Rhodes in 2008
|Birth name||Virgil Riley Runnels Jr.|
|Born||October 12, 1945|
Austin, Texas, U.S.
|Died||June 11, 2015 (aged 69)|
Orlando, Florida, U.S.
|Cause of death||Kidney failure|
|Alma mater||West Texas State University (West Texas A&M University)|
|Children||4, including Dustin and Cody|
|Family||Brandi Rhodes (daughter-in-law)|
Fred Ottman (brother-in-law)
Jerry Sags (brother-in-law)
|Professional wrestling career|
The Midnight Rider
|Billed height||6 ft 2 in (188 cm)|
|Billed weight||275 lb (125 kg)|
|Billed from||Austin, Texas|
Diablo Canyon, Colorado
|Trained by||Joe Blanchard|
Virgil Riley Runnels Jr. (October 12, 1945 - June 11, 2015), better known as "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, was an American professional wrestler, booker, and trainer who most notably worked for the National Wrestling Alliance, Jim Crockett Promotions, and the World Wrestling Federation, later known as the WWE. Following his retirement from wrestling, he made occasional on-air appearances on WWE television and pay-per-views and worked as a backstage booker and producer in WWE's NXT developmental territory. Billed as "the son of a plumber", Rhodes did not have a typical wrestler's physique; his character was that of the "common man", known for the personality exhibited in his interviews. WWE chairman Vince McMahon remarked that no wrestler "personified the essence of charisma quite like Dusty Rhodes".
Rhodes was a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, and during his time in Jim Crockett Promotions, later known as WCW, he was a United States Heavyweight Champion, and multi-time World Television, World Tag Team and World Six-Man Tag Team Champion. He also won many regional championships, and is one of seven men inducted into each of the WWE, WCW, Professional Wrestling, and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Halls of Fame. His sons, Dustin and Cody, both pursued careers in professional wrestling, performing for WWE and AEW.
After graduating from Johnston High School in Austin, Rhodes played baseball at West Texas State (now known as West Texas A&M University). Turning professional, Rhodes tried out for the American Football League's Boston Patriots but was cut. He then played for the Hartford Charter Oaks in the Continental Football League until the team folded.
In 1967, Rhodes saw an advertisement in the newspaper for Tony Santos' professional wrestling promotion Big Time Wrestling, based in Boston. Rhodes drove to Boston, and despite not having any wrestling experience, bluffed his way into working for the company by using his real life friendships with Bobby Duncum and the Funk brothers. Billed as Dusty Runnels, one of his first matches was for the BTW World Heavyweight title against champion Frank Scarpa in the Boston Arena. Having little money, Rhodes slept in his car and spent Thanksgiving with Rufus R. Jones in a Boston soup kitchen.
Rhodes moved on to Fritz Von Erich's Texas territory World Class Championship Wrestling in 1968, at that time also called Big Time Wrestling. It was in Texas where Rhodes first adopted the ring name "Dusty Rhodes". Upon meeting Rhodes, Gary Hart suggested that he change his ring name to "Lonesome Rhodes", a character Andy Griffith portrayed in the film A Face in the Crowd. Rhodes reportedly replied: "Well...I don't plan on being 'Lonesome'. I think I'll stick with Dusty." Hart took an immediate liking to Rhodes and convinced Von Erich of the young wrestler's potential. Rhodes became a rule-breaking heel with Hart as his manager, teaming with Don Jardine, better known as The Spoiler.
Later in 1968, Rhodes left Texas and entered the Kansas City territory, tagging with fellow Texan Dick Murdoch to form the tag team The Texas Outlaws. The team traveled both nationally and internationally, appearing in Big Time Wrestling (Texas), NWA Western States Sports (Texas), NWA Detroit, National Wrestling Federation (NWF), Championship Wrestling from Florida, World Championship Wrestling (Australia), Tri-State Wrestling, the American Wrestling Association (AWA), and International Wrestling Enterprise (Japan).
