|Birth name||Virgil Riley Runnels Jr.|
|Born||October 11, 1945|
Austin, Texas, U.S.
|Died||June 11, 2015 (aged 69)|
Orlando, Florida, U.S.
|Cause of death||Kidney failure|
|Alma mater||West Texas State University (West Texas A&M University)|
|Children||4, including Dustin and Cody|
|Family||Brandi Rhodes (daughter-in-law)|
Fred Ottman (brother-in-law)
Jerry Sags (brother-in-law)
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||The Bounty Hunter|
The Midnight Rider
|Billed height||6 ft 2 in (188 cm)|
|Billed weight||275 lb (125 kg)|
|Billed from||Austin, Texas|
Diablo Canyon, Colorado
|Trained by||Joe Blanchard|
Virgil Riley Runnels Jr. (October 11, 1945 – June 11, 2015), better known as "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, was an American professional wrestler, booker, and trainer who most notably worked for the National Wrestling Alliance, Jim Crockett Promotions, World Championship Wrestling, and the World Wrestling Federation, later known as the WWE. Rhodes is considered as one of the greatest wrestlers and talkers in the history of professional wrestling.
Rhodes was a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, and during his time in Jim Crockett Promotions, later known as WCW, he was a United States Heavyweight Champion, and multi-time World Television, World Tag Team and World Six-Man Tag Team Champion. He also won many regional championships, and is one of seven men inducted into each of the WWE, WCW, Professional Wrestling, and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Halls of Fame. His sons, Dustin and Cody, both pursued careers in professional wrestling, currently performing for AEW and WWE, respectively.
Following his retirement from wrestling, he made occasional on-air appearances on WWE television and pay-per-views and worked as a backstage booker and producer in WWE's NXT developmental territory. Billed as "the son of a plumber", Rhodes did not have a typical wrestler's physique; his character was that of the "common man", known for the personality exhibited in his interviews. WWE chairman Vince McMahon remarked that no wrestler "personified the essence of charisma quite like Dusty Rhodes".
Virgil Riley Runnels Jr. was born on October 11, 1945, in Austin, Texas.
After graduating from Johnston High School in Austin, Rhodes played baseball and football at West Texas State (now known as West Texas A&M University). Turning professional, Rhodes tried out for the American Football League's Boston Patriots, but was cut. He then played for the Hartford Charter Oaks in the Continental Football League until the team folded.
In 1967, Rhodes saw an advertisement in the newspaper for Tony Santos' professional wrestling promotion Big Time Wrestling, based in Boston. Rhodes drove to Boston, and despite not having any wrestling experience, bluffed his way into working for the company by using his real life friendships with Bobby Duncum and the Funk brothers. Billed as Dusty Runnels, one of his first matches was for the BTW World Heavyweight title against champion Frank Scarpa in the Boston Arena. Having little money, Rhodes slept in his car and spent Thanksgiving with Rufus R. Jones in a Boston soup kitchen.
Rhodes moved on to Fritz Von Erich's Texas territory World Class Championship Wrestling in 1968, at that time also called Big Time Wrestling. It was in Texas where Rhodes first adopted the ring name "Dusty Rhodes". Upon meeting Rhodes, Gary Hart suggested that he change his ring name to "Lonesome Rhodes", a character Andy Griffith portrayed in the film A Face in the Crowd. Rhodes reportedly replied: "Well...I don't plan on being 'Lonesome'. I think I'll stick with Dusty." Hart took an immediate liking to Rhodes and convinced Von Erich of the young wrestler's potential. Rhodes became a rule-breaking heel with Hart as his manager, teaming with Don Jardine, better known as The Spoiler.
In 1968, Rhodes left Texas and entered the Kansas City territory, tagging with fellow Texan Dick Murdoch to form the tag team The Texas Outlaws. The team traveled both nationally and internationally, appearing in Big Time Wrestling (Texas), NWA Western States Sports (Texas), NWA Detroit, National Wrestling Federation (NWF), Championship Wrestling from Florida, World Championship Wrestling (Australia), Tri-State Wrestling, the American Wrestling Association (AWA), and International Wrestling Enterprise (Japan).
Rising to prominence in the era of steroids and bleached-blond hair, Rhodes was the rare top-end superstar who didn't possess the hulking, bodybuilder physique. In fact, Dusty's was quite the opposite, with his rotund belly and conspicuous red blotch on his right side. Rhodes' figure was a huge key to his success at the box office as the ultimate sympathetic babyface. Chubby and loveable, Rhodes was never afraid to endure an incredible scripted beating in order to draw the most heat for his heel opponents.
—Brian Campbell, ESPN
Rhodes did not have a typical wrestlers' physique, but he was well known for his personality, charisma and interviews. In 1974, Rhodes's character became a hero after tag team partner Pak Song and manager Gary Hart turned on him during a match in Florida against Eddie and Mike Graham. This led him to break out as a solo wrestler, primarily in Florida, referring to himself as the "American Dream", a working class hero, and aligning himself with Eddie Graham.
