Dusty Rhodes, one of professional wrestling's most iconic stars, died Thursday at the age of 69.
Rhodes, whose real name was Virgil Riley Runnels Jr., was better known to millions of wrestling fans worldwide as “The American Dream.”
Rhodes reportedly suffered a fall at his home in Marietta, Ga., early Wednesday. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he passed away Thursday morning.
TMZ reported that Rhodes, who had lost considerable weight over the past couple of years, had been meeting regularly with a doctor about improving his health.
“He was an American hero. He gave us The Dream,” said 16-time world champion Ric Flair, one of Rhodes' most famous ring rivals.
“Thank God I had just seen him Tuesday,” Flair said Thursday night from Cleveland where he was attending Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
“Dusty was mad that I was getting to go to the game,” laughed Flair, a friend and supporter of LeBron James. “We always went at it with that type of stuff. He was a Celtic. I was a Laker. It was stuff we did for years.”
The Austin, Texas, native was one of the most popular performers and top drawing cards in the business during the '70s and '80s. He had worked in recent years at the WWE Performance Center in Florida where he oversaw the training of aspiring WWE talent.
WWE called Rhodes “a visionary who helped shape the landscape of WWE long after his in-ring career had ended.”
”Saddened to hear of the passing of Dusty Rhodes,” WWE executive Triple H (Paul Levesque) announced on Twitter. “Legend, teacher, mentor, friend. Love you, Dream.”
WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Brisco, who had known Rhodes since the mid-'60s, said Thursday night that he valued Rhodes' friendship and companionship over the years.
“He was a confidant and a true friend. I'll love him and miss him forever.”
Brisco had last visited with Rhodes a week ago.
“I posted a photo of me and Dusty on Facebook and Twitter. We didn't have a picture together, and he took out his phone and took the picture and sent it to me. It was likely the last selfie Dusty took. I walked him out to his truck and said goodbye and told him I'd meet him down the road. It was two hours of nothing but fun and pleasant conversation. That's what I'll always remember.”
Longtime wrestling broadcaster Jim Ross called Rhodes “arguably the most charismatic performer of all time.”
“His amazing unique verbal styling will never be duplicated or exceeded," said Ross. "He was exactly what he portrayed on TV: a blue-collar, common man, who rose from being son of a plumber to being a part of American pop culture, whose memory will live forever. Therefore, for many he was truly the American dream.”
Rhodes, a three-time NWA world heavyweight champion and WWE Hall of Famer, had two sons, Dustin Runnels (Goldust) and Cody Runnels (Stardust), who work for WWE.