Through testimony by family, friends, and archival interview footage of The American Dream himself, this week’s episode of WWE/A&E’s Biography makes it clear that while Dusty Rhodes loved the business of wrestling and adored his fans, it was his family that brought him, at different parts of his life, the most pride, the most anguish, the most regret, and the most joy. His ups and downs, both personal and professional, are addressed head-on and it creates a lovely portrait of his life over the two-hour runtime.
Maybe it’s a good thing that this episode wasn’t featured in the week before WrestleMania, as it opens with Cody Rhodes and surely would have added even more fuel to the “Cody’s going to win” fire. Cody admits that he gets asked about or compared to Dusty in some manner with everything he does. He doesn’t say this in a way that makes it seem like a burden, more like something he’s simply tasked with carrying.
Dave Zirin, author and Sports Editor for The Nation, receives a good deal of screentime, acting both as a fan and a voice documenting Rhodes’ career. He sets the scene for Dusty’s economically troubled youth, which Dusty expands upon in interview footage from 2014. His brother Larry, who also appears throughout the episode, felt that their upbringing bred a certain appreciation for the present, enjoying moments as they appeared without eyeing the future too much.
Dusty’s eldest daughter Kristin, who along with her younger brother Dustin experienced the life of so many wrestlers’ children with their mother or father gone from home on the road for most of the year, does remember her father’s vision and steadfastness for what he wanted to achieve. She was happy for whatever time she could have with Dusty when he was home, while Dustin admits he just wanted Dusty to be there with him when he was growing up.
Dusty’s wrestling career began in a partnership with Dick Murdoch, with the two of them acting as heelish roughnecks while Dusty started learning the art of the promo and of the sell. He speaks in archival footage of learning how to draw people to the arena with what he said rather than just with what he did in the ring, something that he would excel at once he broke off from Murdoch to pursue his own career. Once on his own, he won over the fans and became, according to author Brandi Collins-Dexter, a notable favourite for the black demographic. Zirin suggests a comparison to Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis Presley for how Rhodes absorbed influences from multiple ethnic cultures to then incorporate their elements into his own unique style.
Rhodes finds success in Championship Wrestling from Florida in the 70s, where he further crafted the American Dream persona. As he found personal success, however, his home life suffered, divorcing his first wife Sandra in 1975. A few years later, he met and married Michelle, and they tried to involved Kristin and Dustin in their lives as much as they could. Later in the show, however, Dusty is shown plainly acknowledging the lack of effort he put into his family life in those years, something he struggled with for the rest of his life.
We see Dusty going after Superstar Billy Graham in the WWWF, but there’s much more focus on his promo time than his in-ring work. Hulk Hogan comments that he loved both Dusty’s mic work and Graham’s physique, and had his own aim to combine the two elements in some way for himself. When Vince McMahon came calling to bring Dusty in to his expanding WWF, Rhodes declined because, as Michelle explains, he wanted to produce and took his talents to Jim Crockett Promotions.
As Dusty was moving away from in-ring work and more into production, he had more time to spend with his two children with Michelle: Teil and Cody. As Cody describes having his father around to coach his football team, Dustin is still reeling from a lack of connection to his dad and how it eventually led to him entering the business, in some ways to get closer to Dusty.
Back to contemporary times and Cody for a moment, it’s interesting to hear Cody talk about his father’s quest to defeat Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, and how Dusty suffering loss after loss after loss was all a part of the journey to make his win matter. Given that perspective, what’s one WrestleMania loss for Cody in his pursuit of the WWE Championship?
When Jim Crockett sells his territory to TBS, Dusty finally joins McMahon’s WWF and dons, to the horror of nearly everyone in this episode, the polka dots. Zirin says the polka dots killed the American Dream, but Michelle says that Dusty didn’t care. Cody surmises that if it was meant to demean Dusty, then his dad ended up owning it and throwing it back in the face of those who meant it that way. Dusty, in a past interview, says that the time in the WWF was probably the most fun he’s ever had.
Going to WCW allowed Rhodes to offer creative input at a time when the company was surging through their war with the WWF. Working with Dustin in WCW was wonderful for both of them, but when Dustin’s relationship with Terri Boatwright didn’t land approval with Dusty, father and son stopped talking for a five-year period. Dustin, wanting nothing to do with his father’s legacy at the time, became someone else entirely and debuted in the WWF as Goldust. Cody and Teil talk about how this rift between them also cut off one side of the family from the other, even for Dustin’s young daughter Dakota.
When WCW folded, Rhodes was left out of a job until Paul Heyman brought him into ECW to help him out, as things were financially grim once again for Dusty. Not long afterwards, the WWE came calling and Dusty was brought back into the company’s fold for a final run as mentor for the emerging stars at NXT.
Michelle walks us through Dusty’s final days, fighting an infection and dying soon after finally checking into a hospital. There is some very personal footage of his service, with Dustin and Kristin describing their last moments with him. Dustin managed to say what he needed to say, while Kristin, though robbed of the same opportunity, has no doubts about how much he loved her or that he knew how much she loved him. The episode concludes with all four children picking out a picture to advertise for the Dusty Rhodes Foundation, started by Michelle to provide money for youth sports.
It was a touching, honest episode that is well-worth the watch.
- Slam Wrestling’s Dusty Rhodes, Goldust/Dustin Rhodes, and Cody Rhodes story archive
- Slam Wrestling’s WWE on A&E archive