Barry Saunders

Farewell to Dusty Rhodes, a most relatable rassler

Former pro wrestler Dusty Rhodes, who rose to fame in the ’80s and ’90s, has died, according to a statement from the WWE.
Former pro wrestler Dusty Rhodes, who rose to fame in the ’80s and ’90s, has died, according to a statement from the WWE. TNS FILE PHOTO

It’s an exaggeration, but not a huge one, to confess that The American Dream helped some of my buddies and me achieve the American Dream.

Without wrestler Dusty Rhodes, aka The American Dream, to talk about, some of us might’ve stopped going to school.

The first-floor entrance to the cafeteria at Richmond Senior High School in Rockingham was where our gang of eight met before class each Monday to animatedly discuss the previous weekend’s televised rasslin’ matches. We seemed to look forward to those meetings with more enthusiasm than we did to Civics or Geometry class. That’s probably why I don’t know to this day the difference between an isosceles triangle and a doughnut.

But I know a suplex, a half-Nelson, a stepover toehold, a pile-driver, a front facelock and a rear naked choke.

Relax: those are all rasslin’ moves that real fans know. Back before the Carolinas got professional sports teams, rasslers were our sports stars. None of the rasslers was as beloved among our crowd as The American Dream.

Dream died last week at 69. That was surprising – not that he died, but that he had still been alive all these years and I had neglected to write and thank him.

More sympathetic

Rasslers, you see, typically don’t have long lifespans. There exists a website dedicated to the “dead wrestler of the week” because so many of them die so young. So, Dusty living to 69 was a triumph.

“Triumph” wasn’t something he always did in the ring. For such a beloved figure, Dusty quite often got the snot beat out of him inside the squared circle. That, though, might’ve made him even more sympathetic and relatable to anyone who felt that life was doing the same to them.

You know what else made him relatable? The fact that Dusty looked as though he’d never met a ham hock he didn’t eat.

Dusty’s heyday was before the over-sculpted bodybuilders and over-scripted farce that passes for rasslin’ now and that brought us Hulk Hogan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Even among the unsculpted, though, Dusty’s flabbiness was exceptional. He looked like one of those lintheads from East Rockingham who got off work at the textile mill, grabbed a pair of his sister’s polka-dot drawers and climbed into the ring.

There were other popular grapplers – Rip “The Profile” Hawk and his equally dastardly partner, Swede Hanson; Black Jack Mulligan; Jake “The Snake” Roberts; Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones and his unfortunately nicknamed brother, Burrhead Jones.

Oh man, just those names make one want to go do a flying dropkick off the top rope turnbuckle.

Watching with grandma

Even my dear sainted grandmother, a woman who as far as I can tell never uttered a profanity or expressed anger, watched rasslin’ on Saturday afternoons. At least, that is, she watched as much as she could take before it “worked” her nerves. She could never understand why the referee always got knocked out or had his back turned whenever Swede Hanson was pulling some foreign object out of his trunks and clobbering Johnny Weaver with it.

If the American Dream didn’t always triumph in the ring, he always prevailed behind the microphone. Gorgeous George, Jay Z and Muhammad Ali are shy compared to Dream. Man, that dude could yap. You might only understand every third word he uttered, but you knew he meant whatever it was he was saying. If you get a chance, listen to him give his “hard times” soliloquy.

“Hard times,” Dream screamed, “is when a man has worked at a job 30 years, 30 years. They give him a watch, kick him in the butt and say ‘Hey, a computer took your place, daddy.’”

One high school chum – he lives here in Raleigh so my lawyer, Algonquin J. Calhoun IV, cautioned against using his name – was so enamored of Rhodes that he bedazzled “The American Dream” onto the back of his blue jean jacket. He could’ve survived that bit of fanboydom. Heck, we might’ve even felt admiration for him.

Unfortunately for my buddy, some of the strategically placed shiny bedazzle beads fell off and it eventually looked as though his jacket bore the legend “The American Drain” – a nickname he had to endure for the rest of senior year.

As Dusty said in his “hard times” speech, “I admit I don’t look like the athlete of today is supposed to look. My belly is too big, my heinie is too big. But buddy I’m bad and they know I’m bad.”

Amen. And Dusty: when you climb into that squared circle in the sky, be sure to drop a bionic elbow on Skull Murphy for me.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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