Authors: Dusty Rhodes,Howard Brody
“When Dusty turned it on and became The American Dream, you couldn’t turn it off. You still can’t turn it off. He’s The Dream.”
So basically the match with Jack set it up and with one move turned me into the biggest thing in our business. I became the biggest pre-yellow finger commodity and babyface. I respected Jack for that so much because he knew and Eddie knew and everybody knew that they could have put a hook in my act and yanked me right off the stage, but instead I shot out like a cannon.
What a ride that was about to begin for me and my fans!
Simply put, in ‘74 Song was the baddest motherfucker on the planet. Gary Hart was the ultimate flimflam man; someone who would take money from his own mama! Every Wednesday we shot television at the Florida Sportatorium, a little TV studio at 106 North Albany Avenue in Tampa. Hart would send a fan into the street on Wednesday morning before TV. The fan would bring back a big rock … not one of them brick-breaking fuckers, but a boulder! He would have Song break it into small pieces on TV with his bare hands. Then he took a watermelon and put his foot through it without busting it into a million pieces. The fans knew this was the real deal.
My God, it’s the 4th of July in Jacksonville, Florida and it’s The American Dream versus the Korean Assassin. Ten thousand people, or no matter how many people it was, it was an amazing scenario. Eddie was a marketing genius and here comes Dusty Rhodes carrying an American flag. It looked like the scene right out of the
movie where Stallone has the flag draped over him. The flag that I was going to carry had a broken pole, so I went to the ring wearing it.
“When Dusty said he was The American Dream, he really was the American Dream; he became it because he believed it.”
As the match went on, Pak Song caught me with one of his big hands and before I knew it, I was bleeding profusely … barely holding on for dear life. Then he put the claw on me—he hit me with that fucking claw.
Now we were out on the floor and it was back in the day where they had these little-bitty rails … they didn’t have the big barricades they have today— they had the little-bitty rails. The rails were thin and metallic and had a piece that slid underneath it and one that went over the top.
There was a girl in the front row who weighed maybe 110 pounds. Her picture was in the Jacksonville newspaper the next day—an 8-by-10 picture because of what happened and what she did.
You know how some people get strength when their cars turn over and they get the strength to lift the car up? That’s what she did … pure adrenaline rush. I didn’t know her from Adam but he had the claw on me and she was screaming, so afraid that this was going to hurt me. But the pictures are of her pulling me from under this rail with her body weight being about 110
pounds at the most, soaking wet, pulling me out and he still got the claw on me pulling me his way; he finally broke the grip. I can remember her screaming as loud as she could, “Let him go, let him go, let him go!” and when he finally broke the grip, this hand came up with the blood on her fingernails and my head is in her lap … that’s the picture they got … and she’s crying the biggest tears in her life. The caption read “The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes saved from the Korean Assassin” on the 4th of July.
At that moment I said to myself these motherfuckers are with me. Whatever else is going down, they believe this thing that I’m talking for them … and she did; she believed. Her story was phenomenal. I remember we battled to the back because the highlight of the story described how I came up from being staggered and she would not let me go to the end. I didn’t want to push her aside, but her dress was totally full of blood as I staggered in and I felt this hand on me, this elbow that drew the crowd back to the back.
The Jacksonville police riot squad came, and the cops stood around trying to get us to stop. It was the craziest thing you’ve ever seen. Song came back and a cop grabbed his arms from the back like you would hold the guy for me to hit just like you see in the movies. I drew back to hit him and he ducked and I hit the cop and broke his nose. As I hit him and broke his noise, Pak Song and I both escaped to the back, but we ended up coming back out.
It was the most talked about day in the history of Jacksonville wrestling. It broke all sorts of records that were set by Eddie and Don Curtis back in the day. It was unbelievable, but I knew then, at that moment, that the picture of that girl was the proof I needed to know that it was really special with the fans that day.
“He had more impact on wrestling than people give him credit for. If there hadn’t been a Dusty, there wouldn’t have been a Hogan, a Flair, or a Rock. He opened the door.”
For that hour, when the bell rang for the first time with me as a full-fledged babyface, the next two hours belonged to The American Dream and my fans.
he ‘70s have often been referred to as the “Me Decade” while the ‘80s were considered to be the MTV Generation, thanks to the expansion of cable television. For Dusty Rhodes, I was ingrained in the two decades as much as you can imagine. I not only rubbed elbows with the beautiful people at Studio 54, walking that thin line between hippies and yuppies, but I was at the forefront of the cable TV explosion, keeping a tight hold on my status as a champion of the people and living the American Dream.
Regardless of where I was and what I was doing, I always remembered my roots and what it took to get there … what it took to get out of that ditch.
Some nights before a match, I would remember those backyard wrestling shows with my brother Larry, and I wondered what my life would have been like if I had made it in pro football or baseball.
What would have happened if I had reported to that training camp when the Miami Dolphins’ George Wilson invited me? Football was always my first love, and a career in the NFL would have been sweet. But would it really have been as bittersweet as the thousands of fans who have shown up over the years in arenas and stadiums to get a glimpse of the Dream?
