If you read my articles, you know that I am a huge professional wrestling fan. This is no secret. Metaphors to that entertainment form are a staple of what I do here. They're my go-to move, like Kareem's skyhook. Everybody has something they "dork out" for, something that they like just a little too much. Mine has always been pro wrestling.
So a decent, but maudlin measuring stick for any wrestling legend's star power, for his "reach" if you will, is how my friends react when said legend passes away. If my cell phone blows up with text messages with somber remembrances, and texts conveying prayers or condolences to me, as if I were a family member…well, dammit, that guy was a pretty big star. He had to be, right?
Around 1:00 p.m. yesterday, on my way to Twin Peaks in Webster to do my radio show, my cell phone began buzzing and shaking incessantly for about five minutes. Normally, I'd wait and check the messages when I stopped, but this sheer volume of pinging felt like an emergency. So I pulled over. My inbox was flooded with condolences, memories, and lots and lots of catchphrases.
Funky like a monkey. Risky business. Hard times. IF YA WEEEELLLL.
Dusty Rhodes, the American Dream, was dead at the age of 69.
At its sweaty, absurd, theatrical best, pro wrestling is embellished actuality, and the most memorable performers are the ones who are able to take their own persona, crank the volume up to about 12, and somehow make us care enough to be moved emotionally, make us care enough to spend our hard earned dollar to either see them administer or absorb an ass kicking.
Dusty Rhodes (real name, Virgil Runnels) was the son of a plumber, a common man with common American values, a great high school athlete who, through a steady diet of barbecue and beer, allowed his "belly welly" to become his most distinguishing physical trait (ranked just ahead of his "bionic elbow" and the mop of curly blonde hair on his head).
Plunk any non wrestling fan down in front of a TV to watch a Dusty Rhodes promo, and press PLAY. In the first ten seconds, they see a fat, ugly guy with a speech impediment. By the time the two minutes are over, they're asking when the match is. Those magical two minutes where a man goes from common man to cartoon hero, where he talks you into caring and takes you from a place of indifference to a fantasy world where you can escape the monotony and stress of your day — those two minutes are the lifeblood of professional wrestling.
Dusty Rhodes owned those two minutes like nobody else.
Dusty Rhodes was so good at those two minutes that WWE hired him for a spot at their developmental facility in Florida to coach new talents on how to "cut promos" (wrestling parlance for "run your mouth, do compelling interviews, and sell WWE Network subscriptions"). The analogy to an actual sport would be an NFL team bringing in 70-something Dick LeBeau to run a defense, or at least consult on how to do it. Wrestling, like a football, has a lot of moving parts. When someone is the best at one of those moving parts, and he's available and willing, you pounce.
There will be plenty of pieces written this week that recap Dusty Rhodes the in-ring performer — his battles with Superstar Billy Graham in the old WWWF, his legendary runs with Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen, and his eventual wind down in the WWF in the late 80's where he somehow overcame polka dots and Sapphire to make us care deeply all over again. There will be plenty of pieces written this week by people who knew Dusty Rhodes, friends of his that knew him well, that will be able to give far more insight into the man and the performer than I ever could.
And I will read them all, the sad final chapter of a book that you couldn't put down for the last 30 years. Try as he may to help create the next "American Dream" in WWE developmental, it would be impossible. There will only ever be one Dusty Rhodes.
For fans of Dusty, or those of you who made it this far into the piece and are wondering just what the hell I'm talking about, here are a few examples of promo-cutting at its finest. Enjoy.
HARD TIMES, 1985
DUSTY RHODES IS THE COLD BLOODED SAUSAGE MAKER, 1985
DUSTY vs SUPERSTAR GRAHAM, WWWF 1977
(NOTE: You get bonus material from Superstar Graham here. You're welcome.)
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SHOW ME HOW
DUSTY RHODES vs JIM CORNETTE'S STABLE, 1987
(NOTE: Did I just give you more bonus material with some Cornette promos? Why yes, yes I did.)
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.