In 1977, Rhodes wrestled for Vince McMahon, Sr.'s World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) on and off for lengthy periods of time until 1983. During that time, Rhodes main-evented twice in Madison Square Garden, both times challenging for the WWWF Heavyweight Championship against reigning champion Superstar Billy Graham. Rhodes won the first match on September 26 via countout, and lost the second, a Texas Death match, on October 24. Graham won after a mid-ring collision, falling on Rhodes for the three count.
He eventually began working as a booker and wrestler with Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) in the Mid-Atlantic, which eventually purchased World Championship Wrestling (WCW), formerly Georgia Championship Wrestling. Rhodes also teamed with Magnum T. A. as "America's Team", who opposed the Four Horsemen and The Russian Team in 1985. They were one of the more dominant tag teams in the promotion until 1986, when Magnum's career was ended in a car accident. Subsequently, he teamed with Nikita Koloff as The Super Powers. Rhodes was also a two time World Six-Man Tag Team Champion with The Road Warriors.
Rhodes had feuds with Abdullah the Butcher, Pak Song, Terry Funk, Kevin Sullivan, Blackjack Mulligan, Nikita Koloff, Harley Race, Superstar Billy Graham, "Crippler" Ray Stevens and, most notably, The Four Horsemen (especially Ric Flair and Tully Blanchard). Rhodes, Flair and Race fought each other many times over the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Rhodes won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times; twice by defeating Race and once by defeating Flair. In October 1985, during his feud with Flair, Rhodes gave an interview that became known as his "Hard Times" promo, arguably his most popular promo:
First of all, I would to thank the many, many fans throughout this country that wrote cards and letters to Dusty Rhodes, The American Dream, while I was down. Secondly, I want to thank Jim Crockett Promotions for waitin' and takin' the time 'cause I know how important it was, Starrcade '85 it is to the wrestling fans, it is to Jim Crockett promotions, and Dusty Rhodes The American Dream. With that wait, I got what I wanted, Ric Flair the World's Heavyweight Champion. I don’t have to say a whole lot more about the way I feel about Ric Flair; no respect, no honor. There is no honor amongst thieves in the first place.
He put hard times on Dusty Rhodes and his family. You don't know what hard times are, daddy. Hard times are when the textile workers around this country are out of work, they got four or five kids and can't pay their wages, can’t buy their food. Hard times are when the auto workers are out of work and they tell 'em to go home. And hard times are when a man has worked at a job for thirty years, thirty years, and they give him a watch, kick him in the butt and say "hey a computer took your place, daddy", that's hard times! That's hard times! And Ric Flair you put hard times on this country by takin' Dusty Rhodes out, that's hard times. And we all had hard times together, and I admit, I don’t look like the athlete of the day supposed to look. My belly's just a lil' big, my heiny's a lil' big, but brother, I am bad. And they know I'm bad.
There were two bad people... One was John Wayne and he's dead brother, and the other's right here. Nature Boy Ric Flair, the World's Heavyweight title belongs to these people. I’mma reach out right now, I want you at home to know my hand is touchin' your hand for the gathering of the biggest body of people in this country, in this universe, all over the world now, reachin’ out because the love that was given me and this time I will repay you now. Because I will be the next World's Heavyweight Champion of this hard time blues. Dusty Rhodes tour, '85.
And Ric Flair, Nature Boy... Let me leave you with this. One way to hurt Ric Flair, is to take what he cherishes more than anything in the world and that's the World's Heavyweight title. I'm gon' take it, I been there twice. This time when I take it daddy, I'm gon' take it for you. Let's gather for it. Don’t let me down now, 'cause I came back for you, for that man upstairs that died 10–12 years ago and never got the opportunity to see a real World's Champion. And I'm proud of you, thank God I have you, and I love you. Love ya!
The promo apparently resonated with wrestling fans so much that people came to him in arenas in tears to thank him for "honoring their plight". In 2015, an ESPN article referred to "Hard Times" as Rhodes' best interview, writing, "In just over three minutes, Rhodes fully encapsulated every ounce of his charm by endearing himself to blue-collar mid-America".
During his stint as booker, JCP were engulfed in aggressive competition with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). When the WWF introduced Mike Jones as Ted DiBiase's bodyguard, Bobby Heenan suggested naming the character Virgil as an inside joke on Dusty's real name. Also in the late 1980s, Rhodes became synonymous with what would become known as the "Dusty finish", a trick ending in which a wrestler would win a match while the referee was knocked out, and the decision would be overturned.
