On Thursday afternoon, I came home from work to the news that the America
n Dream Dusty Rhodes had died.
To say that I was shocked is a bit of an understatement. Dusty was someone who, while not always on my radar, I was generally aware of their doings. He’d long-since retired from the professional wrestling circuit where he made his legend selling out high school gyms, National Guard Armories, and arenas all over the country and had moved on to a quieter life of convention appearances and coaching wrestlers in the WWE’s Developmental System. Despite this, he was always Dusty, popping up on television every few months with a few jokes and his million dollar smile. He was every wrestling fan’s cool old dude from down the street, quick with a joke or a malapropism to share.
It’s those guys that we never expect to die, but they do.
I don’t really have the chops as a writer to sum up Dusty’s life. I can only really name the bullet points; made a name for himself in the early 70s in the AWA, moved to Florida initially as a heel (wrestling slang for villain) but eventually became the number one hero in the area, had a run of legendary matches with then-WWWF World Champion “Superstar” Billy Graham and eventually landed in the Carolinas, as the booker (matchmaker) for Jim Crockett Promotions.
That’s where my relationship with Dusty was born. As a kid I learned to love him and hate Ric Flair’s villainous ways. Dusty was repeatedly brutalized by Flair and his friends (known as the Four Horsemen) and still managed to come out on top.
By the time Dusty Rhodes came into my life, his forte as a wrestler wasn’t in putting on a compelling match; there were younger performers embracing a faster style that could do that. Instead, his gift was the ability to use his natural charisma and talk you into believing in him and the spectacle of what was about to happen.
In a sport (and yes, professional wrestling is a sport) that is based around making the unbelievable real, Dusty was believable in everything he did. He could be the technical wizard, the bad ass who walked tall and the silly guy who made you laugh—often in the same match or television segment.
A huge part of my childhood (and even adulthood) is now gone, and I am way sadder about this than I really should be.
Rest in Power, Dusty.