Goldust. Since the character’s introduction in 1995, Dustin Runnels has enjoyed a level of success that most workers in the business can only dream of.
Bizarre, provocative and completely controversial, Goldust took the wrestling world by storm, once again proving that a good gimmick can make a world of difference.
Without the face paint and bodysuit, Dustin Runnels is Dusty Rhodes’ son. Period. No storyline angle at work here, only DNA. Of course, being the son of The American Dream, while allowing Dustin to learn from one of the all-time greats, also placed a lot of pressure on the then-young man’s shoulders.
After all, there is only one Dusty Rhodes.
Dusty Rhodes is one of the most charismatic, talented and hard-working wrestlers in the history of the business. Bursting with attitude, energy and obvious passion for what he did, Dusty attracted a legion of fans who witnessed some of the greatest matches the world has ever seen in the National Wrestling Alliance.
Talk about pressure.
Dustin’s initial run in the WWF lasted only two months before he moved on to WCW, where he stayed for four years. Runnels’ career in WCW was good. He honed his skills in the ring, and was featured in the tag team division. Yes, Dusty’s son had a nice little career going for him.
Then, in 1995, Dustin Runnels took a bow and returned to the WWF as Goldust.
The difference was night and day.
Goldust was creepy, between his long wig, face paint, feathered robe and all of the suggestive innuendo that went into his actions and body language. Everything pointed to the unsettling gimmick as being one of the most original and effective the WWF has ever seen.
This gimmick was over. Instant reaction every time Goldust hit the ramp, with some fans laughing, some booing and others just shaking their heads in shock and disgust. No matter how the fans viewed him, Goldust demanded attention and he got it by the truckload.
There is little worse in the business for a worker than to get nothing from the crowd when he steps through the curtain. Love or hate are good and wanted and can propel a wrestler to the next level, but quiet indifference? It’s a death sentence.
Goldust never had to worry about that one.
With his real-life wife Terri as his valet, Marlena, Dustin played the Goldust character to perfection, giving the fans a unique heel with a twisted presentation. But the gimmick had been done before by the man who mastered it, Adrian Street.
“Exotic” Adrian Street was one of the most flamboyant and outlandish characters professional wrestling has ever known. He took the word uncomfortable and gave it a whole new meaning.
The hair, the face paint, the risqué behavior in and out of the ring. Sound familiar?
Street was, at his core, an entertainer. He knew his gimmick, knew how to make it work and made a career out of giving fans some crazy, memorable moments. No matter how big the card he was on, Adrian Street’s match was the one that fans would not soon forget.
So, why does the gimmick work? Simple. It’s one of the three.
During my time in the business, of all the gimmicks I saw, three were near-guaranteed hits with the fans: the cowboy, the Native American Chief, and the flamboyant homosexual.
The cowboy gimmick, possibly the weakest of the three, is of course more or less successful, depending on what town the wrestling promotion is currently running.
Up north, it’s a toss up. Down south however, a guy in a Stetson, wearing a duster and boots and carrying a cowbell, is seriously over. Again, thank you, Dusty Rhodes.
The Native American Chief gimmick is historically one of the most over of all time. This is especially true with the kids in the crowd, who loved to see the elaborate headdress of wrestlers like Wahoo McDaniel and Jay Strongbow.
Between the chops and warpath dance, this gimmick, if handled correctly, just cannot go wrong.
The third gimmick, while notorious for being over with fans of all ages, is usually the most uncomfortable and controversial of any other.
Okay, we all know that the majority of gay people in this country do not carry themselves the way Adrian Street, Goldust or Adrian Adonis did. It’s a ridiculous exaggeration of their lifestyle.
But the reason it’s always been so over is that it just weirds out the fans. While it’s almost always taken in good humor, and most people realize it is just a gimmick, it is still uncomfortable, and at times hard to watch. It generates heat, and it also generates something else.
Pop. That’s the name of the game. All three gimmicks get it. The one employed by Dustin Runnels reintroduced and redefined the one used by Adrian Street, who made it famous.
Dustin took the gimmick and made it all his own. He did it so well, in fact, that some fans actually began to believe that he was gay.
No doubt about it, Dustin Runnels has set himself apart from his father. He carved out his own niche based on his ability in the ring, and his willingness to take on a gimmick that, if unsuccessful, could have potentially killed his career. He made it work, and he deserves serious credit for that.
Over time, however, the Goldust persona has changed, morphing from lewd and perverted to comical and harmless.
A lot of this was due to the eventual demise of the Attitude era, and the WWE’s desire to begin presenting a product that was a little less edgy. But Dustin embraced the changes, thus keeping Goldust almost as entertaining as he was in the beginning.
How memorable and effective is the Goldust gimmick? Someone I know has recently admitted to me that she is still creeped out by the guy, even now as an adult, as much as she was as a kid. That, by definition, is what a successful gimmick is.
Lasting impact and unforgettable reactions have helped Dustin Runnels achieve a high level of success in this business. Yes, there is only one Dusty Rhodes. And there is, most definitely, only one Goldust.