Virgil Riley Runnels, Jr., better known as "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes (October 12, 1945 – June 11, 2015), was an American professional wrestler and booker who most recently worked for WWE behind the scenes as a Creative director and trainer for NXT. Billed as "the son of a plumber", Rhodes' character was that of the working man.
Rhodes is a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion and has also won the NWA Georgia Heavyweight Championship once, the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship ten times, the NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship (Florida version) seven times and the NWA National Heavyweight Championship one time. He has also won many other championships during his wrestling career. He is one of six men inducted into each of the WWE Hall of Fame, the WCW Hall of Fame, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. He is the father of professional wrestlers Dustin Rhodes and Cody Rhodes, both having at points worked for WWE.
Professional wrestling career
Rhodes started his career as a rule-breaking heel, tagging with fellow Texan Dick Murdoch to form the tag team The Texas Outlaws in the American Wrestling Association. In 1974, Rhodes turned face after turning on tag team partner Pak Song and manager Gary Hart during a match in Florida against Eddie and Mike Graham. This led him to break out as a solo face superstar, primarily in Florida, referring to himself as "Stardust", the "White Soul King", and the "American Dream", a working class hero. Rhodes ascended to the top of several National Wrestling Alliance promotions, including those in Florida (where he also wrestled wearing a mask as "The Midnight Rider") and in Georgia.
On November 25, 1978, Rhodes won a single-night tournament to capture the vacant Florida Heavyweight Championship, with injured champion Steve Keirn presenting him with the title in an emotional moment. Rhodes vowed that both of them would be seen as champions in the eyes of the people.
He eventually began working with Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) in the Mid-Atlantic, which eventually purchased World Championship Wrestling (WCW), formerly Georgia Championship Wrestling. While there, he formed a team with Manny Fernandez. He also teamed with Magnum T.A. as "America's Team". The tandem began teaming up to oppose 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 wreck. Subsequently, he teamed with Nikita Koloff as The Super Powers. Rhodes was also a World Six-Man Tag Team Champion with the Road Warriors.
Rhodes had feuds with stars such as 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 each fought each other many times over the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Rhodes won the NWA World Title three times; twice by defeating Race and once by defeating Flair.
Jim Crockett Promotions (1985–1989)
Rhodes became a booker for Jim Crockett Promotions after he won the Television Title in 1985. He is credited with inventing many of the WCW pay-per-view names and gimmicks, such as War Games, BattleBowl, and Lethal Lottery. The term Dusty Finish refers to one of Rhodes' favorite techniques, ending a match in controversy after the referee is knocked unconscious.
During his stint as booker, JCP were engulfed in aggressive competition with the World Wrestling Federation. When the WWF introduced Mike Jones as Ted DiBiase's bodyguard, Bobby Heenan suggested to name the character Virgil as an inside joke on Dusty's real name. Years later, when Jones appeared in JCP's successor World Championship Wrestling in a similar role, he was named Vincent, in reference to WWF owner Vince McMahon, reportedly again at Heenan's suggestion. The joke continued later in WCW when Jones changed his name again, this time to Shane, the same as Vince's son's, Shane McMahon. As the executive producer of JCP's programming, he was credited by his real name (Virgil Runnels) to avoid fans seeing that Dusty, still a top draw in the company, was actually running things behind the scenes.
Rhodes was fired from Jim Crockett Promotions 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 an angle where Road Warrior Animal pulled a spike out of his shoulder pad and jammed it in Rhodes' eye busting it wide open. Rhodes was then fired from WCW. Following this, Rhodes returned to Florida to compete in Florida Championship Wrestling, where he captured the PWF Heavyweight title and also returned to the AWA for a few appearances.
World Wrestling Federation (1989–1991)
In late 1989 Rhodes came 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, although Dusty later admitted that the gimmick and outfit were his own ideas. 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 feud with "Macho King" Randy Savage and his manager/partner Sensational Queen Sherri, who in turn found a rival in Sapphire. After a particularly intense 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 1990 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 Dusty Rhodes' career as a full-time in-ring competitor.
