By John Napolitano
Sorrow – true sorrow was the only sentiment I could even begin to emote on the 11th day of June. I cannot even begin to describe what a loss the wrestling industry took yesterday. A true pioneer of professional wrestling has passed. Adjectives such as iconic, legendary, and inspirational have been tossed around regarding the legacy of Virgin Runnels, better known as the “American Dream,” Dusty Rhodes, but he was so much more than that.
The son of a plumber, Rhodes was born on October 12, 1945, in Austin, Texas. After beginning his celebrated in-ring career in 1968, he was involved in historic rivalries, garnered 3 NWA World Heavyweight Championships, and established himself as one of, if not, the greatest mind in professional wrestling. He became the staple of Eddie Graham’s Florida Championship Wrestling and had an incomparable series of matches with “Superstar” Billy Graham in Madison Square Garden. Most recently, he spent his days molding the young talent of NXT, WWE’s developmental system. How fortunate are we that Dusty has heavily influenced the current and future crop of WWE Superstars. His talents and techniques will vicariously live on for many years to come. Dusty Rhodes’ résumé is second to none, but I want to discuss what the “Dream” meant to me.
Seeing as though I became a full-time fanatic of professional wrestling in 2006, I missed virtually all of Dusty Rhodes’ in-ring tenure. Admittedly, I fell in love with the “Dream” when I met him in early 2010. It was at a Northeast Wrestling event when Graham and I got in line to meet and greet the Texas native. I was just a naïve, babyface fan and only knew of Dusty’s work through his one-off appearances on Monday Night Raw and what was recapped at his 2007 Hall of Fame induction. I knew he was a legend but not to what extent. This man had absolutely no idea who I was and could have scoffed at my innocence, much like Jerry the “King” Lawler did a year prior; however, Dusty embraced me with open arms and sported the most infectious smile I had ever seen. I felt like I was reuniting with an old friend. He signed my WWE Encyclopedia, posed for a Polaroid picture with me, and proceeded to sign that as well. I thanked him for his time and he thanked me for mine. Thus, an admiration was born.
As the years went by, I delighted in seeing him return to WWE television as I could announce to my indifferent parents, “I met him!” The advent of the WWE Network only increased my idolization of the “American Dream.” I spent my first six months as a subscriber of the network learning about his career, watching his famed matches, and soaking in what he did better than anyone else in this profession – talking. To this day, I get chills when watching his interviews. My favorite promotional interview of his was when he was addressing the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair about “hard times” in October of 1985. He spoke with such passion and vigor that you didn’t have to know who he was to know that he was a man on a mission. Very few people in this world can grab your attention as soon as they open their mouth, and Dusty Rhodes was one of them. One of his more famous lines perfectly encapsulated his charismatic, yet “common-man” outlook on life. “I’ve wined and dined with Kings and Queens, and I’ve slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans.”
In short, when someone asks me about Dusty Rhodes, I will simply state that he is the best talker that this business has ever seen. He was charismatic, inspirational, loveable, and iconic. Dusty Rhodes will be dearly missed. God bless the “American Dream.”