--Brian Campbell, ESPN
Rhodes did not have a typical wrestlers' physique, but he was well known for his personality, charisma and interviews. In 1974, Rhodes's character became a hero after tag team partner Pak Song and manager Gary Hart turned on him during a match in Florida against Eddie and Mike Graham. This led him to break out as a solo wrestler, primarily in Florida, referring to himself as the "American Dream", a working class hero, and aligning himself with Eddie Graham.
In 1977, Rhodes wrestled for Vince McMahon, Sr.'s World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) on and off for lengthy periods of time until 1983. During that time, Rhodes main-evented twice in Madison Square Garden, both times challenging for the WWWF Heavyweight Championship against reigning champion Superstar Billy Graham. Rhodes won the first match on September 26 via countout, and lost the second, a Texas Death match, on October 24. Graham won after a mid-ring collision, falling on Rhodes for the three count.
He eventually began working as a booker and wrestler with Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) in the Mid-Atlantic, which eventually purchased World Championship Wrestling (WCW), formerly Georgia Championship Wrestling. Rhodes also teamed with Magnum T.A. as "America's Team", who opposed the Four Horsemen and The Russian Team in 1985. They were one of the more dominant tag teams in the promotion until 1986, when Magnum's career was ended in a car accident. Subsequently, he teamed with Nikita Koloff as The Super Powers. Rhodes was also a two time World Six-Man Tag Team Champion with The Road Warriors.
Rhodes had feuds with Abdullah the Butcher, Pak Song, Terry Funk, Kevin Sullivan, Blackjack Mulligan, Nikita Koloff, Harley Race, Superstar Billy Graham, "Crippler" Ray Stevens and, most notably, The Four Horsemen (especially Ric Flair and Tully Blanchard). Rhodes, Flair and Race fought each other many times over the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Rhodes won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times; twice by defeating Race and once by defeating Flair. In October 1985, during his feud with Flair, Rhodes gave an interview that became known as his "Hard Times" promo, arguably his most popular promo:
The promo apparently resonated with wrestling fans so much that people came to him in arenas in tears to thank him for "honoring their plight". In 2015, an ESPN article referred to "Hard Times" as Rhodes' best interview, writing, "In just over three minutes, Rhodes fully encapsulated every ounce of his charm by endearing himself to blue-collar mid-America".
During his stint as booker, JCP were engulfed in aggressive competition with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). When the WWF introduced Mike Jones as Ted DiBiase's bodyguard, Bobby Heenan suggested naming the character Virgil as an inside joke on Dusty's real name. Also in the late 1980s, Rhodes became synonymous with what would become known as the "Dusty finish", a trick ending in which a wrestler would win a match while the referee was knocked out, and the decision would be overturned.
Rhodes is often considered to be one of the most innovative and creative bookers in the history of professional wrestling. As previously mentioned, his work in the development of "supercards" and gimmick matches did much to enhance the quality of entertainment and move the industry forward, as evident by other major promotions following with their own major cards and gimmicks. At the same time, however, he and JCP had an "old school" philosophy that did not bode well with the changes that were brought with fast moving media such as cable TV, etc. The long-standing storylines and the frequent use of the aforementioned "Dusty finish", techniques that had worked well during the NWA's territorial days, had now started to leave many fans dissatisfied with the promotion's booking.
Rhodes was fired after Starrcade '88, because of a taboo on-screen bloodletting (laid down by the Turner Broadcasting System following their purchase of the company) during a November 26 altercation with The Road Warriors. Furious with the interference, Rhodes booked a storyline in which Road Warrior Animal pulled a spike out of his shoulder pad and jammed it in Rhodes' eye, causing a severe laceration. Rhodes was then fired from WCW. Following this, Rhodes returned to Florida to compete in Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF), where he captured the PWF Heavyweight Championship and also returned to the AWA for a few appearances.
