In the quirky, colorful history of professional wrestling, there are a lot of performers that can be named who had the charisma to match their physical athleticism, making for a complete package. Most “Attitude Era” fans will point to the likes of The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as some of the best all-around talkers in the business, while fans of the “80’s Wrestling Boom” will rightfully point to performers like Hulk Hogan or “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Although these men reached stratospheric heights within the scope of “the business,” there was one man whose name was synonymous with pro wrestling in the south, and who was arguably the best man on the mic in the history of the business.
That man was the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Unfortunately, it was recently announced that “the Dream” passed away at the age of 69.
Rhodes, who was born Virgil Riley Runnels, Jr., broke into the professional wrestling business in the early 1970’s, working as a “heel” (or bad guy) in the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association. He would then begin to develop more of a following in Southern territories, when he developed his most well-known persona as a working class champion of the people, which helped to boost him into main event status in other areas as well. He would wrestle for Vince McMahon, Sr.’s World Wide Wrestling Federation for awhile — headlining in Madison Square Garden — which eventually would lead him to working for Jim Crockett Promotions in the mid-Atlantic.
This put him into regular conflict with his most storied rival, the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, and the two began a now-legendary rivalry for the World Heavyweight Championship. In 1985, he delivered perhaps his most famous promo (wrestlingspeak for an address to the audience and your opponent), when he communicated his everyman philosophy against the snobbish Ric Flair.
After a brief stint in the WWF in the late 80s/early 90s, Rhodes returned to the southern promotion, which had since become World Championship Wrestling (WCW) under the purview of Ted Turner. He would have more of a support and managerial role here, eventually joining the very popular New World Order faction alongside the Outsiders, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. WCW went bankrupt in 2001, with the remains purchased by McMahon’s WWF. For a few years, Rhodes was on the independent circuit before returning to the now-WWE, where he had appeared sporadically since 2005.
In March of 2007, Rhodes was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, taking his place as one of the legends of the business. During his speech, he asked rivals Ric Flair and Harley Race to hold up the signature hand sign of the Four Horsemen — their faction — and induct him into their ranks. His final appearance on WWE television was in February of this year.
Rhodes leaves behind a legacy in the form of his two sons, Dustin and Cody Runnels — also known as Goldust and Cody “Stardust” Rhodes, respectively — and also leaves an indelible mark on the world of professional wrestling and its fans. GeekNation would like to wish the Runnels family well during this undoubtedly hard time, but if there’s one thing that can be said about Dusty Rhodes, it’s this: the Dream can never die.
Virgil Riley Runnels Jr.
1945 – 2015
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