The death of Dusty Rhodes was two years ago yesterday (as of the day of this writing). The wrestling world still feels that loss.
It’s impossible to overstate what a big star ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes was. From his days as one of the Texas Outlaws with ‘Captain Redneck’ Dick Murdoch to his heel tag team with Pak Song in Florida, Dusty Rhodes was a rising light in the professional wrestling industry. When he turned babyface against Pak Song and the evil Gary Hart in Tampa, Florida, the American Dream was born–and he was transcendent.
Sporting a doughy physique, bleached-blonde curls and an unmistakable lisp, it would have been easy to dismiss the Dream. As he once famously said, he didn’t “look like the ath-a-lete of the day is supposed to look.” But he had that charisma, that energy, and he had an underrated athleticism that belied his portly appearance. But the secret to Dusty Rhodes is that he was the everyman, the beating heart of the fans that sat in every seat from the front row to the back. His gimmick worked because he believed he was exactly what he claimed to be: the embodiment of the American Dream. He rose from being the son of a plumber to being, at one point, one of the top four draws in professional wrestling–behind only Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Ric Flair.
When Dusty got on the microphone and told the fans that he had wined and dined with kings and queens, and he’d slept in alleys and ate pork ‘n’ beans, the fans felt that in their hearts and souls. That was REAL to them. When Dusty won the NWA world title, it was a triumph for the common men and women who plunked down their hard-earned money. And in Dusty Rhodes’s hard-luck angles where he couldn’t keep the championship for long or when friends and allies turned against him, they recognized the ups and downs of their own lives. He had a visceral, real connection with fans that won’t ever be duplicated.
He booked Florida and Jim Crockett Promotions in Charlotte, and he was arguably WWWF champion Billy Graham’s best feud, wrestling in bloody brawls with the Superstar all over the Northeast. Later on, he had a much-maligned (albeit still legendary) run in the WWF toward the end of his career, a polka-dotted pastiche of the character he’d portrayed throughout much of the 1970s and 80s.
The death of Dusty Rhodes came after being taken to the hospital due to a fall. He was suffering from Stomach Cancer.
(Recommended reading: ‘The Common Man for the Common Folk’ – The American Dream, DUSTY RHODES)
Harley Race Facing Uphill Battle
“His left leg was shattered in several places, including the fibula and tibia along with a spiral break of the left ankle, and he needed four blood transfusions during emergency surgery,” Mooneyham wrote. “Not so surprisingly, Race had to be convinced to go to a local hospital.”
Mooneyham’s story goes into depth on Race’s physical toughness as well as his challenges. It’s really a must-read.
Race, 74, had surgery on his left leg, but doctors have decided to let his right leg heal naturally. He’s already started physical therapy. (Could you really expect anything less than that from the toughest wrestler on God’s green earth?) You can send get-well cards/messages to Race at World League Wrestling, 198 Cherry Blossom Way, Troy, Mo. 63379, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Recommended reading: HARLEY RACE: The Man Who Can Break Your Hand with Just His Handshake)
‘Rotten’ Ron Starr Passes Away
Last week, ‘Rotten’ Ron Starr passed away. Starr, a two-time NWA world junior heavyweight wrestling champion, is probably most well-known for his work with his kayfabe cousin “Chicky Starr” in Puerto Rico, where the pair won the WWC tag team titles. Starr was one of the few North American wrestlers who returned to Puerto Rico after the murder of Bruiser Brody, and he had a lot of success there.
He was a major star in Roy Shire’s San Francisco territory in the 1970s, holding the top title there, the West Coast version of the United States championship, and headlined for Leroy McGuirk in Oklahoma as well. He worked in Stu Hart’s Stampede territory as the partner of the Wayne Farris, who would go on to become the Honkytonk Man.
Starr also teamed with a young Hulk Hogan during a 1980 tour of Antonio Inoki’s New Japan Pro Wrestling promotion, working as the veteran “mechanic” in the ring while Hogan–who had been in the business for only a couple of years at that point–continued to learn his craft.
In December of 2016, Starr and co-author Rock Rims produced a memoir: Bad to the Bone: 25 Years of Wrestling and Riots, which can be purchased here.
“If you enjoyed any of my wild matches that went all over the building over the years, you can give partial thanks to Ron Starr,” former WWE world champion and hall-of-famer Mick Foley wrote in the foreword of Starr’s book. “He more or less taught me how, with a very physical on the job training program. Ron Starr might not be a household name, but he was respected, technically sound, and more than capable of holding his own with the wildest brawlers in the business. He helped teach me a unique craft, which I plied around the world, making a very good living doing what I loved.”
Foley and Starr crossed paths during the dying days of the Continental Wrestling Federation, in a rare babyface turn for Starr. They had wars throughout towns like Meridian, Mississippi, Birmingham, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, brawling throughout arenas and spilling blood like it was water. By that point, attendance was down and the promotion was about to close its doors for good, but the matches themselves were wild and entertaining affairs.
In his later years, Starr battled numerous health problems according to his co-author. He suffered multiple heart attacks and strokes, and also suffered from chronic pain in his back, hips, and neck. He passed in his sleep last Thursday due to a collapsed lung. Starr was 67 years old.
For those of you who are interested in expanding your knowledge of the wrestling business, there’s nothing like a good memoir or biography of your favorite superstar. I published the top 10 wrestling books you should read (and 5 you shouldn’t).