More reaction from those with Florida ties to the passing of The American Dream Dusty Rhodes.
Legendary Florida referee Bruce Owens: “I entered the business in the Kayfabe era and with no real talent, except my commitment and trust. In those days, the boys went to separate restaurants and separate gas stations and never sat near each other on airplanes or at airports. Example, Johnny Valentine was fired with Red Bastien for barbing together at one of their houses despite being main eventers.
“I started as a timekeeper, announcer and then a referee. Zero family in the business, but the trust I had by the Grahams, Briscos, Duke [Keomuka] and Hiro [Matsuda] along with Dusty’s push got me in the Kayfabe world. Make no mistake, being a fan and breaking in made it hard to keep things secret. However, breach of anything would have got your ass kicked in the 1970s. I know there were times that I had some paydays bigger than some of the boys.
“Eddie and Dusty took care of me. At our last meeting at the fair [March 14, 2014 before an XSE Superstars of Wrestling show at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, where out of nowhere, Dusty said, ‘Bruce, you have your gear?’ and I said, ‘Sure do Dream.’ He said to [XSE coordinator] Alfred and the other refs, ‘Bruccccer,’ with that lisp, ‘is here in his hometown, and I want him on the main event.’ My concern was pissing off the other refs. They embraced it and said Dusty told us who you were and how you started almost 40 years ago.
“Dusty and I talked about the old road trips, and the Miami riots where we drove through with Dusty having the windows down and waiving and things calmed down for our passing. Gerry Brisco has already told the story. The cops said don’t go from Opa-locka Airport [to the Miami Beach Convention Center]. Dream said let’s roll to both Gerry Brisco and me, and we went. Dusty was that confident that we wouldn’t get hurt, and we didn’t. We went the same way going back to the charter airport. Dream even stopped on Northwest 103rd Street and I-95 at a 7-11, and all of the brothers made sure no one screwed with us.
“Virgil was a guy who knew I grew up with less than more. He trusted me, gave me the vote in the business and used me all the way to Jim Crockett and WCW promotions. I did some WWE work, too, when Kevin Kelly was there. I also saw Dusty when Steve Keirn was running the training center in Tampa and Dusty was grooming talent.
“Iconic, special, one of a kind.
“Dusty got me work at Clash of the Champions and in the old days at the Orange Bowl for Lord of the Rings. So many good memories.
“I had the opportunity to be with him and Murdoch. Holy #$%^, double trouble, but perhaps my fondest memory will always be when he was dating Michelle, his wife. Dusty said to me once when we were driving to Miami Beach, ‘I love that woman more than wrestling.’ I knew he was really in love.”
South Florida’s Duane Long: “My favorite little story about Dusty was from the West Palm Beach Auditorium early 1980s. I was photographing ringside there for many years for PWI, but along with that I sold the programs at the auditorium every Monday night. I would get my 10-percent of the sales in cash and enjoyed that for sure.
“Well one night Dusty came in with this box of like 500 special little four-page, black-and-white Dusty thing commemorating something ......his own personal thing, selling for like a dollar each. So each night along with the programs I would sell Dusty’s program, and I would get 10-percent of that through the concessionaire. First night sold maybe 60 or 70 of them, and I would settle with the concessionaire for everything at intermission, get my $6 or $7 for Dusty’s programs, and then he would give me an envelope with the rest of the cash in there to give to Dusty at the end of the night.
“The first night he thanked me for helping him out and told me just keep the programs with me and bring them back next week, and we’ll sell until they're gone. So this went on for a few weeks and about the third week in, I sold a whole bunch of them that Monday and at the end of the night, Dusty’s envelope had $169 in it . I thought how cool it would be to impress him with my accomplishment, as it was the biggest night yet and felt pretty cool. He thanked me again, and when I went to give him his money, he said, ‘No baabyy. You keep it. Thank you very much,’
“Now that was cool.”
Florida’s Alan Wojcik: “Throughout my 14 years covering professional wrestling and working live events, I’ve met legends, icons and everyday guys/girls trying to make a name for themselves. On several occasions I got to interact with The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, a/k/a/ Virgil Runnels.
“Growing up on Long Island, I knew Dusty from his work in the Crockett version of the NWA and then his transition to WWF. I kind of knew he ran the creative in NWA but not too much more. The vision of Dusty changed when I moved back to Florida in 2002, after a failed attempt at living in Nashville. Though some connections I made, I got established in the Tampa, Florida wrestling scene. Through interviews I did for my website, I learned of the legend of Dusty. How he arrived in the Florida territory a vicious heel and through a feud with Pak Song that The American Dream was born.
“I met people who attended shows at the legendary Sportatorium and Fort Hesterly Amory who spoke of turn-away crowds every week when Dusty was on top. I found out how he joined forces with Jim Crockett to create Starrcade and later on the amazing WarGames cage match. I covered a FIP show in 2003 that Dusty was part of, and through a mutual friend, I got a phone interview set up to promote his book co-written by Howard Brody. I have interviewed more than 200 people since that conversation. Dusty is still Top 5 in my all-time interview favorites.
“The stories and excitement he had for the industry were amazing. When he joined TNA in 2003-04, I would see him occasionally, and his nickname for me was Mr. Laptop, since I did the spoilers/PPV recaps for Wrestling Observer and other sites. While doing the TNA thing, Dusty would work with Coastal Championship Wrestling and other promotions. I would sit quietly in locker rooms and watch Dusty work with younger talent on character development and promo skills. No wonder he felt at home working in NXT. Wrestling lost a true icon and visionary on 6.11.15. I hope he is raising hell with his old tag team partner Dirty Dick Murdoch. Thanks Dream for making time to chat, even if it was sometimes short talk.”
Championship Wrestling from Florida alum Hector Guerrero: “He helped many and made impacts on all in the wrestling business. A great mind and talent for this business. My friend, he gave me many wonderful memories. He will surely be missed.”