The Miami News – March 18, 1977
By Bill Brubaker
TAMPA – Tuesday evening, two hours before all the fun begins at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.
Dusty Rhodes is laying back on his four-acre spread in Lutz, a small farming community north of town.
Soon, Dusty will be winning the hearts of 4,000 professional wrestling fans at the big-city Armory. But that’s a world away.
At the moment, Dusty Rhodes is off stage. He is home on his ranch, away from his admiring public. He is under no pressure to be “The Great American Dream.”
These private moments are rare for Dusty Rhodes, the most flamboyant of pro wrestling’s bleached-blonde, latter-day Gorgeous Georges.
Rhodes has showboated his way to becoming one of the most recognizable celebrities in the southeastern United States.
He reportedly earns between $150,000 and $200,000 to subdue (and be subdued by) “villains” like Ox Baker, Terry Funk and Superstar Billy Graham.
On Miami Beach, Rhodes has earned more than $4,000 (about 25 per cent of the gate receipts) for a single Wednesday night performance, according to promoter Chris Dundee.
He is in demand throughout the nation – he performed for the first time in Madison Square Garden last week – which proves that P.T. Barnum had the right idea.
Dusty Rhodes fans are probably being born every minute.
“I don’t believe there’s anybody in this state who doesn’t know who I be, who can’t recognize me,” Dusty says. “I am the most recognized professional athlete in the state. There’s nobody who’s more recognized than me. Even Csonka wasn’t as recognized when he was here. I’m a star. I’m the biggest star in wrestling. People see me on television, they hear me, and get personally involved in me. People feel like they know me, brother.”
Actually, little is known about the private Dusty Rhodes.
Is he really “The American Dream?”
Is he as bizarre as he appears to be? Is he as obnoxious as he appears to be?
Rhodes rarely allows anyone a peek behind his façade. He is building a fortune, and damned if anyone’s going to mess with his image.
Dusty doesn’t like talking to reporters. In the past two months, he has refused (or avoided) interviews at least a half dozen times.
Dusty Rhodes’ Image Is His Fortune
“Getting an audience with the Pope might be easier,” says Jerry Prater, a long-time friend of Dusty’s who publishes a weekly wrestling program. “Dusty isn’t a conceited SOB. It’s just that he’s always been kind of a disorganized, happy-go-lucky guy. He has not accepted the responsibility to the public and to the media that goes with fame.”
When he does talk publicly, Rhodes is usually “on stage,” boasting about how he’s going to “murder,” in a manner of speaking, this villain or that villain.
But, alas, on this Tuesday evening, Dusty Rhodes seems to be genuine. Or as genuine as Dusty Rhodes can be.
Rhodes has consented to an interview. He is excited, too. Not about the interview, of course, or the wrestling match he faces in a few hours – about a bull.
“Baby, I went up to the other side of Lakeland today and bought me a registered Santa Gertudis bull,” Rhodes says. “He’s a beautiful bull. I’m gonna raise him and show him, I think.”
He lives in a two-story, 10-room house with a woman named Dawn.
“I enjoy my lady more than any person,” Dusty says. “I look forward to being home because she’s my lifeline. She’s a fan of mine, a backer of mine. She gives me the moral support. If I just have a short time to spend at home, I’ll sit here and rap with her about what’s been going on.”
Dusty says he is 28, divorced and the father of two children, Dustin, 7, and Kristin, 4. The children live with their mother in Texas, Dusty’s home state. Will Dustin grow up to become a wrestler? “He can choose for himself,” his father says.
The American Dream’s real name is Virgil Reynolds and the true color of his hair is sandy brown.
“Years ago, I had my hair real short,” Dusty says. “About eight years ago, when everybody in California was putting blonde streaks in their hair, I dyed it. The first time, the son of a bitch turned orange.”
Off stage, Rhodes talks more like a businessman than a wrestler or entertainer.
“Wrestling is big business. It is money,” says Rhodes. “You don’t think I’d have 360 stitches in my head if it wasn’t.
“I used to own a lot more land back in Texas. I had 650 acres and 60 head of cattle, too. But, two years ago, I got my divorce and lost it all. So I’ve started back up here in Lutz. I’m getting ready to buy 1,200 acres outside of Lutz here and raise me some Santa Gertudises. I’ve already got my bull-doggin’ rodeo horses and an arena built here at a place. Dawn, my old lady, has 13 dogs here… chows and a couple of Yorkshire terriers. One of the chows just had six puppies, black and red. We like the dogs.”
Rhodes admits that his demanding travel schedule was partly responsible for the failure of his marriage. But his schedule has not let up.
Now, he does the Florida tour – usually, Orlando, Tampa, Miami Beach, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale on consecutive nights. Many weekends, he wrestles in other states. To lure Rhodes, out-of-state promoters must pay his expenses and guarantee him a percentage of their gate receipts.
“I was in Greensboro (N.C.) and Houston this past weekend,” Dusty says. “There were 15,000 people to watch me in Greensboro and 10,000 in Houston. You can make a lot of money in this business if you’re as good as I am. I’ve told stories about how I never had money as a kid, about how my father was a plumber and how I had to go to work at 8. Those stories are true. That’s why I always had a goal, to make something better of myself. If you pick a goal, you’re only half a man if you go back on it, you know what I mean?
“Mostly, I love kids. I always have a lot of time for them. See, when I was growing up, Mickey Mantle was a big hero of mine. But when I finally got to meet him a couple of years ago in Miami, he was really kind of a (bleep). So I decided that I didn’t want to get like that. The kids are crazy about me. I get tired of some of the parents, who are obnoxious, but I always have time for the kids.”
In reality, Rhodes can’t have time for everybody, of course.
After matches, he may sign a few autographs and exchange a few smiles, but he will soon disappear into a dressing room that is usually guarded closely by police.
At airports, he is given celebrity treatment, lest he be mobbed by autograph seekers.
“It’s become a big hassle at some airports,” Rhodes says. “Houston is getting pretty bad now. The Delta people in Atlanta let me get on the planes early so I can avoid the hassles. They handle me just like they’d handle Presley. Or any other star.”
At restaurants, forget it, brother. Rhodes can barely finish off a Lite beer – his favorite alcoholic beverage – without being begged to sign a napkin. “People don’t understand,” complains Rhodes. “If I ask them to wait until I finish eating, they call me an ass.”
In Lutz, Dusty Rhodes doesn’t face those hassles.
“I mess with my horses, I rodeo as a hobby, and sit around and listen to music, country music,” Dusty says. “I have found a good woman and those are few and far between. I’ve got two beautiful children and they come to visit us here. I miss them, though. I lay in a motel room alone at night and say, ‘well, what the hell am I doing here?’ But when there are 20,000 people in Atlanta out there waiting for me and I come out and there’s a spotlight on me and I walk out and, brother, you can’t even hear yourself, hey, that’s a natural high.”
The money isn’t bad, either.