Rhodes is often considered to be one of the most innovative and creative bookers in the history of professional wrestling. As previously mentioned, his work in the development of "supercards" and gimmick matches did much to enhance the quality of entertainment and move the industry forward, as evident by other major promotions following with their own major cards and gimmicks. At the same time, however, he and JCP had an "old school" philosophy that did not bode well with the changes that were brought with fast moving media such as cable TV, etc. The long-standing storylines and the frequent use of the aforementioned "Dusty finish", techniques that had worked well during the NWA's territorial days, had now started to leave many fans dissatisfied with the promotion's booking.
Rhodes was fired after Starrcade '88, because of a taboo on-screen bloodletting (laid down by the Turner Broadcasting System following their purchase of the company) during a November 26 altercation with The Road Warriors. Furious with the interference, Rhodes booked a storyline in which Road Warrior Animal pulled a spike out of his shoulder pad and jammed it in Rhodes' eye, causing a severe laceration. Rhodes was then fired from WCW.
Meanwhile in late 1988 during the acquisition of Jim Crockett Promotions the duo of Mike Graham and Steve Keirn were attempting to revive the dormant CWF Championship Wrestling from Florida territory. Once Dusty departed from WCW they reached out to him, and ultimately partnered to launch the new Professional Wrestling Federation in February 1989. Rhodes had larger visions for the fledgling regional territory, which included a name change from FCW to the non-regional PWF. The new startup promotion featured a raft of current and future stars, including Terry Funk, Dick Slater, Bam Bam Bigelow, Al Perez, The Nasty Boys, Scott Hall, Dustin Rhodes, Mike Awesome, Dallas Page and The Big Steel Man (who would become Tugboat in the WWF).
Dusty Rhodes made his debut for the company on March 4, 1989 at an event in Titusville, FL when he teamed with Steve Keirn to defeat the duo of The Big Steel Man and Dick Slaytor. A week later at the PWF Homecoming event in Tampa, FL he pinned Big Steel Man to become the first PWF Heavyweight Champion. Later that spring as the PWF began to grow Rhodes received a surprise backstage visit from Bobby Heenan, who inquired on the state of the company's business. Shortly thereafter Vince McMahon reached out to Rhodes and made an offer to acquire the PWF as a developmental territory and to bring Rhodes into the WWF. He refused, as his desire was to grow the territory into a national brand that could compete with WCW and the WWF. However the Professional Wrestling Federation's backers did not have a desire to fund the company at a level necessary to enhance the territory further. In May he decided to part ways with the PWF and join the World Wrestling Federation as a wrestler.
Before departing, Rhodes was defeated by The Big Steel Man on May 13, 1989 for the PWF title at an event in Sarasota, FL. His final match with the company was on May 20, where he wrestled Steel Man at an event in Fort Lauderdale.
During the spring Rhodes also returned to the AWA for a few appearances.
Nine days after his final PWF match, Dusty Rhodes made his untelevised debut at a house show on May 29 in Montreal, Quebec. Substituting for Jake Roberts, he defeated Ted Dibiase. Promotional vignettes began airing, the first coming on the June 3rd edition of WWF Superstars of Wrestling with Rhodes appearing as the yellow polka-dotted "Common Man" Dusty Rhodes, a gimmick some felt was intended to humiliate him due to his synonymy with the rival JCP/WCW. Rhodes was introduced to WWF audiences through a series of vignettes in which he would gregariously and enthusiastically perform working class roles (including that of a plumber, butcher's apprentice, gas station attendant, taco cook, trash collector and pizza delivery man), eventually being recognized by others at the end of the skit ("Hey! Aren't you...?").
Rhodes continued to wrestle Dibiase on house shows that month and was undefeated. He was pinned however on June 6 in a dark match against Dibiase at a WWF Superstars taping in Madison, WI. Many years later, this match was included as part of the WWE Unreleased: 1986–1995 DVD set. It was said that Rhodes was asked to lose in this match to test his willingness to put over other talent. Aside from this defeat, "The American Dream" remained undefeated against the upper-level heel. Rhodes made his televised appearance on the July 22nd edition of WWF Superstars; following a match between Big Bossman and Jim McPherson he intervened to prevent Bossman from using his nightstick against the defeated opponent. This transitioned Dusty into his first World Wrestling Federation feud.
Rhodes made his in-ring debut on the August 13th edition of Wrestling Challenge when he pinned Greg Valentine after his opponent was distracted by Ronnie Garvin. That month he began his house show series against Big Bossman and was dominant, defeating the rulebreaker in every encounter. Rhodes scored his first televised win against Bossman on the August 21 edition of Prime Time Wrestling. At SummerSlam 89 he appeared on his first-ever WWF PPV, defeating The Honky Tonk Man. Meanwhile on the road his dominance continued as he remained undefeated against the Bossman.
