Yesterday was the anniversary of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes’ death. We felt as though we should address it somehow but we weren’t sure what form that should take. I know I thought about it all day long. When it was brought up again just a few minutes ago, I was surprised no one had done it yet and then felt a tremendous responsibility to it. After all, this was a man who colors so many of my childhood memories. I remember watching Georgia Championship Wrestling on Channel 17 WTBS back when cable was in its infancy. I remember being captivated by the characters that populated Jim Crockett’s promotion. There were lots of colorful characters I remember: Pistol Pez Whatley, Jimmy Garvin, Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy, Tully Blanchard, Arn & Ole Anderson, “Ragin’ Bull” Manny Fernandez, Jim Cornette, The Midnight Express (Beautiful Bobby and Sweet Stan), The Rock N’ Roll Express (Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson), and so many others. The two that captivated me the most were Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes. They made magic together and stoked the flames of a feud that would go on for years.
That feud has to go down as the greatest feud in wrestling history. The two performers couldn’t have been more different. Ric Flair had it all. He had the money, the cars, the houses, the wardrobe, and the ladies…and he’d tell you about it any chance he got. He was a cocksure presence – one you hated but one you certainly couldn’t ignore. You wanted him to go away but you also wanted to know what he’d do next. His was the template on which all elitist heels ever after would be based on. Dusty was his polar opposite. He was the son of a plumber from Texas. He didn’t have the clothes, he didn’t have the money, he didn’t have the wardrobe…and he didn’t want them either. Instead, he had something Ric didn’t have. He had heart. His heart was bigger than the state where he was born and it came out whenever he was in the ring or when he spoke on the mic. We all loved him because we identified with him. His “Hard Times” promo from Mid-Atlantic wrestling will always be the best promo ever cut. Have a look:
I was watching this as it first aired and, even at 11 years old, I sensed the weight of it. My father was watching with me and he did too. Every wrestling fan was moved by it. He made not just blue-collar America, but everyone fall in love with him in that one single promo. He would continue cutting many like it through the years and he never really changed – even when Vince dressed him up in polka dots when he came to the WWF/E in 1989.
He had more charisma in his pinky finger than most have in their entire bodies. That, too, surfaced whenever he performed and however he performed. He could tell genius stories in the ring too. I remember one particular match between Dusty and Arn Anderson for the TV title many years ago. The story being told is that the Horsemen had broken Dusty’s leg earlier and this was essentially his return match from injury. Arn went after that knee like a man possessed and Dusty sold it as only he could. He was a real master at that. Arn stayed on his knee and Dusty made it look like the world was ending. The whole thing made his triumphant comeback that much sweeter when it happened. He did a lot of that and whenever TBS would show one of those matches, I was captivated….each time.
As I sit here, I now realize I knew what I wanted to say all along. I kind of made this harder than it had to be. The truth is that I just put my fingers down on the keyboard and all of this poured out. Imagine that. That’s how I know how I’ve been affected by him. I didn’t even need to take time to think about him and what he’s meant to me. I just typed…and it came out…and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’ll always be grateful.