The word "legend" gets thrown around too much, as do the terms "one of a kind" and "in a class by himself," but Dusty Rhodes deserves to be called every one of those things.
The American Dream leaves an imprint on the pro wrestling business like no other. As a performer, he wowed crowds with movie-star charisma and a hard-hitting style that left many a wrestling mat wet with blood. As a booker, he innovated. As a trainer and a teacher, he looked to pass down what he learned from his experiences to a new generation of talent.
Now his students will have to learn from what he left behind.
In unexpected news, the Hall of Famer is no longer with us. WWE announced on its official website on Thursday that Rhodes "passed away today at the age of 69."
And just like that, one of wrestling's all-time greats is gone.
It's a hard concept to process as Rhodes was an ever-present part of the industry since the '70s. Whether he was world champion, pulling the strings behind the scenes or offering his frenetic brand of color commentary, he was always in and around the ring.
As he put it in his autobiography, Dusty: Reflections of Wrestling's American Dream, "The business is my life, the ring my salvation, the locker room and roads my nourishment."
Armed with an Elbow and a Surplus of Charisma
A multitude of characters have walked up and down the entrance ramp at wrestling events over the years. Rhodes' massive personality made sure that he stood out, that he remained front and center in many a fan's mind, even long after he was done wrestling.
Rhodes shimmied in between throwing punches. He strutted to the ring in lavish robes and cockeyed hats.
He turned up the spectacle of wrestling matches, exuding a level of panache that is rarely seen in any art form.
It's no wonder that a young Ric Flair looked up to him, wanting to be just like The American Dream. In To Be the Man, Flair said of Rhodes, "He was the guy I idolized."
Those two men became rivals in a series of clashes that headlined both the 1984 and 1985 editions of Starrcade. This was such a compelling meeting of top stars, of brash, stand-out personalities that some consider it the best feud wrestling has ever seen.
Rhodes' resume is filled with rivalries that belong in that discussion.
He and "Superstar" Billy Graham filled Madison Square Garden several times in the '70s as they battled in a Texas Death match and Bullrope match. Flayed flesh and bleeding foreheads made those collisions the kind that forever stick in a fan's memory.
Terry Funk and Harley Race were among his other key rivals. It's his feud with The Four Horsemen that truly stands out.
Flair and Rhodes' animosity extended past them, eventually including Flair's now-famous posse and Rhodes' allies, such as The Road Warriors. These clashes remain some of the most memorable ones sitting along wrestling's timeline.
Rhodes was an even better talker than in-ring performer.
His deep Texas accent, electric charm and playful use of the English language had him deliver interviews that rank among the best ever.
He talked of being a plumber's son and dining on pork and beans. He was the in-ring extension of the common man, a superhero for the working class.
Rhodes' famed "hard times" promo should be shown to every prospective wrestler.
Even the industry's best talkers were taking notes when Rhodes spoke. In In The Pit with Piper, Piper credits his interviews with Rhodes for helping to turn him into all-around performer.
After his prime faded and younger men took his spot between the ropes, Rhodes stuck around. He had more work to do, more crowds to entertain.
In the Writer's Chair, at the Announce Desk
Rhodes' work as a commentator isn't for everyone, but it was most certainly unforgettable. He carried over the same charisma he used to become a wrestling star to add energy to the bouts he called.
He was wild, electric and unpredictable.
Even in a sluggish Street Fight on the midcard, Rhodes always sounded in awe of what was happening onscreen. It was his passion, over the top at times, that made his announce work so fun.
Rhodes also pressed his fingerprints into wrestling history as a booker, working behind the scenes at WCW and at TNA during its early.
In an interview with IGN, Rhodes said of the position, "It's a head coach, it's an executive producer of television, it's all of those things wrapped into one."
His critics will point to "the Dusty finish," an angle where a referee reversed a decision after it looked as if the match was over. Say what you will about him overusing that narrative, but Rhodes has to be praised for his creativity.
He came up with the Great American Bash series, touring events that became some of WCW's marquee shows. Rhodes also thought up the Wargames match, a concept that led to a number of classics.
His innovations are part of a larger story, one of how Rhodes always looked to the future. The Dream always seemed to be looking for something fresh, something to add a spark to the squared circle.
In his later years, he shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge and serving as a mentor.
Imprint on the Future
Rhodes was handing out valuable lessons long ago.
In a podcast interview with Steve Austin, Paul Heyman reflected on a promo he did for WCW. Rhodes was the head booker at the time. He praised Heyman's work but apparently asked him, "Where's the money?" Rhodes said that promos had to sell the big next event.
Heyman spoke of how that stuck with him, and how he uses it as a mantra today.
Later on, Rhodes was a key figure at WWE's revamped developmental system. He worked there when it was still Florida Championship Wrestling and later when it morphed into today's NXT.
He worked with prospects, trying to get them to find their voice. Not surprisingly, Rhodes' specialty was interviews. WWE had him try to pass down his gift of gab.
Rhodes relished this part of his career. He told Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden, "I love teaching. I love coaching. I love teaching communications class. I love giving back to the kids and the industry."
When he passed away on Thursday, his past students spoke up, reflecting on what he had taught them.
Simon Gotch shared some of Rhodes' words of wisdom:
Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe are among those who made sure to thank the Hall of Famer for what he passed down to them:
Kevin Owens wrote on Twitter about how his not getting a chance to tell Rhodes the impact he had on him. Owens said, "I can only hope that even though I didn't get to tell him directly, Dusty knew how much I appreciated and valued his help, wisdom, support and friendship."
The emotional outpouring that has followed Rhodes' death is a testament how many people in the wrestling family he touched.
Rhodes is the rarest of contributors, in that he left a legacy in several aspects of the business. There have been great talkers and great in-ring storytellers, memorable commentators and idea men, mentors and teachers, but with Rhodes all that came in a single package.
He created memories in every single one of those roles. Unfortunately, all we have are those memories now.
He is survived by two sons in Cody Rhodes and Goldust, two excellent performers in their own right. He will be sorely missed.
Rest in peace, Dream.