Wrestling: Dusty Rhodes




Virgil Riley Runnels, Jr., better known as ("The American Dream") Dusty Rhodes was just a common man, workin' hard with his hands. He was also a American professional wrestler who, throughout his forty year career, portrayed a happy-go-lucky schlub facing off against more elegant and physically fit competitors. Contrary to his underdog image, Dusty was a tank in his prime, known and feared throughout various permutations of the National Wrestling Alliance.

Working in various wrestling organizations since the late sixties, Dusty joined Jim Crockett Promotions in 1978. Throughout the late seventies and eighties, he would engage in a number of high profile feuds, facing off against the likes of Terry Funk, Harley Race, Abdullah the Butcher, and especially the Four Horsemen; particularly their leader, the elitist braggart Ric Flair. Dusty would win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship a total of three times, and in 1985, he delivered what became known as the "Hard Times" promo, considered Dusty's finest, and definitely in the running for greatest wrestling promo of all time.

In 1985, Dusty transitioned into booking what would eventually become World Championship Wrestling. As booker, Rhodes would develop a number of creative feuds and gimmick matches, including the WCW standard "WarGames match. After openly defying a "no bloodshed" edict from TBS censors at Starrcade '88'', Rhodes was fired from WCW. He would join the WWF in 1989, where he wrestled as "Common Man" Dusty Rhodes for two years, feuding with "Macho Man" Randy Savage. The most notable aspect of this period was the god-awful ugly yellow-polkadot unitard he would wear in the role. Some thought the costume choice was WWF owner Vince McMahon's way of humiliating one of his former competitors, but Dusty has always maintained the whole thing was his idea.

Rhodes would soon return to WCW as a booker (until he was supplanted by Eric Bischoff) and on-screen manager, and would join the commentating team for much of the 90s. Near the end of WCW's lifespan, Rhodes would briefly leave for a stint in ECW, before returning for one last feud with Flair.

After WCW's purchase and dissolution by the WWF in 2001, Rhodes would work for TNA, ROH, and various other indie wrestling leagues for the next five years, including Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling, a promotion founded by Rhodes himself. In late 2005, he would sign a WWE Legends deal, making occasional appearances on WWE programming from then on.

In his later years, Dusty worked on NXT as a promo coach, mentoring and inspiring a whole new generation of wrestlers. He called the developmental wrestlers his "kids" and many of them cite Dusty as a major influence in their character work and improved promo skills.

He is the father of fellow wrestlers, Dustin "Goldust" Rhodes and Cody "Stardust" Rhodes. He's raised some weird kids.

On June 10, 2015, paramedics responded to Rhodes' home in Orlando, Florida, after getting a call reporting that he had fallen. They drove him to a nearby hospital, where he died the next day. He was 69 years old.