In mid-1989, Rhodes returned to the WWF as the yellow polka-dotted "Common Man" Dusty Rhodes, a gimmick some felt was intended to humiliate him due to his synonymy with the rival JCP/WCW. Rhodes was introduced to WWF audiences through a series of vignettes in which he would gregariously and enthusiastically perform working class roles (including that of a plumber, butcher's apprentice, gas station attendant, and pizza delivery man), eventually being recognized by others at the end of the skit ("Hey! Aren't you...?"). He was managed by Sapphire, who was intended to represent the "common woman". During his early time in the WWF, Rhodes was embroiled in a heated storyline with "Macho King" Randy Savage and his manager/partner Sensational Queen Sherri, who in turn found a rival in Sapphire. After a confrontation between the two couples, Savage's ex-manager Miss Elizabeth allied herself with Rhodes and Sapphire and was instrumental in helping them win the WWF's first mixed tag-team match during WrestleMania VI. Sapphire, however, left Rhodes during SummerSlam for The Million Dollar Man's money. Afterwards, Rhodes dropped the polka dots and feuded with Dibiase and Virgil, which also resulted in the national debut of his son Dustin at the 1991 Royal Rumble. Both departed the WWF shortly after, marking the end of Rhodes' career as a full-time in-ring competitor.
Rhodes returned to WCW in 1991 as a member of WCW's booking committee, making his first appearance only 11 days after his last WWF appearance at the Royal Rumble. Booking disagreements between Rhodes and Ric Flair led to the latter's return to the WWF and the Big Gold Belt controversy. Rhodes also served as the on-screen manager of Ron Simmons from 1991 to 1992 and was in Simmons' corner on August 2, 1992 when he defeated Big Van Vader to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. He later joined the broadcast team, usually working with Tony Schiavone on Saturday Night. He was paired with Schiavone and Bobby Heenan on pay-per-views.
Rhodes was originally on the side of WCW when its battle with the New World Order (nWo) began in 1996. At Souled Out 1998, Larry Zbyszko asked Rhodes, who was working the PPV broadcast, to accompany him to the ring for his match against Scott Hall. Zbyszko won the match by disqualification due to interference by Louie Spicolli. Rhodes entered the ring, delivering his trademark elbow smashes to Spicolli as Zbyszko stood and grabbed Hall. Rhodes went to elbow Hall, but seemingly inadvertently hit Zbyszko instead turning heel in the process. Hall then pointed to Rhodes as he revealed an nWo shirt. The three began to drop repeated elbows on Zbyszko before Rhodes announced "That's tradition, WCW! Bite this!". Announcer Tony Schiavone left the broadcast booth in shock, but later returned ripping Rhodes for his actions for most of the rest of the night. As a member of the nWo, Rhodes served as the manager of The Outsiders, Hall and Kevin Nash. This lasted until the November 30, 1998 episode of Monday Nitro, when Rhodes, who was guest refereeing a match between Barry Windham and Dean Malenko after being appointed by Eric Bischoff, defected back to WCW by disqualifying Windham and awarding the match to Malenko. Bischoff then fired Rhodes.
He left WCW in 2000 and went to Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) where he put over former ECW World Champion, "King of Old School" Steve Corino. Rhodes returned once more to WCW, re-igniting his feud with Ric Flair.
After both WCW and ECW were bought by WWE (WWF), Rhodes went to compete in his own promotion, Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling with ex-WCW and ECW superstars in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.
During this time he feuded with Terry Funk and Steve Corino in other territories.
In 2002, Rhodes competed in Pro Pain Pro Wrestling based in Philadelphia feuding with Kevin Sullivan. This would lead to a Texas Bullrope match on November 23 in which Rhodes defeated Sullivan.
