a man walking around with women’s breasts and all – he would have come to his senses…I think. And yes, McMahon did contemplate it. But that’s what the business does to you. It makes sane men go nuts.”
Jim Ross talks about this in his book, JR’s Cookbook: True Ringside Tale, BBQ, and Down-Home Recipes: “I was sitting in a small makeshift office/dressing room in Madison Square Garden a few hours prior to a televised event a few years ago preparing for that night’s show, when I heard a knock on my door and yelled, ‘It’s open.’
“In walks the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Goldust who was born Dustin Runnels, son of the famous Dusty Rhodes. Dustin had been portraying the gold-clad controversial character Goldust for quite some time, and the creative energy for the character was beginning to seemingly run its course. The creative staff were finding themselves scratching their heads, attempting to find fresh ideas for the Texas-born athlete.
“The hot creative ideas were slowing for the Goldust character, and we had all been brainstorming for new ideas. Dustin comes into the small room at MSG, takes a seat, and proceeds to tell me that he has the idea that will put him back on the map. With a film crew present, he wants to go under the knife and have a breast implant procedure, essentially making him the first she-male character in sports entertainment history! His vision was that it would be so weird and bizarre that our fans and new fans, for that matter, would pay good money to watch him wrestle. He suggested that he would be huge on the talk show circuit, and people all over the world would be clamoring to see the “Bizarre One” in person (especially in prison, and perhaps Amsterdam)!
“I was shocked at what I was hearing. Here I am, this Oklahoma farm boy sitting in New York City’s Madison Square Garden having one of the most unique conversations of my life with a large man with a bleached blonde buzz cut, who wants to get a bona fide boob job!
“I said, ‘Dustin, what about when you’re not at work? I mean, those new boobs don’t snap on and off. They are permanent until you have another surgery to have them removed. What do you do with them when you take your daughter to school? What happens to your new additions when you attend a PTA meeting? You would pretty much eliminate the family outings to the beach if you do this, wouldn’t you think?’
“He indicated it would be worth the sacrifice because this character would be the hottest new thing in the world and the money would be rolling in for everyone! I said he really needed to speak to Vince McMahon, the chairman of WWE, on this one, as I did not feel comfortable approving this elective surgery from my talent relations budget.”
Bruce Prichard talks about it on his podcast. “Dustin had really worked himself up to making this big pitch and he had pitched everybody around Vince McMahon, except Vince McMahon. So, Vince knew what Goldust was gonna pitch him, he’d already heard it from me he’d heard it from Russo, he’d heard it from JR. There was no way in hell that Vince McMahon was going to allow him to do this, and he didn’t want to do it, we had jumped the shark so many times on this gimmick, and this was too much, wasn’t gonna happen. Chalk it up to not happening in our lifetime. Dustin felt like this was the only thing that could revive his career. He had to do this, he was willing to do this. ‘Let me get breast implants, let me get double D’s’ and stuff. Thank god Vince McMahon talked him out of it!”
JR in his cookbook continues, “ I took Dustin to Vince’s customary office, which he always has at MSG events, and said, ‘Vince, Dustin has an idea he wants to pitch to you about his Goldust character.’
“‘Great,’ said the boss as he sat down to listen to what I’m sure he was hoping would be the idea to get the ‘Bizarre One’s’ career back on track again. Dustin began to describe the concept with all the convictions of an overcaffeined Jimmy Swaggart on a Sunday Morning. Vince had an astonished look on his face and as he told me later, he thought he was being ‘ribbed’. It was no rib, and after Dustin finished, Vince explained that he appreciated Dustin attempting to come up with new concepts for the character and to continue to brainstorm on them, but Vince did not think this particular creative idea was the direction we wanted to travel. Later I asked Goldust’s then-wife, Terri, if she knew about his concept, and she answered rolling her eyes and nodding her head. That pretty well covered it.”
When Jim Ross asked Goldust’s then-wife, Terri, what she thought about Dustin getting breast implants, she answered by rolling her eyes and nodding her head.
Dustin never did receive his Golden Globes but a brief mention of it was included in a backstage segment with Vince McMahon during the 2001 Invasion storyline.
Goldust would leave the company in 1999, spending a few years in WCW, before returning to loud fan cheers in the 2002 Royal Rumble. He would then go on to have a great few years, leaving the attempts at controversy behind and becoming a great comedy character in his odd couple style tag-team with Booker T and then a long angle where he developed Tourette’s after being electrocuted by Randy Orton and Batista (isn’t wrestling just the best?). He even did an almost hour-long interview on The Howard Stern Show, in character with the Tourette’s gimmick. Goldust has continued to be a consistently hilarious character throughout the years and is now the longest running character still performing full-time in WWE.
The breast enhancement story is one to look back on and laugh now, but it is Dustin Runnel’s fearlessness and dedication to the character of Goldust that has made him stand the test of time and still be highly entertaining 23 years after debuting the character, ensuring we will never ever forget the name of……..GOLDUST!