Sad news today in the world of professional wrestling.
World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has confirmed that wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes (real name: Virgil Riley Runnels Jr.) has died at the age of 69.
“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,” the organization said in an official statement.
WWE Vice President of Talent, Live Events & Creative Paul Levesque (aka Triple H) also confirmed Rhodes’ passing, tweeting, “Saddened to hear the passing of Dusty Rhodes. Legend, teacher, mentor, friend…Love you Dream.”
TMZ reports that emergency personnel responded to an early morning 911 call saying Rhodes had fallen at his Orlando, Florida home. He was taken to a nearby hospital and later passed away.
The Texas-born grappler began his wrestling career in 1968, and soon rose to fame as a “working class” star in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) territories, capturing the organization’s World Heavyweight Title on three occasions. Dubbed “The American Dream,” Rhodes became one of the business’ biggest attractions alongside the likes of Ric Flair, Harley Race, Superstar Billy Graham and Nikita Koloff.
“Today, I lost one of my greatest opponents and greatest friends,” Flair told TMZ. “He was the definition of heart and soul and I’m honored to have shared the ring with him countless times. He became the ‘American Dream’ because wrestling needed a hero they could respect, and he was the man for the job. Dusty Rhodes, I will miss you my mentor and friend.”
Rhodes later booked events for Jim Crockett Promotions (which later became WCW: World Championship Wrestling) before jumping ship to Vince McMahon‘s World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1989.
His in-ring career with the WWF was short-lived (albeit memorable), but the sweet-talking southerner reignited his popularity throughout the ’90s as a booker, color-commentator and manager in WCW. Dusty also spent time with Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) and various independent leagues, but ultimately returned to McMahon’s federation in 2005 to work on-air and behind the scenes as a creative consultant.
No cause of death has been released. Rhodes is survived by his wife Michelle Runnels and four children, Dustin Rhodes (aka WWE superstar Goldust), Cody Rhodes (aka WWE superstar Stardust), Teil Runnels Gergel and Kristin Runnels Ditto.
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