Tropes associated with Dusty Rhodes

  • Acrofatic: He’s just a common man, eatin’ cake with both hands. While just shy of "giant" status (he's 6'1), Dusty was stout enough to shrug off any offense, while nimble enough to counter his opponent's attacks two-fold.
  • All American Face: "He's just a common man", "Son of a Plumber", etc. (These are both true.)
  • Archenemy: Superstar Billy Graham, The "FAW HATHMEN!", Kevin Sullivan, and Terry Funk. Randy Savage in the WWF.
  • Badass Normal: An average working class guy in the ring with the strange, otherworldly and larger than life characters of pro wrestling.
  • Bash Brothers: with Dick Murdoch, Blackjack Mulligan, Magnum T.A., Mike Graham, Dustin Rhodes
  • Bastard Bastard: Describes Cornette this way, saying it was why he never talked about his daddy.
  • Big Fun: He's about the right size and to smile unironically with that polka dot headband, how could he be anything but?
  • Charlie Brown from Outta Town: He LOVED this trope:
    • Uvalde Slim!
    • The Midnight Rider (easily his most famous version)!
    • The James Boys! (w/Magnum T.A.)
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Armed only with a policeman's cap, mixed metaphors, and a mouthful of marbles, he completes the burial of the Honky Tonk Man:
    I ain't been so excited since mah first date wit' Sally Goode! An' befize dat, the fax are een: da man say, 'Dusteh! I AM thee proprietor of Heartbreak Hotel! I AM da man dat wears da blue suede shoes! You can't sing!" Hya-ha! Proved ya wrong! "You can't dance!" You know I can dance circles 'round you! An' now you say, "prove to me in pu'lick, eef you weel: Come 'n get it at Summa'Slam!"
  • Cuckoolander Commentator: A living drunk post. Dusty's thick accent and bizarre speaking pattern makes it almost impossible to understand him, especially in the late 80's onwards. As WCW commentator, he gained quite the reputation for verbal diarrhea, so much so that "Insane Dusty Commentary" is a regular feature of Botchamania.
    • They didn't even bother with closed captioning when Dusty Rhodes was on commentary. We haven't yet invented a machine that can understand him.
    • The Belfast Bruiser (Dave Finlay) v. Lord Steven Regal match is great, too, mostly Dusty’s insane commentary about fighting a bear to the death. ("A big ol’ kodiak bear!") He means he had a few matches with Victor the Wrestling Bear in 1968. We apologize for ever doubting your bear-fighting prowess, Dusty.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: So the wrestler that everyone loves has just won against his rival no one wants to see win. Hurray! Wait, sosandso interfered on the the fan favorite's behalf? That guy we all wanted to see win had his foot under the rope? The referee involved was obviously crooked? Accuracy of these claims be damned, the decision is reversed! Your hero is now the loser! You have just witnessed a Dusty Finish!
  • Dream Team: At Survivor Series 89 and Survivor Series 90, he captained teams called "The Dream Team." Unrelated to the other team with the same name which consisted of Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Dibiase buying Sapphire. Dusty was devastated.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: In 1985, he announced his "Funky Like A Monkey Tour." Whatever that was supposed to mean, he included the peculiar suggestion, "If you ain't got a monkey, get funky anyway."
  • Everything Is Big in Texas: Born in Austin.
  • Fashionable Asymmetry: A pad for his elbow, of course
  • Finishing Move: The Bionic Elbow.
  • Good Ol' Boy: Played this to the hilt; complete with a ten-gallon hat, a ranch, and a faithful ass named Zeb who followed him to the ring [!].
  • Heel-Face Turn: In the 1970s and never looked back...until he randomly turned on Larry Zbyszko to join the NWO during Zbyszko's match with Scott Hall at NWO Souled Out 98, January 24, 1998. Of course, after disappearing following the Outsiders' split in May at WCW Slamboree 98, he returned following Ric Flair's victory over Eric Bischoff on the WCW Monday Nitro after Starrcade on December 28 to celebrate the win.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door: During Cody's heel run, Dusty would occasionally turn up & act as a face, until he turned heel to help Cody. Since these were only one-shot appearances, Dusty was back to being a face the next time he turned up.
  • I Was Just Joking: TNA Lockdown was the brainchild of Dusty Rhodes, though the more accurate term may be brain fart. One of the bookers in the Creative meeting got flustered and said something along the line of, "why don’t we put this in a cage too?! So stupid..." Rhodes jumped at it, saying, "Weh hell lez jus' put E'RY mash inna cage, daddeh!" The TNA President, Dixie Carter, leapt from her chair saying it was the greatest idea anyone's ever had. She knew so little about wrestling that she didn’t know it was a joke. And that’s how Lockdown came to have wall-to-wall cage matches — because Dusty opened his pie hole during a meeting and laughed at it.
  • Insufferable Genius/Southern-Fried Genius: "A bit of a bellend, but scary-talented in certain areas" sums up his time as booker.
  • It's Personal: Against Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express in Jim Crockett Promotions.
  • Jive Turkey: The single biggest influence on Dusty was Muhammed Ali.
  • Legacy Character: He has a few, not just Dustin and Cody.
    • Memphis legend Troy Graham (1949-2002)'s masked gimmick the Dream Machine involved him blatantly imitating Dusty, with the idea being that the fans were supposed to think Dusty was under the mask.