Rhodes began appearing with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) in 2003, returning to the ring to feud against the villainous Sports Entertainment Xtreme faction. on the January 15 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes, Road Warriors and Jeff Jarrett lost to Vince Russo and Triple X. on the January 22 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes called out Nikita Koloff to reform the Superpowers, but Nikita turns on him. On the February 26 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes and Vader defeated Don and Ron Harris by disqualification. On the March 19 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes, Jeff Jarrett and D-Lo Brown defeated Erik Watts, Brian Lawler and David Flair in a six-man tag team match a week later Rhodes defeated David Flair in a Bunkhouse match. On the April 9 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes defeated Brian Lawler in a Ladder match. On the August 13 NWATNA PPV, Rhodes and America's Most Wanted defeated Glenn Gilbertti and Simon Diamond and Johnny Swinger the following week Rhodes lost a bullrope to Glen Gilbertti after Christopher Daniels interfered. On the October 1 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes and Jarrett defeated A.J. Styles and Russo. The following week Rhodes got a shot at the NWA title against Styles but lost when he passed out during the figure-4. On the October 15 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes and America's Most Wanted defeated Legend, Sonny Siaki and Ekmo Fatu. On the November 26 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes and Jarrett wrestled to a no contest in a Lumberjack Fan Strap match. After taking a few months off Rhodes returned on May 19, 2004 where he and James Storm defeated Dallas and Kid Kash in a "Bunkhouse Brawl" this led to the duo getting a shot at the NWA World Tag Team Championship on June 2 but they failed to win the titles. On the June 4 episode of Impact, Rhodes gave an interview with Mike Tenay but got punked out by NWA champ Jeff Jarrett. On the July 14 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes, Larry Zbyszko and 3Live Kru defeated Jarrett, Ken Shamrock, Hernandez, Chad Collyer and Onyx. On the August 25 NWATNA PPV, Russo suspended Rhodes from TNA and banned him from the Asylum a few days later on the August 27 episode of Impact, Rhodes showed up in the front row, and got attacked by Scott D'Amore and ejected again. On the September 1 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes under a mask billed as Midnight Rider teamed with Konnan and B.G. James to defeat Team Canada (Eric Young and Bobby Roode and Johnny Devine). On the September 8 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes defeated Scott D'Amore with Russo as the special guest referee. On the October 29 episode of Impact, Rhodes started his campaign to replace Vince Russo as the Director of Authority. Later, he became the Director of Authority at their November 7, 2004 pay-per-view, Victory Road. At the same time, Rhodes acted as head booker and writer. On the April 8, 2005 episode of Impact, Rhodes made the on-air decision to make all matches at Lockdown PPV in Six Sides of Steel. Then on the April 29 episode of Impact, Rhodes announced that MMA fighter Tito Ortiz will referee the World title match at Hard Justice (2005). In May 2005, TNA President Dixie Carter asked Rhodes to move onto a creative team, which included Jeremy Borash, Bill Banks, and Scott D'Amore. Rhodes resigned as booker, waiting out the rest of his contract with TNA, which expired soon after.
Rhodes made his first indy circuit appearance on April 12, 2003 for Ring of Honor (ROH), when he participated in the "I Quit Bunkhouse Riot" as a member of Homicide's team. On December 12, Rhodes defeated Jerry Lawler at an International Wrestling Cartel show that also featured Mick Foley as the special guest referee. Rhodes returned to ROH on March 13, 2004, where he competed alongside The Carnage Crew in a Scramble Cage match against Special K, which the Carnage Crew won.
On July 24, Rhodes returned to Full Impact Pro (FIP) and defeated Gangrel. In October, he appeared for Northeast Wrestling in a victory over Kamala. Later in the month, he appeared for IWA Mid-South in a tag team match with Ian Rotten in a victory over Chris Candido and Steve Stone. Rhodes made three appearances for the Japanese promotion HUSTLE in 2004, the first being on January 4 in a six-man tag team match with Steve Corino and Tom Howard against Mil Mascaras, Dos Caras, and Sicodelico Jr., which Rhodes' team lost. The second was on March 7, where he teamed with his son Dustin against Shinjiro Otani and Satoshi Kojima, which he also lost. The third was on May 8, where he defeated Corino.