In October a Rhodes fan, Sapphire, began to be featured at ringside during his televised matches. Rhodes would eventually invite the woman to come in the ring and dance with her after a victory. She would become his manager and was named "Sapphire". As Dusty represented "The Common Man", she was intended to represent the "common woman". On November 23, 1989 at The Survivor Series he led a quartet dubbed The Dream Team composed of Brutus Beefcake, Tito Santana, and The Red Rooster to victory against The Enforcers (Big Bossman, The Honkytonk Man, Rick Martel, and Akeem). Rhodes would finish the year dispatching Bossman in house show matches around the country, sometimes in "ball and chain" encounters.
Having finished the year with just one untelevised loss, Dusty entered 1990 as a dominant force within the World Wrestling Federation. He competed in the 1990 Royal Rumble and eliminated Bret Hart before in turn being thrown over the top rope by Earthquake. After dispatching the Bossman, he next became embroiled in a heated storyline with "Macho King" Randy Savage and his manager/partner Sensational Queen Sherri, who in turn found a rival in Sapphire. Rhodes began facing the former WWF World Champion on the house show circuit. As with Bossman he was victorious in every encounter, although each would come by countout. On the March 25th, 1990 episode of WWF Superstars he finally faced Savage in a televised encounter; Rhodes won via disqualification after Queen Sherri interfered. After a confrontation between the two couples, Savage's ex-manager Miss Elizabeth allied herself with Rhodes and Sapphire and was instrumental in helping them win the WWF's first mixed tag-team match during WrestleMania VI.
Rhodes suffered a foot injury a few weeks later, leading to his temporary removal from the house show circuit and replacement by Roddy Piper. He returned on May 12 and resumed his house show series against Savage. This time his dominance was more profound as he started to defeat The Macho Man by pinfall around the country. This continued until June 3, 1990 when Dusty's lengthy undefeated streak was finally ended by Savage in West Palm Beach, FL. Rhodes began teaming with Sapphire to face Savage and Sherri on house shows, resuming his winning streak and remaining undefeated. Later that summer Sapphire began to receive gifts from an unnamed benefactor during Dusty's televised matches. At SummerSlam Sapphire no-showed her scheduled match with Queen Sherri. Later that night Dusty was scheduled to face Randy Savage in a one-on-one encounter; prior to the match Ted Dibiase announced that Sapphire had left Rhodes for The Million Dollar Man's money. Distracted and distraught, Rhodes was pinned by Savage.
Dusty immediately transitioned to a feud with The Million Dollar Man. Unlike his previous series with Bossman and Savage, this time Rhodes would come out on the losing end. He lost numerous house show matches after Virgil interfered on the behalf of Dibiase. That fall his son Dustin Rhodes began making televised appearances within the WWF; on the October 13th edition of WWF Superstars Dusty lost to Randy Savage by countout after being distracted by Dibiase attacking Dustin. Afterwards, Rhodes dropped the polka dot attire and adopted his traditional, Jim Crockett-esque attire. At the 1990 Survivor Series he led "The Dream Team" (himself, Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Koko B Ware) against "The Million Dollar Team. Unlike last year's edition, the results were far different. Dibiase was teaming with Rhythm & Blues and a mystery partner, the latter who turned out to be the newly arrived Undertaker. The future Hall of Famer would dispatch Ware and later pin Rhodes, with Ted Dibiase ultimately remaining as the sole survivor.
Around this time in the fall Dusty Rhodes received an offer to return to World Championship Wrestling as its head booker. He now began to lose regularly, falling again in defeat to Ted Dibiase in house shows during December 1990 but also losing to Rick Martel, Virgil, and new top-heel Sgt. Slaughter. Some of the losses were under 1 minute as the WWF leveraged Rhodes departure. On December 28th, 1990 he teamed with Jim Duggan to face Slaughter and General Adnan at Madison Square Garden. The match, which would be televised on Prime Time Wrestling on January 7, 1991 ended when Rhodes submitted to Slaughter. The conclusion to the feud with Dibiase came at 1991 Royal Rumble, where Dusty teamed with his son Dustin against Virgil and Dibiase. The Rhodes Family was defeated in a match that saw Virgil turn face afterwards. This would mark the end of Dusty Rhodes' career as a full-time in-ring competitor.
Rhodes returned to WCW in 1991 as a member of WCW's booking committee, making his first appearance only 11 days after his last WWF appearance at the Royal Rumble. On the May 25th edition of World Championship Wrestling he launched an interview segment called "The Bull Drop Inn." Booking disagreements between Rhodes and Ric Flair led to the latter's departure to the WWF and the Big Gold Belt controversy. Rhodes also served as the on-screen manager of Ron Simmons from 1991 to 1992, first forming a relationship with the former All-American during the summer of 1991. In a match that was advertised on World Championship Wrestling, on October 12, 1991 Dusty served as the special guest referee in a match at the Omni in Atlanta, GA that saw Simmons & Barry Windham team up to defeat Mr. Hughes & Lex Luger. On the October 19th edition of World Championship Wrestling, Rhodes was announced as being in the corner of Ron Simmons when the latter was scheduled to face Lex Luger for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Halloween Havoc 91. Rhodes would go on to be Simmons cornerman that night, although Luger retained his championship.
