With a pudgy physique and a homely face, the former college football player did not have the appearance of the typical muscular pro wrestling hero. But Rhodes managed to become one of the biggest stars in the choreographed mayhem of pro wrestling, emotionally connecting with fans while winning a raft of championship belts.
Rhodes, whose real name was Virgil Riley Runnels Jr., began his career in the late 1960s as part of a tag team "The Texas Outlaws," and remained involved in the sport until his death.
He made a name for himself in battling opponents including "Nature Boy" Ric Flair and "The Four Horsemen," "Superstar" Billy Graham and Harley Race. He won multiple world titles in the National Wrestling Alliance, pinning opponents using moves including the "bionic elbow."
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He enthralled fans with compelling interviews, and even mimicked some words and gestures of boxer Muhammad Ali. He presented himself as "the common man" and "the son of a plumber."
He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007.
"Runnels became a hero to fans around the world thanks to his work ethic, his impassioned interviews and his indomitable spirit," WWE said in a statement, noting that two of his sons currently work as wrestlers for the company.
"Moreover, Runnels was a dedicated father to WWE Superstars Goldust (Dustin Runnels) and Stardust (Cody Runnels), a caring husband and a creative visionary who helped shape the landscape of WWE long after his in-ring career had ended."
Runnels, born in Austin, Texas, worked in several professional wrestling organizations and appeared on numerous pay-per-view wrestling cards.
"Saddened to hear the passing of Dusty Rhodes. Legend, teacher, mentor, friend ... Love you Dream," professional wrestler and WWE executive Paul Levesque, also known as Triple H, said in a tweet.
"My mentor," tweeted Flair. "Much love to your family and more respect than can ever be measured. Love you Dream."
There was no word on the cause of death at time of publishing.
Professional wrestling is mocked by many, but it's ideal cinema for a passionate sports fan. When it's done right, there is so much more to watching wrestling than the pre-determined results. Dusty Rhodes was one of the founding fathers of that very truth. His impassioned speeches, designed to compel fans to buy a ticket to see him battle his latest rival, drew thousands to his side. His style and personality defied his rather large physical frame. And, when he retired, his mind for the industry spawned some of the most popular (and, admittedly, some of the strangest) ideas ever seen in the wrestling realm. Search on YouTube for 'WCW War Games' for a great example of a Dusty Rhodes brainchild. His two wrestling sons, Dustin and Cody, have also had good careers via a combination of their father's guidance and their own hard work. In short, 'The American Dream' was the Muhammad Ali of the squared circle, between his catchphrases and his personality. He'll be missed by many.
Here are some of the most memorable lines uttered by 'The American Dream'
The man of the hour, the man with the power. I am the hit-maker, the record-breaker. I got style and grace, a pretty face. I’ll make your back crack, your liver quiver. If you ain’t into this match, you’re at the wrong address. Superstar, when the other wrestlers are smilin’ and jokin, The Dream be, WOO!, cookin’ and smokin’.
I have wined and dined with kings and queens and I’ve slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans.
I have supped mead with lords and ladies; so too have I slumbered in nameless lanes and gored upon mutton.
"What am I thankful for? My polka dots!
You can beat mah prices, but you can’t beat mah meat."
Im gonna rip off his head and dance down his tonsils.
Long Distance Information, give me Memphis, Tennessee. Tully Blanchard, you’d better phone your match in, Jack.
Ric Flair, the stratosphere is reserved for you and me.
Those guys are going hard and eliminating mistakes. They aren’t making the mistakes in the first ten or last ten seconds of matches. Each time out we’re looking a little sharper.
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