View single post by bpickering
 Posted: Thu Jun 18th, 2015 05:15 pm
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Joined: Tue Nov 13th, 2007
Location: Highspire, Pennsylvania USA
Posts: 19854
Mike Johnson @

"Well, I've got to run to keep from hidin',
And I'm bound to keep on ridin'.
And I've got one more silver dollar,
But I'm not gonna let 'em catch me, no,
Not gonna let 'em catch the Midnight Rider."

- The Allman Brothers

Dusty Rhodes was laid to rest earlier today as I write this and I am shocked it's taken me this long to wrap my head around the passing of The "American Dream" but the reality is, I still don't know what to say.

From the Thursday where I learned of his passing a week ago, every night I sat down at the end of the day, hoping to write the perfect words to truly convey what a tragedy Dusty's passing is. The reality is that at the end of the attempt, I simply deleted what I wrote and turned off the laptop and went to sleep, because not only could I not get the job done right, all I did was get more and more upset about his passing.

I wondered for a long time about why Dusty's passing bothered me so much. As sad as it is to admit this, I've written about the deaths of a lot of people since writing about wrestling became my full-time profession in 2004, including people I genuinely liked and a few I considered friends. As troubling as all of those were, none of them prevented my from being able to do my job, but the death of Dusty seemed like some task that couldn't ever, truly, be explained properly.

Tonight, my writing process began anew but after 35 minutes of trying to write about his career and why I personally liked his work so much, again I got frustrated and began to say the hell with it all, but then I started jotting down a list of all the reasons why this was impossible, and in doing so, maybe I'll provide some insight into why Dusty was so important and why his passing was, to me, the closest thing professional wrestling could have to the passing of a Head of State.

For me, personally, learning of Dusty's passing was learning that someone who you really owed something to had passed before you had the chance to pay him back. I've told the story before on audio, but growing up I was a WWF fan and that was it. Perhaps due to Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper (or more likely, the association of Mr. T) or the fact that it was on the same channel as Saturday Night Live. but for whatever reason, 9-10 year old Mike Johnson believed that WWF was the "real wrestling show" and everything else was just a knockoff. Then, one fateful holiday (my mind says Thanksgiving, but that can't be right, so perhaps a Christmas), we went to visit my Great-Aunt Jessie in Belleville, NJ (meaning I visited there before there was a Balls Mahoney) and she had this new thing called cable TV. There was a listing for wrestling on and after dinner, as the adults talked, I snuck into the living room and put it on.

I expected, for some reason, to watch WWF. It was Jim Crockett Promotions and the first thing I saw was a Jim Cornette promo. It was nothing like I had ever seen and as I continued to watch amazed, Dusty Rhodes came on the screen. It was as if a new chapter in my love of pro wrestling had officially begun.

Remember this was the era of The Hulkster and everything in WWF was big and larger then life and flashy. Out comes Dusty Rhodes in denim and a bandanna, scarred forehead, heavyset, bleached blonde hair. "Who was this?" I thought when he came out. By the end of the promo, I knew. He was the American Dream. I immediately asked my parents if we could get cable. It would be a year or so before it was available where I lived but as happy as I was to be watching the first Survivor Series on PPV, Saturdays on TBS were as important an institution to me as church on Sunday.

Where Hulk Hogan might have been Superman, Dusty Rhodes was Captain America. He wasn't invulnerable, but even when he was hurt, he kept on fighting. His spirit was unconquerable. He spoke with the charisma of three men. Unlike Hogan, he could lose but every time he did, he promised he would keep fighting as long as the people were with him. Hulk Hogan was a real life animated character, Dusty was a grizzled professional fighter.

Before Dusty Rhodes, cowboys were things that to me, existed in old movies. I was from Queens, NY and all I knew after watching Dusty, is that cowboys were badasses and so were the wrestlers in Jim Crockett Promotions. Where WWF was fun, the NWA was about men going to war to see who was better, who was the champion and who was going to get revenge. Those three unspoken tenants still define how I believe pro wrestlers should be presented on TV today.

Of course, little did I know at the time, Dusty was not only commanding my attention as a viewer, but commanding the entire ship that was, to me, the National Wrestling Alliance. I had no idea what a booker was, but once I learned, I was even more blown away - not only was Dusty the guy I loved to watch fight off the bad guys, but he was responsible FOR the same bad guys I loved, the ones who were too cool not to respect, like Tully Blanchard or too great not to enjoy, like The Midnight Express and he was responsible for what I still feel (sorry, Royal Rumble) was the greatest gimmick/stipulation/attraction match I've ever seen, The Wargames.

