Published on June 11th, 2015 | by Pro Wrestling Stories0
The American Dream, DUSTY RHODES
‘THE COMMON MAN FOR THE COMMON FOLK’
(October 12, 1945 – June 11, 2015)
On June 11th, 2015, the pro wrestling world was shaken with the news of the untimely passing of wrestling great, ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes. Throughout his almost forty years in the business, Rhodes became known as a man of the people, the common man for the common folk. He never had the physique of a wrestling god, though his charisma and innate ability on the microphone more than made up for that. Dusty had an impact on others, in the business and not. Just listen to any of the many podcasts out there these days with current and past talent. Whenever Dusty is brought up or mentioned, words of kindness are shared as are Dusty impressions, with his southern drawl and trademark lisp in tow.
Gary Hart, who had been attributed to bringing Dusty into the forefront of the pro wrestling scene almost forty years ago, had this to say on meeting Rhodes for the first time back in 1968:
“I came into the Fort Worth dressing room for a KTVT taping, and we saw this 260-pound blonde headed kid with granny glasses on reading a book of poetry. We went over, said hello to him, and he introduced himself as Virgil Runnels. During the course of our conversation, he mentioned that his ring name was Dusty Rhodes. I’m a big fan of the movie “A Face in the Crowd,” where Andy Griffith starred as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, so I suggested, “What about calling yourself ‘Lonesome Rhodes’?”
“Well…I don’t plan on being ‘Lonesome.’” Dusty said, clearly unimpressed. “I think I’ll stick with Dusty.”
When it came time for Dusty’s match, I went out to see him wrestle. [I] liked his look, but that was all [I] knew.
I can’t say I was blown away by his finesse, because he wasn’t very good at the mechanics of wrestling, and only knew how to do a clothesline and a hammerlock. I was most taken with his charisma and energy.”
Despite this, Hart saw something in Rhodes. As the story goes, Dusty was pegged to do the job for Grizzly Smith that night. Hart knew that if this happened, Rhodes would forever be known as a jobber in Fritz Von Erich’s Texas territory, so Hart begged and pleaded with Fritz to change the outcome of the match. Finally, after much pestering, while TV tapings were underway, Fritz allowed Hart to go out there and change the finish of the match as it was taking place. Hart saw the potential in Rhodes right away and from there, Dusty Rhodes was made in the Texas territory.
In this installment of Pro Wrestling Stories, we put together a range of stories which celebrate the life of Virgil Runnels, aka Dusty Rhodes.
“People talk about our business being entertainment. People talk about our business being a work. But for that moment, that one moment [to win the championship], it almost takes your breath away…
Because there were seven hundred or eight hundred kids around, during my era, that were trying to get in the industry. Wahoo McDaniel would have died to wear that belt for one hour.
Guys like that. Great athletes.
You finally get to your room. You see it. You’ve got to kind of remind yourself where you’re at. It was a big deal.
I loved my era.
I thought it was the best. I thought Crockett was the best. During that period of time, I thought the NWA was the cat’s meow and that’s what was going on.
The times changed. You have to change with them. It’s never going to go back there.
[But] if everything remained the same, it wouldn’t be no fun. “
DUSTY RHODES on becoming ‘The American Dream’
“It wasn’t about the money, it was about the fans…
Looking like I look – I’m not a bodybuilder by no means — and having a relationship with the fans like I’ve had through the years if I was losing, they were losing. If I was winning, they were winning. If I was crying, they were crying. That’s probably the most important thing as far as entertaining large groups of people is that athlete that you are and maintaining such a special relationship with the fans.
When you came to the building to see me, like me or not, I gave you your money’s worth. That was the most important thing to me. Money came along – hell, I’ve made enough money to buy Miami, and as Jimmy Buffett would say, I’ve pissed it all away.
So what, you know what I mean? I’ll make more tomorrow.
I wake up in the morning looking for that American dream that so many people miss…so many kids don’t really understand what it means to go out and capture that American dream, or ride on the end of a lightning bolt and jump off and grab another one before it crashes into the ground.
I think around 9 or 12 years old, I can’t remember how old I was, I’d been working in the summer for my dad. He was a plumber, I wasn’t a plumber by no means. I was a ditch digger. I’d worked with a man named T.C. Lee down in Austin, and T.C. Lee would be in the ditch all day long and he’d be working there, and I’d be digging the ditch and he’d be standing on the shovel, and he said, ‘Someday, man, you’re gonna get that American dream…’ and it hit me.