Dusty Rhodes made his return to the ring after nearly a one year absence on January 4, 1992 at the WCW/New Japan Supershow II. Teaming with his son Dustin Rhodes once more, the duo defeated Kim Duk and Masa Saito in Tokyo, Japan. He began making house show appearances early in the year, usually in tag-team matches involving Dustin that saw Paul E. Dangerously tied to Dusty as part of the stipulation. On the May 16th, 1992 episode of WCW Worldwide he seconded Nikita Koloff in his match with Big Van Vader; he battled Vader's manager Harley Race to the backstage as the match began. Later that summer Dusty was again in the corner of Ron Simmons, this time on August 2, 1992 when he defeated Big Van Vader to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. He later joined the broadcast team, usually working with Tony Schiavone on Saturday Night. He was paired with Schiavone and Bobby Heenan on pay-per-views.
On February 25 his son Dustin defeated Paul Orndorff to win the United States Championship, and after the match Dusty came out to the ring to celebrate. That led to a slowly simmering feud with The Assassin (Jody Hamilton), who continually challenged Rhodes. On the June 12th, 1993 edition of WCW Saturday Night the Assassin vowed to track down Dusty's mother if that is what it took to gain a response. On the October 30th edition of WCW Saturday Night the Assassin (now representing Paul Orndorff) again challenged Rhodes. A week later United States Champion Dustin Rhodes announced that his father would be in his corner in his upcoming defense against the Assassin's charge Paul Orndorff. Dustin successfully retained against Orndorff at Clash of the Champions XXV; Dusty became involved after the match and attempted to unmask the Assassin.
As 1994 progressed Dusty became involved in another angle with his son and The Stud Stable, offering commentary on the May 21, 1994 edition of WCW Saturday Night on Col. Robert Parker's efforts against Dustin. At a television taping on July 25, 1994 in Macon, GA he came to ringside and attacked Parker, before being overwhelmed by the manager and Bunkhouse Buck. After being rescued by Ricky Steamboat and Dustin, he made an appearance in Dustin's corner on the August 6th edition of WCW Saturday Night when his son faced Bunkhouse Buck. After delivering a bionic elbow to Buck when the referee was distracted, Dustin was able to gain the pinfall. This ultimately led to Dusty's second match since departing the WWF, where he would team with Dustin to defeated Terry Funk and Buckhouse Buck at Clash of the Champions XXVIII. After a vignette that saw Dusty travel to "The Scrap Bar" to recruit The Nasty Boys, he teamed with them and Dustin to defeat Buck, Arn Anderson, Terry Funk, and Rob Parker in a War Games match at Fall Brawl 94. He returned to the ring for three more house show matches that fall, teaming with Dustin to defeat the Stud Stable. His last in-ring match for World Championship Wrestling in this run came on November 24, 1994 in Albany, GA, where Dusty and Dustin Rhodes defeated Arn Anderson and Bunkhouse Buck in a steel cage.
Through 1995 he was exclusively on commentary for WCW and did not participate in any in-ring angles. Dusty was originally on the side of WCW when its battle with the New World Order (nWo) began in 1996. At Souled Out 1998, Larry Zbyszko asked Rhodes, who was working the PPV broadcast, to accompany him to the ring for his match against Scott Hall. Zbyszko won the match by disqualification due to interference by Louie Spicolli. Rhodes entered the ring, delivering his trademark elbow smashes to Spicolli as Zbyszko stood and grabbed Hall. Rhodes went to elbow Hall, but seemingly inadvertently hit Zbyszko instead turning heel in the process. Hall then pointed to Rhodes as he revealed an nWo shirt. The three began to drop repeated elbows on Zbyszko before Rhodes announced "That's tradition, WCW! Bite this!". Announcer Tony Schiavone left the broadcast booth in shock, but later returned ripping Rhodes for his actions for most of the rest of the night. As a member of the nWo, Rhodes served as the manager of The Outsiders, Hall and Kevin Nash. This lasted until the November 30, 1998 episode of Monday Nitro, when Rhodes, who was guest refereeing a match between Barry Windham and Dean Malenko after being appointed by Eric Bischoff, defected back to WCW by disqualifying Windham and awarding the match to Malenko. Bischoff then fired Rhodes. On the December 28, 1998 edition of Monday Nitro, Ric Flair faced Eric Bischoff for control of the company for 30 days. After Flair submitted Bischoff, Dusty was amongst those who came out to the ring to celebrate with The Nature Boy.
