Thursday, 17 December 2015

2015 In Memoriam: Dusty Rhodes

11th June 2015 – Dusty Rhodes, 69

("Dusty" by Sedsa1 at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - )

“I admit, I don’t look like the athlete of the day’s supposed to look. My belly’s just a little big, my heinie’s just a little big, but, brother, I am bad and they know I’m bad. … “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, the world’s heavyweight title belongs to these people. I’m gonna reach out right now.”
Dusty Rhodes, Hard Times promo

The American Dream.

Legendary pro-wrestler (so legendary he made the front page of the BBC News) with a long career starting in the territories and moving through all the major companies.

He was one half of the villain tag team, The Texas Outlaws, with the late Dick Murdoch before his face turn to become the face of the common man.

As The American Dream,  He was a three time NWA World Champion, and had a memorable feud with Ric Flair.

He also had one of the first “masked gimmicks”, which is when a popular wrestler loses a “retirement match” and then someone who is blatantly that person under a mask returns (The Midnight Rider in this case). Naturally, in the spirit of pantomime, all the villains instantly know it’s the person they got rid of but can never prove it, while the heroes and audience all do the “You look familiar, magnificent stranger” routine...

“Dusty feuded with Flair and his Four Horsemen on and off for another decade, but only once claimed the title from him, for a single week in the summer of 1986. But titles always took a backseat to the real things Dusty was fighting for: revenge for the time they broke his arm, revenge for the time they broke his leg, revenge for when they stole his woman. He attacked them with a baseball bat when they sucker punched his injured best friend, and he got suspended for 120 days. Thankfully, a portly, masked buddy of Rhodes called the Midnight Rider was there to take up the battle for him. Of course, the Midnight Rider was Dusty in disguise (as was Uvalde Slim when Dusty used the same gimmick in Florida years before), but none of the governors of the NWA cared to notice. In story line terms, it was because they loved Dusty just as much as fans did. In a larger sense, though, the Rider’s mask was like Dusty’s use of third person. That feeling of being removed from reality is what made his interminable quest possible. He once spoke of a story he’d tell his daughter about a “cold-blooded sausage maker” who would chase young pigs to butcher them, only for Dusty to come in and save them. In the last retelling, though, when Dusty faced off against Horseman Tully Blanchard, Dusty himself became the cold-blooded sausage maker. He had to become the character in the bedtime story to get revenge and he had to put on the mask to stay alive, just like he had to bleach his hair and put on briefs to achieve his dream. His career — his life — was a parable.”
The Masked Man, Grantland obit

Dusty was booking (writing) the NWA shows too, until he left after creative disagreements, to join Vince McMahon’s WWF.

He even managed to have an entire match finish named after him, The Dusty Finish, due to his fondness of using it. Namely, the referee is ‘knocked out’, the villains cheat, but the heroes win in the end, everyone celebrates, then the referees find out about the cheating and reverse the original decision, so that the heroes win by disqualification and the title (which cannot change hands by DQ) stays with the villain. As you can imagine, this finish really pisses off the crowd, but can be used, sparingly, to create intrigue for the next show.

Pro-wrestling naturally uses it all the time!

“From Atlanta to New York City, crowds lined up to see Rhodes wiggle his behind and deliver his Bionic Elbow to rivals like Harley Race, Ernie Ladd and “Superstar” Billy Graham. Dusty never had the prototypical pro wrestler physique (“My belly’s just a little big,” he famously declared, “but, brother, I am bad.”), yet his ability to connect with audiences was singular. He had a TV preacher’s knack for communicating his rags-to-riches story, a skill which was summed up in his most famous line: “I have wined and dined with kings and queens, and I’ve slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans.” With his gutsy performances and electric charisma, this common man fought his way to the top of the NWA where he waged a brutal and lengthy war against the legendary Four Horseman while capturing the distinguished NWA World Heavyweight Title on three separate occasions. He also became a creative force behind the scenes, conjuring up inventive bouts like WCW’s oft-imitated War Games: The Match Beyond.”
Ryan Murphy, WWE obit

His stay in WWF had a long feud with Randy Savage, a shorter feud with The Million Dollar Man, and the debut of his son, Dustin. But the appeal of WCW came calling for Rhodes in 1991, and so he returned south. His days in the ring were starting to be numbered though, and he worked briefly as an onscreen manager (including for Ron Simmons, the first African American World Champion) before turning to the commentary booth.

