Deaths in professional wrestling come way too early and way too often. Today the world lost the legendary “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Unfortunately I was born a little too late and in the wrong part of the country to really be able to experience Dusty’s brilliance as it happened. He was one of the most beloved and one of the most important figures in professional wrestling history, whose influence is still being felt today.
Virgil Runnels Jr. was born on October 12th, 1945, in Austin Texas. He was famously “The son of a plumber”. He adopted the ring name Dusty Rhodes, and became known as “The American Dream”. He broke into wrestling as a heel, partnering with Dick Murdoch in “The Texas Outlaws”. You couldn’t keep “265 Pounds of Blue-Eyed Soul” from being a good guy for long. He turned babyface and the rest was history. His “Common Man” character took off. He was a working class hero who didn’t look like your typical professional wrestler. He didn’t have flashy robes like Ric Flair. He didn’t look like he would tear your face off with a broken beer bottle like Harley Race. He didn’t muscles coming out of his muscles like Hulk Hogan. He was a chubby guy with a strange build and infinite charisma. He was every person in the audience. This allowed hit to be both larger than life and relatable at the same time. Dusty rode this charisma to a highly decorated wrestling career. Wrestling in the NWA territories he won multiple regional titles including the Heavyweight championship in the larger territories Georgia Championship Wrestling and Championship Wrestling from Florida. Dusty three times held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship when it was still a major wrestling achievement. His first title win came in 1979 over Harley Race. He also went on to defeat Ric Flair twice for the belt.
His full time in ring career ended in 1991 after a short lived run in the WWF. He would return to WCW to work as booker and wrestle occasionally. He was part of history again when he was managing Ron Simmons and was in his corner when Simmons became the first African-American Heavyweight Champion in wrestling. He continued to do various behind the scenes and on screen roles with WCW, TNA and various indies until 2005. He signed a deal with WWE that kept him there until his death. He was part of the creative team and worked with their developmental territories.
In addition to his championships Rhodes is one of only six people who have been inducted to each the WWE, WCW, Professional Wrestling, and Wrestling Observer Halls of Fame. His career added up to much more than these titles though. His influence stretches to every corner of the industry. He is survived by two sons in wrestling, Goldust and Stardust also known as Dustin Runnels and Cody Rhodes respectively. Until his death he worked on the developmental side of the WWE, most recently NXT. The next crop of WWE wrestlers have all been touched by Dusty’s excellence. One of which is Kevin Owens who posted a poignant tribute to Dusty today. Owens is such a fitting person to show just how much Dusty influenced wrestling. Owens is a chubby guy with a lot of charisma and a great body of in ring work.
Owens is only one of the many wrestlers that will make us think of Dusty. Colt Cabana does Dusty’s big Bionic Elbow. Every WWE star up and coming will have a little bit of Dusty in them. Even John Cena’s attempts to connect with the audience have a bit of the “Common Man” in them. Dusty “Wined and dined with Kings and Queens, and slept in allies and dined on pork and beans” and now he lives forever in our hearts. Thank you Dream we will miss you.
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