He left WCW in 2000 and went to Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), making an appearance at the Guilty As Charged PPV on January 8, 2000 where he was attacked by former ECW World Champion, "King of Old School" Steve Corino. On January 28, 2000 he wrestled his first match in over five years, teaming with Tommy Dreamer to defeate Corino & Raven at a "ECW on TNN" episode that was taped in Fort Lauderdale, FL. On March 12, 2000 Dusty pinned Steve Corino in a singles match at the Living Dangerously PPV in Danbury, CT. He continued to remain undefeated until he put over Corino at the Cyberslam 2000 event on April 22 at the ECW Arena. His final appearance came at an ECW TV taping in Toledo, OH, where he accompanied The Sandman to ringside in his match against Rhino, who was seconded by Steve Corino.
Dusty then returned to WCW for a where he reignited feud once more with long-time nemesis Ric Flair. On the WCW Greed PPV on March 18, 2001 he entered a WCW ring for the final time, teaming with Dustin Rhodes to defeat Ric Flair & Jeff Jarrett. Following the purchase of WCW, the World Wrestling Federation allowed Turner South to continue to air classic matches on their "WCW Classics Program". Much like Heenan and Monsoon, Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair hosted the program. The duo would bicker throughout the show, which lasted throughout the summer of 2001 and represented the last "original" programming of the old WCW.
After both WCW and ECW were bought by WWE (WWF), Rhodes went to compete in his own promotion, Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling with ex-WCW and ECW superstars in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.
During this time he feuded with Terry Funk and Steve Corino in other territories.
In 2002, Rhodes competed in Pro Pain Pro Wrestling based in Philadelphia feuding with Kevin Sullivan. This would lead to a Texas Bullrope match on November 23 in which Rhodes defeated Sullivan.
Rhodes began appearing with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) in 2003, returning to the ring to feud against the villainous Sports Entertainment Xtreme faction. on the January 15 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes, Road Warriors and Jeff Jarrett lost to Vince Russo and Triple X. on the January 22 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes called out Nikita Koloff to reform the Superpowers, but Nikita turned on him. On the February 26 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes and Vader defeated Don and Ron Harris by disqualification. On the March 19 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes, Jeff Jarrett and D-Lo Brown defeated Erik Watts, Brian Lawler and David Flair in a six-man tag team match a week later Rhodes defeated David Flair in a Bunkhouse match. On the April 9 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes defeated Brian Lawler in a Ladder match. On the August 13 NWATNA PPV, Rhodes and America's Most Wanted defeated Glenn Gilbertti and Simon Diamond and Johnny Swinger the following week Rhodes lost a bullrope to Glen Gilbertti after Christopher Daniels interfered. On the October 1 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes and Jarrett defeated A.J. Styles and Russo. The following week Rhodes got a shot at the NWA title against Styles but lost when he passed out during the figure-4. On the October 15 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes and America's Most Wanted defeated Legend, Sonny Siaki and Ekmo Fatu. On the November 26 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes and Jarrett wrestled to a no contest in a Lumberjack Fan Strap match. After taking a few months off Rhodes returned on May 19, 2004 where he and James Storm defeated Dallas and Kid Kash in a "Bunkhouse Brawl" this led to the duo getting a shot at the NWA World Tag Team Championship on June 2 but they failed to win the titles. On the June 4 episode of Impact, Rhodes gave an interview with Mike Tenay but got punked out by NWA champ Jeff Jarrett. On the July 14 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes, Larry Zbyszko and 3Live Kru defeated Jarrett, Ken Shamrock, Hernandez, Chad Collyer and Onyx. On the August 25 NWATNA PPV, Russo suspended Rhodes from TNA and banned him from the Asylum a few days later on the August 27 episode of Impact, Rhodes showed up in the front row, and got attacked by Scott D’Amore and ejected again. On the September 1 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes under a mask billed as Midnight Rider teamed with Konnan and B.G. James to defeat Team Canada (Eric Young and Bobby Roode and Johnny Devine). On the September 8 NWA-TNA PPV, Rhodes defeated Scott D'Amore with Russo as the special guest referee. On the October 29 episode of Impact, Rhodes started his campaign to replace Vince Russo as the Director of Authority. Later, he became the Director of Authority at their November 7, 2004 pay-per-view, Victory Road. At the same time, Rhodes acted as head booker and writer. On the April 8, 2005 episode of Impact, Rhodes made the on-air decision to make all matches at Lockdown PPV in Six Sides of Steel. Then on the April 29 episode of Impact, Rhodes announced that MMA fighter Tito Ortiz will referee the World title match at Hard Justice (2005). In May 2005, TNA President Dixie Carter asked Rhodes to move onto a creative team, which included Jeremy Borash, Bill Banks, and Scott D'Amore. Rhodes resigned as booker, waiting out the rest of his contract with TNA, which expired soon after.
