Thursday, June 9, 2016

Life Without The Dream...One Year On

I was preparing to attend my first live NXT show. It was the debut of the "developmental" brand here in Pittsburgh. From another room, a friend of mine yelled, "Dusty Rhodes died!" My first thought? Nah. Can't be. It didn't even shake me. Another sick death hoax. They happen more than we realize. Why even remember them? As soon as they're debunked, we forget that they ever happened. Dusty wasn't dead. He was just at WrestleMania a couple of months ago. He looked thin, but he's been dropping weight for awhile now. I even read a Tweet where he had mentioned taking walks for exercise. "The American Dream" is fine and probably at his job at the WWE Performance Center.

It was not a hoax.

We've now had a year to accept the death of one of the most colorful and brightest stars in wrestling history. In that time we lost other wrestling icons such as Rowdy Roddy Piper and Nick Bockwinkel, not to mention many other huge names in entertainment, sports, and pop culture. The death of Dusty still hits me, personally, just a tad more. I never imagined a time when Big Dust wouldn't be part of the wrestling business. Appearing at a convention, coaching young talent, or breaking out that legendary combination of lisp and drawl for one more cameo on WWE television.

Speaking of his coaching, it may be that aspect of his career that he was most connected with at the end of his life. As the promo/interview coach at the WWE Performance Center, so many of the stars who have come through NXT and are now debuting in the WWE's "New Era" spent time under the learning tree of The Dream. That NXT show which I attended the night of his death turned out to be the first true public memorial for Dusty. Many of the young stars who he had likely coached just days earlier were on the card. Their love for him was evident only by their emotions and personal showings of respect. Their abilities to perform were in no way hindered, exactly as The Dream would have wanted it.

Since his passing, the respect for Dusty Rhodes has not waned. As I said even one year ago, I believe that the attention and remembrances following Dusty's death would have even shocked the man himself. Whether it was as an outlaw, a son of a plumber, a cowboy, or a common man, everyone had some memory of The American Dream to share. Whether you saw him wrestle live, met him, or just saw him for years and years on television, Dusty reached out to you, his hand touching your hand, just as the promo said.

The wrestling business itself continues to feel the Rhodes "bootprint." NXT has the "Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic" tournament. Wrestlers ranging from Cody Rhodes to Tommy Dreamer to Bailey to Kevin Owens have integrated tributes to the dream into their respective attires. In his last major WWE moment, Stardust paid several tributes to the original Stardust (an early moniker of Rhodes) at WrestleMania 32. A statue of The Dream was also unveiled by WWE that same weekend.

Recently departing WWE, son Cody has set his sights on tearing up the independent wrestling scene as soon as possible. Thanks to his natural in-ring gifts, this new phase in Cody's career will likely remind many of his father's time as a traveling attraction similar to Andre the Giant. Dusty's other son, Goldust, is coming up on the thirtieth anniversary of his own storied wrestling career, with no signs of slowing down. And as far as Dusty's aforementioned wrestling "kids" such as the current and former stars of NXT? I think we've been seeing his impact in many of them already.

I still miss Dusty. Along with Piper, I constantly find it hard to believe that I'll never see them pop up at a wrestling convention again. They were always around. They should still be. Unfortunately, it's the way that this life runs. That doesn't mean that we have to totally succumb to such sobering thoughts. Instead, just as I noted a year ago, we should celebrate their lives. A lifetime of memories were left. Let's put on a polka dot shirt, crack open a cold one, or maybe even a Mello Yello, and watch the greatest hits of that "Bionic Elbow."

Now that's what I call "livin' on the end of a lightnin' bolt..."

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