I'm sitting here decompressing from a brutally hot day of state tournament action, complete with an electrical storm with torrential rain, reminded of the sad news of Thursday as "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, aka Virgil Runnels, had passed away at age 69.
Knowing a bit about the professional wrestling lifestyle, and trying to help my son avoid as many of its pitfalls as possible, I can only imagine how many nights closed one bar while Ric Flair and the Four Horseman closed another because, God forbid they be seen "in public...if you will..." together, breaking kayfabe. Rhodes and Flair were killing each other earlier at the Coliseum, they cannot "wine and dine" at the Marriott afterwards.
Boy, was the business different back then. But for many of us in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, for a long time, Dusty Rhodes was a larger-than-life figure we saw mostly in Pro Wrestling Illustrated at Standard Drug Stores. He was mostly in Florida, then in Georgia on Georgia Championship Wrestling on TBS. That's where his legend really grew, then finally coming to the Mid-Atlantic territory in 1984, where he reset the bar for babyface promos.
Before him, you had some great babyfaces in the ring: Ricky Steamboat, Johnny Weaver, Wahoo McDaniel (who I also felt made a terrible heel when cast that way. He always seemed constipated to me), but no Dusty Rhodes.
In under two years, we knew about being the son of a plumber, about hard times, about wining and dining with kings and queens and also eating pork and beans.
Which brings me to my earliest memory of wrestling. 5pm Saturdays on WTVR-TV6. Saturday night was hot dog and baked beans night and we ate watching Rip Hawk, Swede Hanson, the Anderson Brothers and more.
But I digress. While in my top five talkers in wrestling history, Rhodes isn't number one. But he accomplished something no other wrestler, in my opinion, has ever done, and that is be the superstar babyface without a great physique, but compensating by connecting to the fans on the mic and in the ring like few have, or will ever do.
Rest in Peace Dusty. And thank you!