Dusty was the river that everything ran through and that's sort of appropriate because it wasn't just Jim Crockett Promotions but the entire history of professional wrestling over the last few decades that ran through River Dusty. The man's career took a path that no one else in the history of the genre could have, because he worked EVERYWHERE. If there was a wrestling promotion of note, Dusty walked it's halls at some point. The AWA, Memphis, The WWWF, all over Texas, Championship Wrestling from Florida, Jim Crockett Promotions, WCW, The WWF, MLW, ECW, Ring of Honor, WWE, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Mid-South/UWF, 3PW, his own promotions PWF and TCW, TNA, WWE developmental, countless independent professional wrestling events and a few promotions I am probably forgetting. That's how massive his body of work was.

The best part of that body of work is a lesson that Dusty left for a lot of others to try and learn from as they study his tapes today. Everything that he did, for the most part, felt real. There was a credibility to him. Sure, he was playful at times with that smile and during his WWF run, the polka dots replaced the blue denim, but you take any Dusty Rhodes promo, any brawl, any championship win, any match and Dusty makes you do something that not everyone in today's pro wrestling can do - he makes you believe. There was no Dusty Rhodes character - he was simply a man that at times, took over Virgil Runnels' body when the red light of the camera turned on.

If anyone was a walking testament to what was great about professional wrestling - it's credibility, it's creative spirit, it's realism and the pure fun that is pro wrestling, the art form, it was Dusty Rhodes. He was not only lucky enough to learn from a Bill Watts, a Fritz Von Erich, an Eddie Graham and so many others, but he was in the position to try and give it back, as a booker, as an opponent in the ring, as a TV producer, as a creative force, as a Coach in NXT and beyond. When you try to make a list of everyone Dusty booked into a position to either be a star or to become a nationally known performer, its an endless list. You may as well count to infinity. Not every idea was the greatest, but they were unique and different.

Dusty as much as anyone, was the yin to WWF's yang. Some will look at Eric Bischoff and I can't argue that for a time, he certainly was Vince McMahon's equal but Dusty fought the good fight for Jim Crockett Promotions, during a time where the majority of fans thought the way I did - that it was WWF and everything else - and with limited resources, often went head to head drawing good to great crowds, with wrestling that blew WWF away, promos that blew WWF away and who knows, had finances and timing been different, it might still be a two company race today. Ric Flair once said at a Mid-Atlantic Legends convention that had Crockett Promotions remained East of the Mississippi River and never ventured past that point, no one could have blown them out with dynamite. He might be right, but we'll never know. What we do know is that when Crockett was at it's strongest as a nationally televised promotion, Dusty was a major component in why it was working in front of the camera, and no amount of "Dusty Finishes" should ever detract from that.

Dusty was, as oft-quoted, fond of "making movies" when it came to how he presented professional wrestling and on his best days, he created materpieces. Everyone looks upon the Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes feud as genius. Everyone remembers the Horsemen attacking Dusty in the parking lot. Dusty screaming "an eye for an eye and violence for the sake of violence" after The Road Warriors turned on him. Dusty defeating Harley Race for the World title. Dusty leading his team into The Match Beyond, the night Nikita Koloff came out and formed The Superpowers....these are endless movies that he wrote, that he performed in and that he produced. There's also some clunkers, to be sure! I'll allow you to track down "Cactus Jack Lost in Cleveland" on your own. You won't thank me, I assure you, but to me at least, those were few and far in between and more of a by-product of how ridiculously mismanaged WCW was at times.

I love that WWE kept Dusty around as NXT evolved. He was immediate credibility when they needed him on TV and behind the scenes, was so important as a fatherly figure and as a promo coach that the sense of loss in and around the Performance Center last week was immeasurable. There's a huge void in that building that can never, ever be filled, because there will never be another Dusty Rhodes.

That same void will be felt throughout the wrestling industry. There is a huge link in the chain that is now gone forever, along with all the intelligence, history, love and passion that Dusty carried with him. The wrestling business isn't built for another Dusty to come along and become a massive star and perhaps his last lesson will be to remind everyone that what's missing in wrestling today is the chance for there to be another Dusty Rhodes, as opposed to the next guy who looks like he came off the pro wrestler assembly line. Wrestling is always best when it's like a circus, with all sorts of shapes and sizes...and Dusty, well, he was and always will be, the Ringmaster, to me.

But Dusty was a lot of things to a lot of people and that's part of his magic. He was the corporate cowboy, the master of the bionic elbow, the man with the lisp that you always understood, the heart of wrestling in Florida, the creative force behind the magical years of Jim Crockett Promotions, the three time World champion and yes indeed, The Midnight Rider.

"No, I'm not gonna let 'em catch me, no
Not gonna let 'em catch the Midnight Rider."

The chase is over and no one will ever catch The Midnight Rider, but make no mistake, The American Dream lives on, forever, in the heart of professional wrestling, where he was always and always will be, home. I can think of no better Valhalla for the "Bull of the Woods, baby."

"22 years of my fucking life just got fucking ruined!!!!"---Fan outside Wrestlemania XXX

PRO WRESTLING HALL OF FAME: (updated September 2 2018)