Baseball was my second love, and when I got that scholarship out of high school to play at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, a school that produced such players as Norm Cash for the Detroit Tigers, I really thought I would follow in the footsteps of my baseball idol, Mickey Mantle; playing in Yankee Stadium one day. But would it have been as satisfying playing in the “House that Ruth Built” as it was when I wrestled in front of thousands, millions for
Great American Bash
How different would my life have been if I had stayed on one of those two paths instead of the one that ultimately took me here?
How different would pro wrestling have been without “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes? How different would it be today?
“To me, he’s probably the greatest showman of our time.”
But all of these questions really don’t matter. It would all come back to me as it does right now in that I wasn’t wrestling my brother anymore in our backyard in Austin, Texas, but I was in Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Cow Palace in San Francisco, the Tampa Armory, or one of a hundred other major arenas I’ve performed in and I realize that it doesn’t matter what could have been, what’s important is what was and what is … and good or bad, I was ordained to live the rest of my life as “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes; something a whole hell of a lot bigger than Virgil Riley Runnels Jr. could ever possibly be. That was my destiny and I thank God for it.
“I think Dusty battled self-esteem issues all his life. His speech impediment and his less than bodybuilder physique, I feel, caused him some anxious moments even as a young kid. I’m not Dr. Phil and I might be wrong, but I think one of the driving forces behind Dream’s success for so many years is the fact that he was driven internally to overcome what he perceived as personal liabilities in a very cosmetic industry. He was smart enough to turn what many may have perceived as liabilities into assets because very few wrestlers have ever identified and connected with such a wide spectrum of the wrestling fans as ‘The American Dream.’ ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin comes to mind on a short list.”
When I hit my stride buddy, “The American Dream” was like an out-of-control bucking bronco and there wasn’t anybody, anywhere who could tame this wild fucking ride.
Now I’ve mentioned a lot of ongoing themes so far in this book—rules of engagement if you will—that I consider integral parts of both my life and the wrestling business. I’ve talked about believability and respect, taking care
of family, and business is business. There’s another theme that I’ve touched on a little bit, but in the aftermath of the creation of The American Dream the wrestler, this is another rule that is very clear cut with me and one that I’ve never taken lightly … everything in wrestling is black and white.
Now, that can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. But the reality of the situation is this: in pro wrestling it’s either one way or another, there’s no middle ground, no shades of gray. You can’t be successful by being wishywashy. You can’t run a successful wrestling promotion by walking down the middle. Unfortunately, some people in the business don’t like that notion or don’t understand it.
Even though my life outside of the wrestling business might be made up of shades of gray, and that’s fine for living a life outside the business, but when it comes to pro wrestling, there can only be black and white.
Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about … it was during my time at World Championship Wrestling. Sometimes choices are made that wrestlers don’t understand and tempers get out of hand and they just don’t realize it has nothing to do with anything except business. Business is business!
At well over 400 pounds, his head was so red from rage I thought he was going to have a heart attack. His name was Leon White, Big Van Vader, and at the time my top heel. Vader was pissed, or at least he thought he was. I sat across from him as Eric Bischoff, the newly hired executive producer, sat to the side. It was a conference I’ve had many times as the head of all wrestling matters, the last of the real one-man booking committees.
Out of the blue he leapt to his feet, looking like a wild rhino charging a hunter. Being only about five feet away, Bischoff fell back in his chair as a horror overcame the room. He was about to either kick my ass or kiss me. Just before the impact came, he stopped right in front of my face and came nose to nose. He leered at me with a rage in his eyes that was thick, man … the breath coming out of his mouth covered my whole head. He spat when he talked. Holy dog fuck, this was intense.
“Dream,” he said as he finally broke silence, “that’s the trouble with you. There is no gray area; it’s always black or white.”
And it was. Being able to define the world of wrestling and all its matches was always black or white with me. Some people got it. Some people didn’t. It took a wildly tense situation for Vader, one of the best big men in the history of our industry to get it … and to understand why. Think of it this
way, Vader was a 400-pound kid who was sent to timeout and he didn’t want to go. But when it was all said and done with, he knew he was wrong and he had to take responsibility. He wasn’t going to bully his way out of taking his medicine.
But you see, even something that’s so apparently black and white can’t necessarily stand by itself. Fuck no! Because while it may be black and white in appearance, business is still business … the people you work with are your family and you’ve got to take care of them … and you can’t do all that without the respect for the business and the believability that what you’re doing is the real deal. It’s so important to understand how all these elements are intertwined.
It’s also important to understand how this philosophy helped me climb to the top of the pro wrestling industry and overcome those who were either in my way or attempted to knock me back to the bottom rung of the ladder … and believe me, there were many in the industry who wanted to see Dusty Rhodes fail.
But the more I was over with the fans, the more power I got, and call it ego or whatever, but it got to the point that I became so powerful in Florida, so powerful in the business, that I thought I could do just about whatever I wanted to do, without the fear of suffering any consequences … and I did … in a big fucking way.
I realized from an early point in my career that interviews were 75 to 80 percent of the matches, so in order to make my impact and draw a crowd, I knew I had to reach the people; I had to get inside their heads and their hearts. If I didn’t know what they wanted to see or hear, there was no way I was going to be successful. Look at the people who draw money, big money in our business, and every one of them could do an interview, or cut a promo as we refer to it in our business. Me, Hogan, Flair, Savage, the Rock … every one of us sons of bitches could talk just as well as or in some cases better than we could work in the ring.