Thursday was a sad day for wrestling fans around the world. World Wrestling Entertainment announced on their website that Dusty Rhodes, also known as “The American Dream,” had died. He was 69.
Time reports that the former professional wrestler, who was born Virgil Runnels, died after falling in his Orlando home earlier this week. However, WWE did not confirm a cause or location in their statement.
WWE did say that Runnels was a hero to fans everywhere “thanks to his work ethic, his impassioned interviews and his indomitable spirit.” WWE staff added that he was a “caring husband and a creative visionary who helped shape the landscape of WWE long after his in-ring career had ended.”
His career spanned for decades, and he competed in the top industry promotions along with mastering the bionic elbow. The big, boisterous wrestler was a 3-time NWA championship winner and was a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. Runnels was intensely popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Austin, Texas native always appeared in his signature yellow polka-dot spandex with his sidekick “valet” Sapphire. The American Dream didn’t have the super-cut body that you see in wrestling today, but he was an amiable guy with a unique way of gabbing behind a microphone.
He often battled heels such as Blackjack Mulligan, Superstar Billy Graham, The Four Horsemen and Harley Race, who were led by ring rival Ric Flair. Flair expressed his condolences over the death of Runnels via Twitter. He sent love to the Runnels family and said that he had “more respect than can ever be measured” for “Dream.”
Several other friends, colleagues and “students” of his were heartbroken by his death. Paul Levesque, who is currently the vice president of WWE and wrestled under the name Triple H, echoed Flair’s response. “Saddened to hear the passing of Dusty Rhodes,” he tweeted. “Legend, teacher, mentor, friend…Love you Dream,” he tweeted.
Longtime WWE broadcaster Jim Ross, who called Runnels a “broadcast partner, colleague and mentor,” spoke highly of Runnels in a phone interview with Associated Press Thursday. Ross said that he was “arguably the most charismatic performer of all time” and that his “verbal styling will never be duplicated.”
Ross added that he wants today’s wrestlers to learn from Dusty. He hopes they will understand how important it is to be committed to your craft. And he wants wrestlers to realize how Dusty was “in love with wrestling business and how much he was a natural extension of himself.”
Runnels leaves behind two sons who were also famous WWE wrestlers: Dustin Runnels, also known as Goldust, and Cody Runnels, also known as Stardust. Runnels was working at WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando before his death.
Though Runnels will always be remembered for yellow polka-dots, for fathering such talented children and for fostering a massive feud between the Four Horsemen and Ric Flair, he will also be remembered for his extraordinary character and his empathy for blue-collar Americans who had been through hard times.