When WCW died, he briefly formed his own company (Turnbuckle Wrestling), toured the independent scene (and scouted it heavily for young talent to mentor), and appeared in TNA.

However, his return to Vince’s WWE in 2005 brought his final match (in 2007, vs Randy Orton), his deserving Hall of Fame placing, and his run as trainer and mentor to the youth developmental league. The last of which was probably a bigger legacy than all those World titles, as he had a hand in the careers of hundreds of younger wrestlers, giving them sage advice on public speaking, how to put matches together, and avoiding the familiar vices of celebrity.

It also gave Dusty a chance to see the development of his sons career. Dustin had come a long way, from rookie in 1990 to dependable old hand in 2008, via a recovery from drug problems, and a long running feud with his father. [In real life too, and having heard all about it, the best way to describe it is Marti Crane and Frasier before they moved in together. Thankfully, they were like Marti and Frasier by Season 8 long, long before Dusty's passing.]

His younger son, Cody, debuted in 2007, and slowly went from rookie to potential future World Champion, his father watching. The Rhodes family reunited, on screen, for a storyline in which a villainous owner had fired Cody Rhodes and the family tried to get their collective (it got worse, as TV Tropes would put it) jobs back.

But Dusty was a regular on screen, frequently as a Councillor to his hot headed sons, and was last seen on screen trying to prevent a (storyline) feud between Dustin and Cody breaking out in February 2015. He looked shockingly ill at the time though, a battle with stomach cancer kept private. He continued to work with the youth team even up to the week before his death.

“The Dream and I talked about a week ago and he tried to convince me that he was "just fine."  I knew something was wrong when I saw him in San Jose at WrestleMania where I again questioned him about his health while sitting behind him at the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  Again, he declared himself fit and we talked of his significant weight loss. Then down in Orlando at a NXT taping the night before Mick Foley taped his comedy special for the WWE Network Dusty and I talked and he insisted that he was fine. He was like John Wayne in his final movie 'The Shootist' who wanted no empathy from anyone and who wanted to go out on his own terms his own way.  Dusty and I bonded after Jim Crockett Promotions bought out Bill Watts UWF. Dream trusted me to interpret his booking and creative on syndicated TV that lead me to getting my break on national cable on TBS”
Jim Ross, RIP The American Dream

Dusty’s death brought tributes from every corner of the globe.

He was a staple of the business, an ever present, and the idea that ever-presents can, one day, just walk off into that sunset, like his hero John Wayne, brings us face to face with the dreaded mortality in ways we don’t prepare for.

“You were a cowboy of the old republic, the last bastion of Southern Wrestling, a master orator who spit fire, but if the question was ever posed to you...fame or family? Family. Always family.  Getting over with your family trumped all. You were a world class family man. I encourage those here to go and watch the 2003 movie Big Fish. The story of a Father’s tall-tales and his Son. It’s a nearly autobiographical account of Dusty Rhodes. Not to ruin it, but the tales are either fully true or half-truths, from the amount of teeth the giant had or the derailing of a local train or wrestling a bear. The message is to live life on the edge of a lightning bolt and to fight for your family. Friends, family, colleagues, passersby: tonight, when you lay your head against the pillow, don’t just have a dream. Have an American Dream.”
Cody Rhodes’s eulogy for his father (which seemed to make Twitter have a collective something in their eye when it was published)

Everyone has a favourite Dusty Rhodes story.


I mentioned before about his removal from the booking committee in the NWA. Truth be told, he was fired by vested interests.

Due to his much respected reputation, Dusty asked for, and was given, the opportunity to find his own replacement as head writer.

So that next week, wrestlers and staff arrived to find their new booker sitting by Dusty’s old desk:

The Midnight Rider!

It’s almost a sham that chutzpah didn’t pay off! What a wonderful character he was, Dusty Rhodes will be sadly missed, but his legacy lives on in millions of ways.

(A typical Dusty comeback sketch - featuring loose continuity, the Rhodes brothers bickering, random legends, random dancing, Ron Simmons, and a belt of actual no significance.)

(The legendary Hard Times promo)