In 1974, talking with the late great Gordon Solie down in Florida. And I said one day, ‘I’m the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes,’ not thinking what was going to happen. I’ve become the American Dream for the common man, the common folk.”
DR. TOM PRICHARD on The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes
“The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes is one of the old school icons who is as charismatic as it gets.
They broke the mold when they made The Dream. He was one of those deceptively big men who could move like a cruiserweight. His intensity and passion is something that can’t be taught. We crossed paths over the years but I really got to know Dusty Rhodes in Tampa over the last five years…
The Dream is larger than life and still as confident today as he was during his in-ring career. He set the bar high as promos and interviews go. There were few who could match his style and rhythm. As the booker and boss during the heyday of WCW, Dusty Rhodes was the ‘Bull of the Woods’ behind the scenes as much as he was in the ring!
Dusty Rhodes tells a story with passion and adds enough spice to give it a unique flavor all its own.
The American Dream Dusty Rhodes continues to help young and veteran talent alike to this day. The conversations and time I spent with him were always entertaining and invaluable. I respect and love him.”
Dusty Rhodes on his donkey, ZEB
“We had a donkey named Zeb. And he was a very entertaining son of a bitch, okay? He could take a handkerchief off his back leg and untie it. He could kneel down and bow. And he was a rodeo donkey.
We had a brand-new apartment house in Edina (Minnesota) and me and Hoyt Richard Murdoch tried to keep it in our new apartment. But it would go down the hall and proceed to just go to the bathroom.
Eventually, the guy came to kick us out. Murdoch had the greatest face of all and he looked at the guy and said, “Well, what for?” What for? The donkey had done crapped all over the hallway! He said, “Gentlemen, you can’t have a donkey in a place like this.” True story. I’ve got pictures too.”
Dusty on his sons DUSTIN and CODY joining the world of wrestling
“Dustin [Goldust] snuck in the back door with Skandor Akbar down in Texas. His stepmom took him out to the training facility while I was on the road seven days a week. Before I knew it, he had already had his first match.
It was in his blood, it was in his DNA. He along with Murdoch and Barry Windham I consider some of the greatest in-ring workers ever in our business. He was a natural. An unbelievable kid.
He’s been fighting his demons all his life. As of late, it’s been a beautiful turn around. He’s a beautiful kid.
With Cody, he just broke it to me. With all the opportunities he had in school, I just broke down. I said “I don’t want you in this industry. It will hurt you.” It will hurt you bad because it’s like a drug. Once that drug is in you, you can’t get off of it.
The entertainment, the crowd, the noise. Our business is like a drug. But this is what he wanted to do, since he was 18 years old. And he’s like me. Every waking moment he devotes to this industry. His success will come.
Once he got in I said “Okay. Now I’m going to stay out of the way.” I want to be like Peyton Manning’s dad. Out of the way.
I don’t want to be someone saying “Hey, why don’t you use my boy?” You can ask Mr. McMahon or anybody. Never once. Cody calls his own shots. And calling me in. But I’m tired of having my ass kicked.”
Dusty on being blamed for losing the wrestling war to Vince
“That’s something I’ve stayed out of the mix on. Because it was not important to me who they blamed. What we were doing wrestling-wise speaks for itself, and I’ve left it at that.
I took a little minor league area down there, put genius to it.
And yes, I still think I’m a genius after all this time, crazy egotistical maniac that I am.
They always ask me, “Why did you put yourself on top?” I asked Hunter the same thing. The would be booker that he is. He doesn’t even have a finish named after him. How can Triple H be a great booker when he doesn’t have a finish named after him. Where were we?”
The Rhodes Vs The McMahons: 30 Years in the Making
“The Rhodes/McMahon battles have been going on as long or longer than some of you reading have been alive. A large reason for the years of animosity stem from Dusty Rhodes being a big face for Vince’s adversaries in the NWA territories. It also had to do with Dusty being the head booker for a majority of those years as well.
While McMahon gets all the praise and credit for Wrestlemania….it was Dusty’s vision that started the Pay Per View revolution with Starrcade in 1983. When Vince McMahon gave ultimatums to PPV companies to either air his Survivor Series or Starrcade on Thanksgiving…McMahon won. So leave it to Dusty to counterattack with a pay per view caliber show on free TV the night of Wrestlemania in 1988 called Clash of the Champions. The battles did not stop there, as both McMahon and Rhodes would go on TV and mock each other in some form or another.
