Pro wrestling lost an icon today. Former NWA world champion and WWE Hall of Fame star Dusty Rhodes passed away on June 11 at the age of 69 leaving fans and colleagues with one of the greatest legacies in wrestling history.
Dusty was a big influence on me as a young wrestling fan. Dusty was iconic thanks to the stories and pictures I’d read monthly in the latest wrestling magazines. Long before I started trading tapes and NWA World Wide Wrestling came to channel 17, I became enamored with Dusty through the magazines. The bloody pictures and stories about feuds and wars with Abdullah the Butcher, Terry Funk, the Assassins, Kevin Sullivan, Harley Race, Ric Flair, Ron Bass, were written about as if they were chapters in a dramatic novel. He was right up there with other mythical figures like Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Bruiser Brody, Jimmy Snuka, and Kerry Von Erich that dominated wrestling mags in the early 1980s.
But once I actually saw the Dream, all bets were off. He was every bit as awesome on television as he was in the magazines. NWA World Wide came to Philadelphia in 1984 and Dusty and Flair were the stars of the show. Dusty’s charisma was pure magic and his promos, especially when double-crossed, were some of the most intense I had ever seen. When he hit the ring and made the hot tag or ran in and dropped elbows on Tully Blanchard or the Russians, the crowds went bonkers and I had goosebumps in my living room. He was truly something special.
Later, as I would smarten up, I’d begin to appreciate what Dusty did outside of the ring. Yes he certainly isn’t without his misses and flaws, but the positive contributions he made to pro wrestling are just simply remarkable. From mentoring guys like Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Magnum TA, Paul Heyman, and Sting to booking some of the hottest angles in Florida and JCP, the guy was a wrestling genius. It was Dusty the glamorized the super card with Battle of the Belts and Starrcade before there was a WrestleMania.
Dusty is probably remembered most for his feud with the Four Horsemen. But for me, it was his feud with Kevin Sullivan that may be the greatest of all-time. Watching their angles and matches on tape years later brought the magazine stories to life. From Santa Claus turning on Dusty to Sullivan throwing ink in his sister’s eyes, their feud was nothing short of phenomenal.
Dusty is also remembered by some as being the protagonist in what some will call the greatest pro wrestling heel turn in history. Ole Anderson turning on Dusty Rhodes in 1980 is highly underrated, only because not many fans have seen it. Thanks to YouTube, there are plenty of videos highlighting the angle in GCW. The more I read about the houses they drew and the more times I watch it I appreciate it even more. There is also no denying that the big angle highly influenced the angle in which Flair turned on Dusty and joined forces with the Andersons.
In the ring I would probably say that Tully Blanchard was his greatest opponent, in my opinion anyway. He had great matches with everyone from Ric Flair to Superstar Billy Graham, but there was something about the chemistry and intensity that he and Tully had that couldn’t be matched. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of matches on tape between he and Terry Funk because those who have seen them have called Funk Dusty’s best opponent.
I had the pleasure to interview Dusty twice on my old Pro Wrestling Radio show. Both were notable appearances for different reasons. The first because Dusty called into my show unplanned. A listener met Dusty at a convention and mentioned that I had a show on the air. Dusty asked to call in. I was completely unprepared yet like a kid in a candy store getting to talk to one of my childhood heroes. I couldn’t get over how cool it was of Dusty to just pick up the phone and call in.
The second one didn’t go as well. I had booked a whole hour to talk to Dusty about his book. We had a great time until I asked a question which seemed to rattle him a bit. I asked him about accusations that he stole his gimmick from Thunderbolt Patterson. Dusty politely answered and then mentioned that he was in the middle of an autograph signing and he had to go meet some fans. Again, I had booked him for an hour so I was a little taken back. I emailed him publicist later expressing my disappointment since I had booked him for the hour. The publicist said that there was no signing and Dusty just didn’t feel like talking anymore. It was a real shame because I thought we had a great conversation for the first fifteen or so minutes.
I remember seeing Dusty come into the WWE in the polka dots in the late 1980s. It was obvious that the gimmick was meant to embarrass Dusty. What I think is lost on a lot of wrestlers of later generations is how Dusty embraced that gimmick. Here is a guy that was king of the mountain, now relegated to looking ridiculous, yet he got over and got over big. He also happened to tear it up in the ring with guys like Ted DiBiase, the Big Bossman, and Randy Savage. The lesson here is that it’s not always the gimmick’s fault. How many failed WWE wrestlers have blamed a bad gimmick for not getting over? Yet here you have a guy made to look like a fool, getting over in spite of the efforts to turn him into a court jester. In retrospect it was truly admirable how he pulled that off.
I could go on and on reflecting on Dusty and I am sure we all have our memories of the Dream. One thing is for sure and that is Dusty Rhodes was a legend, an icon, a pioneer, and a genius. He will be greatly be missed by fans, colleagues, and of course his family and friends. My condolences go out to the loved ones of the Dream who will be missed by all.