When Ric Flair left for the WWF in 1991, taking the NWA World Heavyweight Title belt with him, Dusty's PWF Heavyweight Championship belt was used as a replacement at The Great American Bash for the title match between Lex Luger and Barry Windham until a replacement could be made.
Return to WCW and ECW (1990s)
Rhodes returned to WCW shortly afterwards as a member of WCW's booking committee. He also served as the 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 WCW Saturday Night. He would be paired with Schiavone and Bobby Heenan on pay-per-views.
In 1994, Rhodes returned to the ring to team up with his son Dustin along with The Nasty Boys versus Arn Anderson, Bunkhouse Buck, Terry Funk, and Col. Rob Parker. The angle occurred after Anderson turned on Dustin during a tag team match at Bash at the Beach '94 and Dusty, admitting to being an absentee parent who should have been at his son's side instead of Anderson, put on the trunks one more time in order to help his son gain his revenge.
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. 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, kayfabe 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 Hall and Nash.
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2003–2005)
Rhodes began appearing with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) in 2003, returning to the ring to feud against the villainous Sports Entertainment Xtreme faction, and later becoming 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. 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.
Independent circuit (2003–2006)
Rhodes began taking independent circuit bookings in 2003, after the closure of Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling and during his run with TNA.
Rhodes made his first indy circuit appearance on April 12, 2003 for Ring of Honor, 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. The next day, Rhodes appeared at NWA Bluegrass and defeated Slash.
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 FIP and defeated Gangrel. Rhodes would briefly disappear from the independent scene before resurfacing in October, appearing 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 Steve Corino.
Starting in December 2004, Rhodes made regular appearances for Carolina Championship Wrestling, 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 February 5, Rhodes defeated The Illustrious Jonnie Stewart, in front of a near sell-out arena in Tucson, AZ.
On March 12, Rhodes defeated Abdullah the Butcher where Mick Foley served as referee. 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.
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 DQ at a Southern Championship Wrestling Show on March 4, and defeating Steve Corino in a Texas Bullrope match at a Big Time Wrestling show on April 15.
Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling
Return to World Wrestling Entertainment (2005–2015)
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 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 edition of Raw, appearing in a backstage segment with Vince McMahon where he promoted his new DVD, The American Dream - The Dusty Rhodes Story, and would attempt to convince a trio of male strippers (one of whom was Big Dick Johnson) who'd been hired by D-Generation X to annoy Vince, to buy the DVD.
Dusty 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.
During an interview on WWE's The American Dream DVD set, Rhodes claims that his most popular promo of all time was his "Hard Times" interview during his feud with Ric Flair. The promo—which references out-of-work steel workers, factory runners and other blue collar individuals—apparently resonated with wrestling fans that people came to him in arenas in tears to thank him for "honoring their plight."
A few weeks before Survivor Series 2006, Rhodes returned to WWE to be a part of Team WWE Legends, led by Ric Flair. The team, consisting of Sgt. Slaughter, Ron Simmons, and Arn Anderson (acting as manager) competed against the Spirit Squad at Survivor Series. Rhodes, along with the other legends, was eliminated early on in the match before Flair managed to become the sole survivor.
A few weeks before WWE's 2007 broadcast of the Great American Bash, Dusty Rhodes returned to WWE television to feud with Randy Orton. At The Great American Bash, Orton defeated Rhodes in a Texas Bullrope match after Rhodes was nailed in the head with the cowbell. The following night on Raw, after Orton defeated Rhodes' son Cody Rhodes, Orton delivered a vicious kick to Dusty's head while "The American Dream" was trying to tend to his son. On December 10, 2007, on the Raw 15th Anniversary special episode, Rhodes was at ringside to see Cody and Hardcore Holly defeat Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch for the World Tag Team Championship, and congratulated the two on their victory afterwards.
