Whiskey bent/glory bound: End of a Dream

Published 5:40 pm Sunday, June 14, 2015

I kind of got out of pro wrestling for a time after my twenties. There was something about Johnny Weaver, George Becker, the Great Bolos, Gene & Ole Anderson, and even Manager Col. Homer O’Dell and promoter Jim Crockett that I wanted to remain in my childhood, not be tainted by these adult years.

In college I took a weekend course in television production at WRAL-TV in Raleigh and would often peek behind the curtain at the studio set where Bob Caudle, the voice of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, would call out, “Hello wrestling fans…”  I remember waving at that grainy old black-and-white TV screen when Caudle made his trademark sign-off line, “That’ll do it for this week. We’ll see you next week, and until then, so long for now.”

No, I never lost respect for wrestling’s “showmanship”.  From O’Dell waving that wooden cane to Ric Flair hollering out a ‘Wooo”, there was always something about these guys because they knew how to rile a crowd.  Even if you had a favorite wrestler, you sometimes cheered for his opponent before realizing you were just caught up in the razzle-dazzle.

So when I heard Thursday about the passing of Virgil Runnels, Jr. – better known as Dusty Rhodes – I think a little bit of me went to heaven with him.  As Flair once told me in an interview back in Wilmington, “That’s because Dusty was so (doggone) good at what he was doing.”

He was loud, he was big and, boy, was he funny. Real funny. As he said himself in probably his most famous promotion: the “Hard Times” promo in 1985 in that lispy Southern accent, “I’m jutht a plumberth thon!” and “Whithkey bent and glory bound!” “That’th five-hundred and sixthty poundth, if you know what I’m thayin’.”

Physically, he looked and sounded like a bus driver or like those old gym teachers back at C.G. White. He knew how to play off of the glamour and prestige of a young Ric Flair or the other guys from Mid-Atlantic in the embryo days of WWF (nee WWE).  In a business as derivative as pro wrestling, Dusty’s success as a sort of an “everyman” will likely never be repeated.

When Rhodes aged out of the business of throwing his body around every night in places from arenas to cow palaces to high school gyms, he never lost a love for this sport.  He loved to work with young talent because he loved to preach about the business.  The man genuinely loved pro wrestling, both for its showmanship, and how it actually later became a business model for building a character, drawing a crowd and working a house.

Wrestling is really built by hardship. As Hulk said, “Ya gotta have lived it, brother!”

I’ll always remember those ‘shout-outs’ to Flair: “Hard times are when the textile workers around this country are out of work, they got 4 or 5 kids and can’t pay their wages, can’t buy their food. Hard times are when the auto workers are out of work and they tell ‘em to go home. Hard times are when a man has worked at a job for thirty years, thirty years, and they give him a watch, kick him in the butt and say ‘hey a computer took your place, daddy’, that’s hard times! … And I admit, I don’t look like the athlete’s supposed to look; my belly’s just a lil’ big, my heiny’s a lil’ big, but brother, I am bad. And they know I am baaaad.”

Thanks, Dusty, for the show and the memories.  There’ll never be another one like it.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.