Starting in December 2004, Rhodes made regular appearances for Carolina Championship Wrestling (CCW), where his first match for the promotion saw him team up with The Rock 'n' Roll Express to take on Dennis Condrey, Bobby Eaton, and Stan Lane, all three of the best-known members of the Midnight Express. He also briefly resurrected his feud with Tully Blanchard in CCW, earning two consecutive victories over him, the second being in a Bunkhouse Brawl. On April 9, 2005, Rhodes challenged Jeff Jarrett (who was still contracted to TNA, but due to TNA's then-affiliation with the NWA, he was allowed to appear for other affiliated promotions) for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. In a match that featured Jimmy Valiant as the special guest referee, Jarrett retained the title after Terry Funk made a surprise appearance and interfered. This led to Rhodes challenging Funk to a Falls-Count-Anywhere Bunkhouse match, which Rhodes won. This would be Rhodes' final appearance with CCW until August, where he would team with his son Dustin against Phi Delta Slam.
On July 15, 2005, Rhodes participated in Ballpark Brawl IV in a victory over Kid Kash. Rhodes participated in the first WrestleReunion, competing in an eight-man tag team match with D'Lo Brown, The Blue Meanie, and Tom Prichard against Steve Corino, Andrew Martin, Evil Clown, and the Masked Superstar. Rhodes faced Tully Blanchard at a Starrcade Tribute Show on November 19, where he was managed by Magnum T.A. and where Blanchard was managed by James J. Dillon. Rhodes ended up losing the match.
On December 3, 2005, Rhodes returned to Carolina Championship Wrestling for one night only to face Terry Funk in an "I Quit" match, which Rhodes won. Rhodes made his final major appearances on the independent circuit before returning full-time to WWE in mid-2006, defeating Jerry Lawler by disqualification at a Southern Championship Wrestling (SCW) show and also earning a victory over Steve Corino in a Texas Bullrope match for Big Time Wrestling.
In September 2005, Rhodes signed a WWE Legends deal and was brought onto the Creative Team as a creative consultant. He made an appearance on the October 3, 2005 WWE Raw Homecoming in which he, along with other legends, beat down Rob Conway, to whom Rhodes delivered a signature Bionic Elbow.
Rhodes made an appearance on the June 19, 2006 episode of Raw, appearing in a backstage segment with Vince McMahon where he promoted his new DVD, The American Dream - The Dusty Rhodes Story. A few weeks before Survivor Series, Rhodes returned to WWE to be a part of Team WWE Legends, led by Flair. The team, which consisted of Sgt. Slaughter, Ron Simmons, and Arn Anderson (acting as manager) competed against The Spirit Squad at Survivor Series.
Rhodes was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on March 31, 2007 by his two sons, Dustin and Cody. During his acceptance speech, Rhodes asked Ric Flair and Arn Anderson to hold up the "sign" and induct him and Harley Race into the Four Horsemen. He has also inducted several other people into the Hall of Fame, including his mentor Eddie Graham in 2008, The Funk Brothers (Terry and Dory Funk Jr.) in 2009, The Road Warriors in 2011, and longtime rivals The Four Horsemen in 2012.
A few weeks before WWE's 2007 broadcast of The Great American Bash, Rhodes returned to WWE television to feud with Randy Orton. At The Great American Bash, Orton defeated Rhodes in a Texas Bullrope match after hitting Rhodes with a cowbell. This would be Runnels' final WWE match, officially retiring for the first time soon after at age 61. The following night on Raw, after Orton defeated Rhodes' son Cody, Orton delivered a kick to Rhodes' head while he was trying to tend to his son. On the December 10 episode of Raw, Rhodes was at ringside to see Cody and Hardcore Holly defeat Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch for the World Tag Team Championship.
On August 31, 2009, during the time Cody was part of The Legacy with Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase, Rhodes was the special guest host of Raw and booked a match between Cody and Orton for Orton's WWE Championship with John Cena as the special guest referee. It quickly turned out to be a ruse with Dusty's intention to allow Legacy to attack Cena, as well as D-Generation X (Triple H and Shawn Michaels) once they came to make the save. Despite the four standing tall together, Orton quickly gave an RKO to Rhodes, and though initially angered, Cody fell in line behind Orton.