Rhodes made his first indy circuit appearance on April 12, 2003 for Ring of Honor (ROH), when he participated in the "I Quit Bunkhouse Riot" as a member of Homicide's team. On December 12, Rhodes defeated Jerry Lawler at an International Wrestling Cartel show that also featured Mick Foley as the special guest referee. Rhodes returned to ROH on March 13, 2004, where he competed alongside The Carnage Crew in a Scramble Cage match against Special K, which the Carnage Crew won.
On July 24, Rhodes returned to Full Impact Pro (FIP) and defeated Gangrel. In October, he appeared for Northeast Wrestling in a victory over Kamala. Later in the month, he appeared for IWA Mid-South in a tag team match with Ian Rotten in a victory over Chris Candido and Steve Stone. Rhodes made three appearances for the Japanese promotion HUSTLE in 2004, the first being on January 4 in a six-man tag team match with Steve Corino and Tom Howard against Mil Mascaras, Dos Caras, and Sicodelico Jr., which Rhodes' team lost. The second was on March 7, where he teamed with his son Dustin against Shinjiro Otani and Satoshi Kojima, which he also lost. The third was on May 8, where he defeated Corino.
Starting in December 2004, Rhodes made regular appearances for Carolina Championship Wrestling (CCW), where his first match for the promotion saw him team up with The Rock 'n' Roll Express to take on Dennis Condrey, Bobby Eaton, and Stan Lane, all three of the best-known members of the Midnight Express. He also briefly resurrected his feud with Tully Blanchard in CCW, earning two consecutive victories over him, the second being in a Bunkhouse Brawl. On April 9, 2005, Rhodes challenged Jeff Jarrett (who was still contracted to TNA, but due to TNA's then-affiliation with the NWA, he was allowed to appear for other affiliated promotions) for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. In a match that featured Jimmy Valiant as the special guest referee, Jarrett retained the title after Terry Funk made a surprise appearance and interfered. This led to Rhodes challenging Funk to a Falls-Count-Anywhere Bunkhouse match, which Rhodes won. This would be Rhodes' final appearance with CCW until August, where he would team with his son Dustin against Phi Delta Slam.
On July 15, 2005, Rhodes participated in Ballpark Brawl IV in a victory over Kid Kash. Rhodes participated in the first WrestleReunion, competing in an eight-man tag team match with D'Lo Brown, The Blue Meanie, and Tom Prichard against Steve Corino, Andrew Martin, Evil Clown, and the Masked Superstar. Rhodes faced Tully Blanchard at a Starrcade Tribute Show on November 19, where he was managed by Magnum T. A. and where Blanchard was managed by J. J. Dillon. Rhodes ended up losing the match.
On December 3, 2005, Rhodes returned to Carolina Championship Wrestling for one night only to face Terry Funk in an "I Quit" match, which Rhodes won. Rhodes made his final major appearances on the independent circuit before returning full-time to WWE in mid-2006, defeating Jerry Lawler by disqualification at a Southern Championship Wrestling (SCW) show and also earning a victory over Steve Corino in a Texas Bullrope match for Big Time Wrestling.
In September 2005, Rhodes signed a WWE Legends deal and was brought onto the Creative Team as a creative consultant. He made an appearance on the October 3, 2005 WWE Raw Homecoming in which he, along with other legends, beat down Rob Conway, to whom Rhodes delivered a signature Bionic Elbow.
Rhodes made an appearance on the June 19, 2006 episode of Raw, appearing in a backstage segment with Vince McMahon where he promoted his new DVD, The American Dream – The Dusty Rhodes Story. A few weeks before Survivor Series, Rhodes returned to WWE to be a part of Team WWE Legends, led by Flair. The team, which consisted of Sgt. Slaughter, Ron Simmons, and Arn Anderson (acting as manager) competed against The Spirit Squad at Survivor Series.
Rhodes was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on March 31, 2007 by his two sons, Dustin and Cody. During his acceptance speech, Rhodes asked Ric Flair and Arn Anderson to hold up the "sign" and induct him and Harley Race into the Four Horsemen. He has also inducted several other people into the Hall of Fame, including his mentor Eddie Graham in 2008, The Funk Brothers (Terry and Dory Funk Jr.) in 2009, The Road Warriors in 2011, and longtime rivals The Four Horsemen in 2012.
A few weeks before WWE's 2007 broadcast of The Great American Bash, Rhodes returned to WWE television to feud with Randy Orton. At The Great American Bash, Orton defeated Rhodes in a Texas Bullrope match after hitting Rhodes with a cowbell. This would be Runnels' final WWE match, officially retiring for the first time soon after at age 61. The following night on Raw, after Orton defeated Rhodes' son Cody, Orton delivered a kick to Rhodes' head while he was trying to tend to his son. On the December 10 episode of Raw, Rhodes was at ringside to see Cody and Hardcore Holly defeat Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch for the World Tag Team Championship.
On August 31, 2009, during the time Cody was part of The Legacy with Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase, Rhodes was the special guest host of Raw and booked a match between Cody and Orton for Orton's WWE Championship with John Cena as the special guest referee. It quickly turned out to be a ruse with Dusty's intention to allow Legacy to attack Cena, as well as D-Generation X (Triple H and Shawn Michaels) once they came to make the save. Despite the four standing tall together, Orton quickly gave an RKO to Rhodes, and though initially angered, Cody fell in line behind Orton.
On July 9, 2010, Rhodes briefly came out of retirement and wrestled the final match of his career at an FCW live event, where he teamed up with Cody and Goldust to defeat the team of Caylen Croft, Curt Hawkins, & Trent Barreta in a 6-man tag team match. He would again retire shortly after.
Rhodes was the head writer and creative director for the weekly NXT Wrestling television broadcast. On September 12, 2013, he was removed as NXT Commissioner. Rhodes made his return to Raw on September 16, 2013 after accepting a "business proposition" from Stephanie McMahon in an attempt for WWE to rehire both his sons Cody and Dustin. After learning that McMahon would only rehire one son of his choosing, Rhodes turned down the offer and was subsequently knocked out by Big Show on the orders of McMahon. Rhodes also appeared at Battleground in the corner of Cody and Goldust as they took on The Shield (Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns with Dean Ambrose at ringside) in a tag team match. The stipulation of the match would be that if the Rhodes Family won, Cody and Goldust got their jobs with the company back, but if they lose Dusty would be fired as an NXT trainer and none of them could appear on WWE programming ever again. The Rhodes brothers won the match, thus reinstating them to the roster and allowing Dusty to retain his position in NXT. During the match, Dusty got into an altercation with Ambrose and performed the Bionic Elbow on him.
Rhodes appeared on the February 16, 2015 episode of Raw, in an effort to reunite Goldust and Stardust, who were engaged in a conflict. Rhodes appeared at Fastlane on February 22, in a backstage segment with Goldust. Rhodes' final appearance on WWE programming would be on March 28, when he appeared on the Hall of Fame: Live From the Red Carpet show.
Runnels was married to Sandra from 1965 to 1975. In 1978 he married Michelle Rubio; the couple were married for 37 years until his death in 2015. He had four children: Dustin, Kristin, Teil and Cody Runnels. He had six grandchildren; Dakota, the daughter of Dustin and his ex-wife, Terri Boatright, Dalton and Dylan, children of Kristin and her husband Don Ditto, Kellan and Maris, children of Teil and her husband Kevin Gergel, and Liberty, daughter of Cody and his wife Brandi. He also had a brother, Larry, and a sister, Connie. He played baseball for West Texas State University.
In his later years, Rhodes suffered from kidney disease.
On June 10, 2015, paramedics responded to Rhodes' home in Orlando, Florida, after getting a call reporting that he had fallen. They drove him to a nearby hospital, where he died the next day at the age of 69 from the effects of kidney failure. Rhodes was cremated after his death, and his ashes were spread in November 2015 by his son Dustin on a ranch that Rhodes loved to visit.
At the 2015 Money in the Bank pay-per-view event, a ten-bell salute was given in honor of Rhodes, with the entire WWE roster and the McMahon family on the entrance ramp. The next night on Raw, they honored him with a video tribute and a special after Raw on the WWE Network. At the NXT tapings following his death, he was honored with another ten-bell salute.
Rhodes has been called one of the best wrestlers in history, praising his charisma and interview skills. His "Hard Times" promo has been labeled as one of the best interviews in pro wrestling. According to Jim Cornette, his NWA World title reigns were of short length since he wasn't what NWA was looking for in a champion, but not winning the title would hurt his credibility.
Since Rhodes worked as a backstage producer in WCW, he helped several wrestlers with their careers. Diamond Dallas Page, Missy Hyatt, had praised Rhodes' influence in their career. During his late years, he became trainer in WWE's development territory NXT, where several wrestlers like Kevin Owens, Becky Lynch, and the tag team FTR, praised his lessons.
In August 2015, WWE's NXT introduced the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, a tag team tournament in honor of Rhodes. The tournament has been held annually since, with a women's version added in 2021.
All Elite Wrestling named their "Go Position" (best known as the Gorilla Position), "The Dusty Position" after him on October 16, 2019.
In the promo room of the WWE Performance Center, where Rhodes would teach promo classes, there is a puppet of Rhodes hanging on the equipment, symbolizing that he is still there, watching the students.
New Jack, the controversial ECW wrestler, cited Dusty as his favorite wrestler growing up.
1This Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, while currently operating out of the same region of the United States and having revised some of the championships used by the original Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, is not the same promotion that was once owned by Jim Crockett Jr. and subsequently sold to Ted Turner in 1988. It is just another NWA-affiliated promotion.
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