    • The Japanese wrestler Gedo (Keiji Takayama) is a huge fan of Dusty and of 1970s southern-style wrestling and has been called "The Dusty Rhodes of Japan." Gedo defeated Evan Karagias on the April 25, 1998 WCW {Pro}, and announcer Mike Tenay called him "The Japanese American Dream."
  • Leotard of Power: With polka dots.
  • The Man Is Sticking It to the Man: Ole Anderson accused Jim Crockett of such when he got an airplane to fly "the common man" around in.
  • Martial Arts Head Band: In the WWF
  • Not That There's Anything Wrong with That: He accused Cornette and the Midnight Express of being more than just business partners but said he was content to say to each his own until they got in his business.
  • Older Sidekick: Sapphire was ten years his senior.
  • Overprotective Dad: According to Terri Runnels, Dusty didn't much care for his daughter-in-law and played Iago to Dustin's Othello, spreading rumors about her sleeping around and bleeding his bank account dry.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: The tag team the New Breed (Chris Champion and Sean Royal), in 1987, were billed from "The Future". They claimed that, in the year 2002, robots were common and, apparently, Dusty was President of the United States.
  • Parts Unknown (as the Midnight Rider): "Diablo Canyon, CO"
  • Perky Female Minion
    • Sapphire in the WWF, who even tagged with him at Wrestlemania VI against Randy Savage and Sherri Martel.
    • His assistant, Traci Brooks, while he was an authority figure in TNA.
  • Power Stable: Dusty Rhodes' Family (Florida), with Blackjack Mulligan, Barry Windham, "Cowboy" Ron Bass, The One Man Gang and Mike Rotunda.
    • As a heel in the 1970s, he was a member of Gary Hart's Army.
    • Then there was his short-lived run with the NWO.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Joining the WWF had the added effect of turning Dusty black: He gained a Jheri curled female valet (Sapphire) who was selected from the crowd — the joke being that he’s just a common man, so he should have a common valet — and a funk entrance theme ("The Common Man Boogie") which he still had towards the end of his life. Move over, Isaac Hayes. This angle might have a kernel of truth: Dusty wanted to bring in a black prostitute to be Sapphire, and already had one in mind.
  • Rags to Riches / Riches to Rags: Discussed in his promos, most famously his "wined and dined with kings and queens" promo.
  • Red Baron: "The American Dream," "The Bull of the Woods," "Stardust."
  • Reset Button: During his initial stint at WCW, Rhodes, burnt out by constant competition with the WWF, became notorious for an over-reliance on ambiguous endings to matches; particularly ones in which a face had scored a major victory against a heel, that would later be overturned for trivial reasons. These sorts of unsatisfying wrap-ups are referred to in the wrestling community as "Dusty Finishes" to this day.
  • Ring Oldies: He was still wrestling from time to time in his early 60s.
  • The Rival: To rival booker Vince McMahon. While not exactly enemies, they had a pretty subtle and jabbing relationship over the years which was settled when Steph gave him a job in the 90s.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: According to Kevin Sullivan, "People get upset because Dusty Rhodes had a favorite talent... and it was Dusty Rhodes."
  • Springtime for Hitler: Vince probably had a good belly laugh at that outfit. Dusty stuck it to the WWF and got himself over despite their "help".
  • Start My Own: His Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling promotion in Marietta, GA, which ran from 2000 to 2003.
  • Stout Strength
  • Tag Team: The Texas Outlaws, with Dick Murdoch
  • Take That: Virgil's name was a parody of Dusty's real name, Virgil Runnels, and a subtle jab at how he would constantly "talk black."
    • The Akeem character was also a rib on Dusty. They turned One Man Gang into a character who thought he lived under the delusion that he black and nicknamed himself the "African Dream."
  • Talk Show with Fists: "The Dew Drop Inn".
  • Trope Codifier: Along with The Crusher, Dusty was the original "working mans hero", a gimmick that would eventually reach even bigger popularity with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, as well as The Rock (who proudly called himself "The People's Champion").
  • The Unintelligible: In his later years, Dusty became just about impossible to understand, as his already thick southern accent combined with what might possibly be concussion damage essentially turned his speech into word slurry.
  • Verbal Tic: "Daddy-O", "lissen heah", "eef you weel", "behbeh", "jack!"
  • Working-Class Hero: Referenced in his legendary "Hard Times" promo:
    "...And hard times, are when a man been working the job thirty years—thirty years!—they give him a watch, they kick him in the butt, and say, 'Hey, a computer took your place, daddy'! That's hard times!"
  • Wrestling Family: His sons are Dustin "Goldust" Rhodes and Cody "Stardust" Rhodes. His daughter-in-law for a while was Terri "Marlena" Runnels. He can also count Fred "Tugboat"/"Typhoon" Ottman and Jerry Sags among his brothers-in-law.
  • Wrote the Book: The Texas Death match with Billy Graham was a classic example of what would become "hardcore" wrestling long before that was a thing, and his later bullrope matches would lend further credence to gimmick matches (for better or worse).
  • Your Mom: Made fun of Cornette's momma when he learned Jim was a Momma's Boy.