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Wrestler Dusty Rhodes, The American Dream, Has Died

Dusty Rhodes, the passionately outspoken wrestler whose career spanned decades, has died at age 69, according to the WWE. Nicknamed The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes was the stage name of Virgil Runnels. He died in Marietta, Ga., an area northwest of Atlanta.

Playing a variety of roles and competing in hundreds of arenas during his wrestling career, Rhodes was often a stand-in for the common man, a fierce fighter who pitted his bulldog physique against more chiseled rivals such as Ric Flair. His victories often came after absorbing a staggering array of injuries.

Rhodes was also known for providing colorful quotes, which often highlighted his ability to rhyme. Some samples:

"I've dined with kings and queens, and slept in alleys and eaten Pork 'n' Beans."

"Ric Flair, the stratosphere is reserved for you and me."

"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'."

He also frequently promised to "take care of bidness."

In the ring, Rhodes' signature move was the Bionic Elbow. He took part in a wide range of special events, from six-man tag-team competitions to matches surrounded by cages or barbed wire — and one in which he claimed to brand his opponent, Terry Funk (and to set a fire in the process).

After one event, Rhodes said, he had to "feel around and see if my nose is still on my face, look up in the morning and see if my ears are still on my head."

Rhodes was a Hall of Fame inductee for several wrestling organizations, including the WWE in in 2007.

The Wrestling Observer summarizes his career: "As far as an ability to work and control a crowd as a babyface, Rhodes would rank right with anyone at any point in pro wrestling history and was an unquestioned all-time great."

Born in Austin, Texas, Rhodes entered wrestling after a stint playing semi-pro football. His wrestling career took off in Florida, and he had continued success with circuits in Georgia and the Carolinas.

From the WWE:

"WWE is deeply saddened that Virgil Runnels, aka 'The American Dream' Dusty Rhodes — WWE Hall of Famer, three-time NWA Champion and one of the most captivating and charismatic figures in sports entertainment history — passed away today at the age of 69.

"Runnels became a hero to fans around the world thanks to his work ethic, his impassioned interviews and his indomitable spirit. 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.

"WWE extends its sincerest condolences to Runnels' family, friends and colleagues."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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