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USA Insider American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes

Dusty Rhodes Career Explained: Everything To Know About Cody Rhodes' Dad The American Dream

The American Nightmare, Cody Rhodes, was born of The American Dream — one of WWE's most legendary figures, Dusty Rhodes. 

By Tyler McCarthy
Dusty Rhodes puts his arm in the air during a match

As the trailer for the upcoming WWE documentary American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes makes clear, the current Superstar’s life and career are inextricably linked to his legendary father, Dusty Rhodes. 

As most WWE fans know, Cody got his start thanks to his dad but also struggled to exist outside of his very large shadow. While longtime wrestling fanatics may be very familiar with Dusty’s life and career, many may be curious about the impossibly charismatic figure ahead of his son’s story being told in the Peacock original documentary. 

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So, to help those who need to know more or simply want a refresher on the storied life and times of Dusty Rhodes, below are the broad strokes of what you need to know. 

Dusty Rhodes Early Career

Born Virgil Riley Runnels Jr. in Austin, Texas in 1945, he got his start as an athlete playing baseball and football. Eventually, Dusty found his way to professional wrestling in the National Wrestling Alliance and Jim Crockett Promotions (later known as WCW). That’s how he spent the 70s and early 80s. By the late 80s, he’d made his way to the WWE where, according to his bio, he quickly made a name for himself battling classic Superstars like The Million Dollar Man and “Macho King” Randy Savage.” 

Although he would be the first to admit that he didn’t have the typical physique of a WWE Superstar, his in-ring prowess was still on par with the greats of his day. However, what really set Dusty Rhodes apart from his competition was his skill on the microphone. As the above clip shows, he combined the smoothness of a soul singer with the passion of a preacher to depict an everyman persona that was second to none. 

In fact, one of his most famous lines was, “I have wined and dined with kings and queens, and I’ve slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans.” In other words, Dusty Rhodes depicted himself as a man who had crawled up from the dirt without permission to live a life of luxury and success. The embodiment of his moniker — The American Dream.

Although he held many, many championships throughout his career, he never got the WWE Championship. However, some would argue he deserved it.

Dusty Rhodes, Sharlto Copley and Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson attend WWE Monday Night Raw

In 1977, Rhodes took on the Superstar Billy Graham at WrestleMania for the title belt in front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden. The match ended with Graham getting counted out after Dusty tossed him out of the ring. This won Dusty the match, but the rules state the championship can’t change hands as a result of a ring-out. It was the closest Dusty ever got to the Championship and, although he never held the belt, the case could be made that he certainly won it. 

Dusty Rhodes' Personal Life

Dusty had two wives with whom he shared four kids, Teil Runnels, Kristin Runnels Ditto, Dustin Rhodes and, of course, The American Nightmare, Cody Rhodes. After he was inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame in 1995, Dusty used the opportunity to retire from in-ring performances. Fortunately for the wrestling community, he was far from done. 

At that time, Rhodes was honest about the fact that the bankroll he built during his days as The American Dream had dwindled. By the early 2000s, he’d lost most of his fortune and was struggling to pay the bills. Eventually, that brought him back to WWE in 2005 where he became a part of the creative team. His son Dustin had a career as Gold Dust already, but this also allowed Dusty to get Cody in the ring as well. 

Later WWE Career of Dusty Rhodes

Dusty Rhodes Career3

Two years after signing on as a part of the behind-the-scenes WWE team, Cody and Dustin inducted their dad into the WWE Hall of Fame where he will forever be enshrined in the history of sports entertainment. However, his contributions to the franchise still didn’t end there. Dusty spend the last years of his life working with the next generation of Superstars through WWE’s NXT brand, where he worked as a creative director and trainer, helping youngsters craft their in-ring personas and skills the way only a legend on the mic like him could. 

Dusty Rhodes’ Legacy

Sadly, Dusty Rhodes died of kidney failure at age 69 in 2015, leaving behind a family that loved him and a collection of NXT Superstars who thought of themselves as his kids as well. Thanks to everything he taught world-class Superstars like Becky Lynch, Seth Rollins, Saraya, Mercedes Mone, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens and more, Dusty’s imprint on sports entertainment is sure to continue for years to come while they use what he taught them to further electrify the game. 

Meanwhile, his actual kid, Cody, is a huge fan-favorite to capture the title that his dad couldn't get, WWE Champion. Like the NXT gang, he’ll do it using every ounce of what his father taught him right up until his final days. 

Speaking to People, Cody revealed that the upcoming documentary about him uses footage his dad recorded a mere two weeks before he passed away. In it, he discusses how talented he thinks his son is and urged WWE to recognize it at a time when Cody felt his career was stagnating. 

"He always had my back," Cody told the outlet sharing a sentiment that’s likely felt by countless others in the wrestling business.

Catch the premiere of WWE American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes on Peacock on July 31.