McMahon did it with satirical characters like “Virgil,” (Dusty’s real first name) the manservant to”The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase (A satire of Ted Turner) TL Hopper a wrestling plumber…Dusty’s father was a plumber by trade. He also briefly had a character named Reo Rodgers (Played by Bruce Prichard) who dressed in Cowboy attire and talked just like ‘The American Dream.” He would do color commentary by Vince’s side and also conducted interviews on a segment called “Reo’s Roundup” Thankfully, the Reo character was tossed away not too long after his debut.
Dusty, on the other hand, did things the way he knew best with scintillating promos taking shots at the WWF calling it “Hollywood Wrestling” and challenging Vince to come and bring his wrestlers down to “America’s Team” AKA the NWA.
In 1989, Dusty was fired by Crockett and he moved to smaller Florida promotions, until signing with the WWE. Instead of burying the hatchet with Rhodes…McMahon immediately sent a message that he was now his boss. In a recent interview with Gene Okerlund….Mean Gene revealed in Dusty’s very first match in the WWF at a house show…Dusty was forced to job to Ted Dibiase in under 30 seconds. Gene Okerlund was convinced this was a direct message by Vince to Dusty…that the playing field had changed. The humiliation didn’t stop there because Dusty was being treated like a virtual newcomer with a series of vignettes with him doing common tasks like butchering and electrician work. Then he began to enter the ring in big yellow polka dot tights and dancing before and after every match. He never really made any kind of impact in his WWF tenure.
When Dusty returned to NWA/WCW, his oldest son Dustin Rhodes was brought into the WWE and was handed a very bizarre and androgynous character named Goldust. Now granted, Goldust eventually worked and became successful…that was all credit to Dustin who was able to mold the character into a winner. Dustin has said in interviews that he was leery when initially approached with the strange character, but was willing to make it his own. I can’t help but wonder if the initial premise for the character was to get under Dusty’s skin…if so, it failed and made Dustin into a star despite it.
Dusty stayed with WCW (with a brief stint in ECW) until its demise and after the WWE purchased WCW…Dusty didn’t go up north. Instead, Dusty Rhodes tried to compete against Vince McMahon. In 2000, he founded TCW (Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling) based out of Georgia. When the promotion folded in 2003, Dusty joined TNA wrestling as a personality, head booker and writer. He remained with TNA until 2005. Dusty also accepted indie bookings with Ring of Honor, and Japan…anywhere but the WWE….
That all changed when in 2005, the WWE signed the Dream to a Legends contract. He has been there ever since…Now some may say, that was Vince’s peace offering to Rhodes, but as we have seen in Vince’s history…he always puts aside grudges for ….wait for it….”What’s best for business.”
DUSTY RHODES on his career highlights
“There are three, and all are equally sweet memories.
In front of Madison Square Garden on horseback, and when I looked down I saw my wife Michele, and my family. My mom was sitting next to my friend George Steinbrenner. The designer Halston was there, so was Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Cheryl Tiegs and other celebrities. Looking up I saw the announcement of Dusty Rhodes ‘The American Dream’ on the marquee. Seeing the words Madison Square Garden and SOLD OUT, was pretty heavy.
Another one was at the Tokyo Dome in 1991 when I was in the ring with my son Dustin in front of 60,000 people. I was filled with pride and it was a time that I’ll always cherish.
The third might surprise some people but it was when Dallas Page won the WCW Heavyweight Title. The coach in me made it one of my proudest moments. He was a floppy-eared jackass mule in horrible shape and too stubborn to give up when I first met him. He wanted to learn it all. I liked that about him.
I can still remember Dallas Page getting in the ring for the first time in Tampa against Dick Slater. You know, it’s like goin’ deer huntin’. I love it, but it’s especially fun to take someone out the first time, show him how, and then watch him get excited about it.
To see him climb his way to the top and see him with the belt was an accomplishment that everyone said would never happen.”
SOURCES: ‘Playboy’ Gary Hart’s autobiography, ‘My Life In Wrestling…With A Little Help From My Friends‘, oklafan, ‘Wrestling’s Glory Days’ Facebook page, drtomprichard.com, bleacherreport, ringthedamnbell, ddpbang.com
WANT MORE? Check out these great stories on Dusty Rhodes from our Gary Hart series: Dick Murdoch & Dusty Rhodes- The Daisy Duke-Wearin’ Outlaws! and The American Dream’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival.