Wrestling legend 'The American Dream' Dusty Rhodes dies at 69

'The American Dream' Dusty Rhodes passed away Thursday at the age of 69. (WWE)
'The American Dream' Dusty Rhodes passed away Thursday at the age of 69. (WWE)

Pro wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes passed away on Thursday, WWE announced via its website.

Rhodes was 69 years old. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Known worldwide as "The American Dream," Rhodes (real name Virgil Runnels Jr.) spent several decades as a main-event attraction in pro wrestling, becoming a major influence in terms of his charisma and his ability to give captivating and entertaining interviews. Rhodes was also a major influence as a booker and had recently spent time helping WWE evaluate and train new hires.

Rhodes was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007.

He had four children and two grandchildren. His two sons, Cody and Dustin, followed in their father's footsteps as professional wrestlers and are currently under WWE contract.

In a business known for large, loud and flamboyant characters, Rhodes was among the elite. Playing the gimmick of the blue-collar working-class hero, the "son of a plumber" engaged in a lengthy, memorable feud with his polar opposite, the wealthy and egomaniacal "Nature Boy" Ric Flair in the NWA in the 1980s. When Flair became the leader of the Four Horsemen stable in the mid-80s (originally including Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson and Ole Anderson), Rhodes was a primary and frequent target of their four-on-one attacks.

Rhodes debuted in 1968 as the roughneck tag team partner of Dick Murdoch in the heel team the Texas Outlaws. His career took off in promoter Eddie Graham's Florida territory in the early 1970s, where he turned babyface and began crafting the "American Dream" persona.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Rhodes cemented his place as one of the wrestling business' greatest microphone men ever. Sometimes deadly serious, sometimes achingly personal and often downright funny, Rhodes became one of the go-to examples of an excellent promo man in pro wrestling, where being able to "talk 'em into the building" was critical to drawing paying customers in for live events and pay-per-view TV broadcasts.

One particular interview, his 1985 "Hard Times" promo, is considered among the best in pro wrestling history.

Rhodes was a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion during the era when that title was one of wrestling's most prestigious, winning the belt twice from Harley Race and once from Flair. Rhodes held countless other titles, performing for nearly every major wrestling promoter of his time.

Rhodes is perhaps best known to modern fans for his work in the NWA/WCW promotion in the mid-1980s, where he also influenced the direction of the business behind the scenes as a booker (the wrestling term for the person in charge of steering the creative direction of the product). Other than devising a number of classic feuds, his creations include the popular "War Games" two-ring cage match and the Starrcade pay-per-view event, which predates WWE's WrestleMania.

Beginning in 1988, Rhodes had a memorable run in WWE (then known as the WWF) in which he wore polka-dotted ring trunks and danced in the ring to his theme music. His late-80s WWE run included feuds with Randy "Macho Man" Savage, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and the Big Bossman.

Rhodes' son Dustin Runnels was the first to follow his father into the business in the late-1980s, first going by the name Dustin Rhodes and later becoming famous as WWE's Goldust. Years later, his son Cody Runnels would become a WWE star himself; he is known primarily as Cody Rhodes but also followed in his older brother's footsteps and is now known as Stardust, a nod to one of his father's old nicknames.

CBS Sports Staff

Denny Burkholder has been a writer, editor and producer for CBS Sports dating back to 1999. He has covered everything from the NFL to the UFC during his tenure, with a specialty in all things WWE and pro... Full Bio

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