Cody and Dustin Runnels lost their father today. Hundred of pro wrestling folk lost a beloved friend, colleague and mentor. Compared to that, it seems strange to be heartbroken by the death of a man most of us never met. But as Dusty Rhodes, Virgil Runnels touched our lives. Even if you weren’t alive, or a fan when he cut the (below) promo – one of the greatest in the history of the art form we call pro wrestling – The American Dream has entertained and moved you because someone he taught or influenced did. — Sean Rueter, Cageside Seats
On Saturday mornings, my grandmother and I would sit down and watch wrestling together. I was always amazed how much my grandmother LOVED Dusty Rhodes. I mean, I liked Dusty as a snotty-nosed juvenile delinquent, but my grandma was all about The American Dream. You have to understand, the queen matriarch of my family was born and raised in the northeast and raised by parents from the West Indies, and here she is simultaneously hollering at me to bring her cigarettes and whooping at the sight of Dusty Rhodes in some godawful outfit consisting of polka dots, sequin shirts and Kangol hats. I’d ask my grandmother why she loved him so much and she just gushed with praise. “Son, he’s full of charisma and presence! He’s genuine and fun. He’s a man’s man, and every woman loves a man like that honey!”
Virgil Runnels, a.k.a. Dusty Rhodes “The American Dream”, passed away today at the age of 69.
It took for me to become my own man to understand what my grandmother meant in saying that, as she always encouraged me to be genuine at all times. It’s funny that she would sometimes reference Dusty Rhodes to me as a mode of parenting. Dusty Rhodes is, of course, a fictional character, but really that’s the ultimate compliment to Virgil Runnels. I’m also pretty sure that my grandmother loved Dusty because this man had a way of “sounding black” and borderline talking like a pimp, which was somehow totally okay with my grandma. In reality, Dusty Rhodes sounded like people who grew up hanging out on the corner, someone who worked as a mechanic or that one uncle everyone has. It’s the reason Dusty Rhodes was the original people’s champion, and Runnel’s ability to inspire and entertain as that character is a testament to his true personality.
We pay homage to Rhodes by presenting his timeless 1985 interview on Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, as “Hard Times” will never be forgotten. All hail The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes.
Related: Professional Wrestling Is The American Dream, An Essay (Ian Williams)
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”