On July 9, 2010, Rhodes briefly came out of retirement and wrestled the final match of his career at an FCW live event, where he teamed up with Cody and Goldust to defeat the team of Caylen Croft, Curt Hawkins, & Trent Barreta in a 6-man tag team match. He would again retire shortly after.
Rhodes was the head writer and creative director for the weekly NXT Wrestling television broadcast. On September 12, 2013, he was removed as NXT Commissioner. Rhodes made his return to Raw on September 16, 2013 after accepting a "business proposition" from Stephanie McMahon in an attempt for WWE to rehire both his sons Cody and Dustin. After learning that McMahon would only rehire one son of his choosing, Rhodes turned down the offer and was subsequently knocked out by Big Show on the orders of McMahon. Rhodes also appeared at Battleground in the corner of Cody and Goldust as they took on The Shield (Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns with Dean Ambrose at ringside) in a tag team match. The stipulation of the match would be that if the Rhodes Family won, Cody and Goldust got their jobs with the company back, but if they lose Dusty would be fired as an NXT trainer and none of them could appear on WWE programming ever again. The Rhodes brothers won the match, thus reinstating them to the roster and allowing Dusty to retain his position in NXT. During the match, Dusty got into an altercation with Ambrose and performed the Bionic Elbow on him.
Rhodes appeared on the February 16, 2015 episode of Raw, in an effort to reunite Goldust and Stardust, who were engaged in a conflict. Rhodes appeared at Fastlane on February 22, in a backstage segment with Goldust. Rhodes' final appearance on WWE programming would be on March 28, when he appeared on the Hall of Fame: Live From the Red Carpet show.
Runnels was married to Sandra from 1965 to 1975. In 1978 he married Michelle Rubio; the couple were married for 37 years until his death in 2015. He had four children: Dustin, Kristin, Teil and Cody Runnels. He had five grandchildren; Dakota, the daughter of Dustin and his ex-wife, Terri Boatright, Dalton and Dylan, children of Kristin and her husband Don Ditto, and Kellan and Maris, children of Teil and her husband Kevin Gergel. He also had a brother, Larry, and a sister, Connie. He played baseball for West Texas State University.
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 at the age of 69 from the effects of the kidney failure. Rhodes was cremated after his death, and his ashes were spread in November 2015 by his son Dustin on a ranch that Rhodes loved to visit.
At the 2015 Money in the Bank pay-per-view event, a ten-bell salute was given in honor of Rhodes, with the entire WWE roster and the McMahon family on the entrance ramp. The next night on Raw, they honored him with a video tribute and a special after Raw on the WWE Network. At the NXT tapings following his death, he was honored with another ten-bell salute.
Rhodes has been called one of the best wrestlers in history, praising his charisma and interview skills. His "Hard Times" promo has been labeled as one of the best interviews in pro wrestling. According to Jim Cornette, his NWA World title reigns were of short length since he wasn't what NWA was looking for a champion, but not winning the title would hurt his credibility.
Since Rhodes worked as a backstage producer in WCW, he helped several wrestlers with their careers. Diamond Dallas Page, Missy Hyatt, had praised Rhodes' influence in their career. During his late years, he became trainer in WWE's development territory NXT, where several wrestlers like Kevin Owens, Becky Lynch, or the tag team FTR, praised his lessons.
In August 2015, WWE's NXT introduced the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, a tag team tournament in honor of Rhodes. The tournament has been held annually since, with three editions having taken place as of March 2019.
In the promo room of the WWE Performance Center, where Rhodes would teach promo classes, there is a puppet of Rhodes hanging on the equipment, symbolizing that he is still there, watching the students.
1This Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, while currently operating out of the same region of the United States and having revised some of the championships used by the original Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, is not the same promotion that was once owned by Jim Crockett Jr. and subsequently sold to Ted Turner in 1988. It is just another NWA-affiliated promotion.