'Living on the end of a lightning bolt.': The legacy of 'The American Dream' Dusty Rhodes
They called Dusty Rhodes “The American Dream,” because that’s what he embodied. Born the son of a plumber in Austin, Texas, he wasn’t meant to grow up to be a WWE Hall of Famer, a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion or a hero to people the world over, but the blue-eyed boy named Virgil Runnels had conviction. “Get a dream, hold onto it and shoot for the sky,” he’d say years later, and you knew he meant every word of it.
Rhodes began his ring career in the late 1960s as a villain, teaming with Dick Murdoch as the treacherous Texas Outlaws. He continued to break the rules until a defining moment in Florida in 1974 when he turned on his devious associates Pak Song and Gary Hart and became a working-class hero known as “The American Dream.”
From Atlanta to New York City, crowds lined up to see Rhodes wiggle his behind and deliver his Bionic Elbow to rivals like Harley Race, Ernie Ladd and “Superstar” Billy Graham. Dusty never had the prototypical pro wrestler physique ( “My belly’s just a little big,” he famously declared, “but, brother, I am bad.”), yet his ability to connect with audiences was singular. He had a TV preacher’s knack for communicating his rags-to-riches story, a skill which was summed up in his most famous line: “I have wined and dined with kings and queens, and I’ve slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans.”
With his gutsy performances and electric charisma, this common man fought his way to the top of the NWA where he waged a brutal and lengthy war against the legendary Four Horseman while capturing the distinguished NWA World Heavyweight Title on three separate occasions. He also became a creative force behind the scenes, conjuring up inventive bouts like WCW’s oft-imitated War Games: The Match Beyond.
When Rhodes came to WWE in 1990, he introduced WWE fans to his son, Dustin — a 6-foot-6 stallion who later redefined sports-entertainment under the outlandish guise of Goldust. More than a decade later, Dusty did the same thing when he brought the preternaturally talented Cody Rhodes into the ring. His sons were more than capable of carrying on the Rhodes family legacy, but The Dream could still rumble in the ring even in his 60s. He proved that four decades into his career when he squared off against Randy Orton at Great American Bash in 2007 — the same year he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
It would be difficult to overstate how much Dusty Rhodes meant to the working-class people who sat down to watch television and saw one of their own staring back at them. To the millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, Dusty was more than just an athlete or an entertainer — he was living proof that “The American Dream” was real. May this be a dream that goes on forever.