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Dusty Rhodes, “The American Dream” who earned enshrinement in both the NWA and WWE Hall of Fames, won titles all over the world, a creative visionary who created NWA/WCW’s greatest match in War Games and became one of the true backbones of Southern professional wrestling died early Thursday morning. He was 69.

The WWE has issued a statement on Rhodes passing:

WWE is deeply saddened that Virgil Runnels, aka “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes — WWE Hall of Famer, three-time NWA Champion and one of the most captivating and charismatic figures in sports entertainment history — passed away today at the age of 69.

Runnels became a hero to fans around the world thanks to his work ethic, his impassioned interviews and his indomitable spirit. Moreover, Runnels was a dedicated father to WWE Superstars Goldust (Dustin Runnels) and Stardust (Cody Runnels), a caring husband and a creative visionary who helped shape the landscape of WWE long after his in-ring career had ended.

WWE extends its sincerest condolences to Runnels’ family, friends and colleagues.

There’s no tribute I could offer greater to the Rhodes family and to that of Dusty’s legacy than his 1985 “Hard Times” promo. Rhodes, a rotund man at 6’2″ and 287 pounds did not have the physical gifts of an Adonis, or Hulk Hogan. Rhodes delivered with uniqueness & personality, a Texan who bled for the industry and became a fan favorite due to his common man look and appeal.

The self-proclaimed “son of a plumber,” Rhodes’ time as a headliner in professional wrestling stretched two decades with his peak coming in the mid-1980s as an adversary of Ric Flair & The Four Horsemen. An innovator behind the scenes as well, Rhodes is credited with the “Dusty Finish,” a move that would keep a heel champion with a title even if he happened to lose the match.

As a teacher, Dusty Rhodes helped craft many a wrestler’s style in the ring in order to captivate an audience. He didn’t look the part of a trainer but after four decades in the business both from a business standpoint and a physical one, Rhodes became one of the wise sages in any company he appeared in.

Rhodes, born Virgil Runnels on November 12, 1945 in Austin, Texas was a three-time NWA Heavyweight Champion. His proudest moment as a father came in 2014 when he watched his sons, Dustin Runnels (Goldust) and Cody Runnels (Stardust) win the WWE Tag Team Championship.

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