Requiem For A Dream (Updated)
I’m still sitting in shock over the death of the American Dream.
Thursday, June 11, I landed in Boise, Idaho for a series of business meetings. On checking into my hotel, I flipped open my laptop to a wrestling “news” site and found that Virgil Runnels, better known as “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, had left this earth and gone to the big pay window in the sky. He was 69 years old.
The Dream is dead, and I can’t shake just how badly that hits me.
In a world of “superstars” and “pro wrestlers” with great physiques, Dusty proved that substance always trumped style. The self styled “son of a plumber,” Rhodes managed time and time again to serve as the common man’s heart and soul during his time with the NWA, where he would feud with “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair in some legendary matches. Here was the man who represented the working class—Dusty Rhodes—vs. the man who represented everything most Southerners hated about the rich—Ric Flair. Flair showed up in his thousand dollar suits and talked about styling, profiling, and getting all the ladies to ride Space Mountain. Dusty in humble attire that barely matched at times, would talk about adversity, how he’d overcome the worst of hard times, and how everything he did was really for the fans who were experiencing the same things. The great thing about Dusty? You believed every single word of it.
It’s still pro wrestling, though, and like any sort of business it comes with company politics. When Dusty left the NWA for the “New York” territory and made his debut in WWE, “The Boss” demanded the Dream work in black and yellow polka dots. Being true to himself, though, Rhodes managed to get over again with the crowd by just being himself. The plumber’s son was treated to vignettes where he cleaned toilets and took out the trash, but it endeared him to crowds in ways that no one ever expected. He was paired with “Sapphire,” a valet who would dance with Dusty after matches in an attempt to make the Dream less palatable and yet Dusty still got over.
The Dream succeeded despite adversity in all areas of life, and we loved him for it.
Rhodes would head back to the Atlanta territory, now known as WCW, where he would first do commentary and then join the New World Order in yet another run down south. It didn’t matter where in the world Dusty went, he was hailed as the person who identified most with the common man and the common man’s plight.
The next stop was to ECW, where he would feud with Steve Corino as the “King of Old School” got his comeuppance from the real King of the Old School. Dusty still managed to look good as he reached the twilight of his career, and by this time he put the next generation of talent over backstage politics. The Dream, ever cognizant of what was truly Best for Business long before Triple H and Stephanie McMahon parroted those words as a means of getting heat, knew that at this point in his career it was time for the next generation of stars to come forward and truly shine. Having reached a successful point in his career, Rhodes would spend the remaining years of his life making sure those who were to come found their own slice of the American Dream.
At the time of his passing, Rhodes was in Florida spending time with the next generation of WWE talent at NXT—the developmental league championed as the up and coming generation of talent for WWE’s main roster. He taught them everything he knew, and he would continue to share his knowledge up to his untimely demise at the age of 69, because he knew that he had to make sure the best and brightest benefitted from the dream.
The world will mourn the loss of the Dream, more so than Don McClean’s blessed “American Pie,” because it’s something that impacts the world over. If you’ve watched professional wrestling in the last fifty odd years, you’ve seen some of Dusty Rhodes’ influence. If you’ve ever muttered the words “Dusty Finish,” you’ve been touched by the American Dream. If you’ve ever seen a person do a Bionic Elbow or speak in a lisp with a “Duthty Atthent,’ you’ve been touched by the dream. He was the definition of an icon, and a legend, and that will never change.
The Dream is gone, but his legacy lives on. Long live the American Dream, and as long as professional wrestling is in the collective consciousness, the world will have a piece of Dusty Rhodes imbedded in their life.
Here’s to you, Virgil Runnels. You’ll be missed, but a legend is always forever.
UPDATE: Here's a link to Dusty Rhodes' "Hard Times" promo if you've never seen it. One view and you'll understand just why this man's heart and fire managed to make him such a favorite among any fan that saw him work.