On March 29, 2008, Rhodes inducted his mentor Eddie Graham into the WWE Hall of Fame. Two nights later, on the March 31 edition of Raw, Rhodes was seen in the crowd of superstars paying their respects to Ric Flair during his farewell ceremony. Rhodes made an appearance on the 800th episode of Raw, where he was involved in an in-ring segment, which saw superstars including Kung Funaki, Hornswoggle, The Boogeyman, Jesse, Festus, and the commentators Jerry "The King" Lawler and Michael Cole, dancing in the ring. On April 4, 2009, Rhodes inducted The Funk Brothers (Terry Funk and Dory Funk, Jr.) into the WWE Hall of Fame. On August 31, 2009, Rhodes was the special guest host of Raw and booked a match between his son, Cody and Randy Orton for Orton's WWE Championship with John Cena as the special guest referee. Before the match began, he turned on Cena as all three members of Legacy took him out along with DX. After the assault, Orton shook hands and praised Rhodes, but gave him an RKO. He reappeared on June 7, 2010, to help Quinton Jackson and Sharlto Copley defeat I.R.S., Ted DiBiase, Jr., Virgil, and Roddy Piper. He reappeared on the November 2 edition of WWE NXT, during his son, Goldust's (kayfabe) wedding with his NXT rookie, Aksana. Rhodes showed up on the November 15, 2010 episode of Raw in a backstage segment with both of his sons Goldust and Cody Rhodes.
Currently, Rhodes is the head creative writer for the weekly NXT Wrestling television broadcast. On February 25, 2011 edition of Smackdown, Rhodes briefly turned heel when he helped his son Cody attack Rey Mysterio in a setup. Rhodes turned face when he inducted the Road Warriors in the WWE Hall of Fame. He appeared on the November 29, 2011 special holiday edition of SmackDown backstage with Roddy Piper and the rest of SmackDown roster. On April 10, 2012, Rhodes made an appearance on WWE Smackdown: Blast from the Past as a face, embarrassing his son Cody Rhodes.
On the March 4, 2013 episode of "Old School Raw", Rhodes was attacked by Jack Swagger during Swagger's match with Hacksaw Jim Duggan. He returned on the March 25 episode of Raw in a Hall of Fame panel Q-and-A session with John Cena and The Rock. Rhodes has been hospitalized due to infection on his left foot which caused by snake bite. On September 12, 2013, he was removed as NXT Commissioner.
Dusty was advertised to and did appear on the February 16 edition of Raw, trying to convince his boys Goldust (Dustin) and Stardust (Cody) to keep their bond, but Stardust later turned on Goldust regardless.
Rhodes is divorced from his first wife Sandra and is now married to a woman named Michelle. He has four children, Dustin, Cody, Teil and Kristin Runnels Ditto, a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. He has a granddaughter, Dakota, the daughter of Dustin and his ex-wife, Terri Runnels and two grandsons Dalton and Dylan, children of Kristin and her husband Don Ditto.
In his later years, Rhodes developed stomach cancer.
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. A few days later, TMZ released Rhodes' 911 phone call in which the dispatcher was rude to his wife, causing her to hang up. It was met with backlash from fans towards the dispatcher.
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.
In his most famous promo, Rhodes said, "There were two bad people. One was John Wayne and he's dead, brother – and the other's right here". Wayne died on June 11, 1979, exactly 36 years before Rhodes' death, and also from stomach cancer.
- Finishing and signature moves
- Bionic Elbow
- Figure-four Leglock
- Sleeper Hold
- Diving Crossbody
- "The American Dream"
- "The White Soul King"
- "Dirty" Dusty Rhodes
- "The Bull of the Woods"
- "The Common Man"
- "The Son of a Plumber"
- "265 Pounds of Blue-Eyed Soul"
- Tag teams and stables
- Wrestlers trained
- Wrestlers managed
- Theme music
Championships and accomplishments
- NWA Georgia Heavyweight Champion (1 time)
- NWA Florida Heavyweight Champion (10 time)
- World Wrestling Entertainment