Virgil Runnels, better known as WWE legend Dusty Rhodes, died on Thursday at the age of 69. The cause of death was not immediately available.
“WWE extends its sincerest condolences to Runnels’ family, friends and colleagues,” the pro wrestling promotion said in a statement on Thursday.
Runnels, who was working with the company as a creative consultant at the time of his death, last wrestled with the promotion in 2007 when he lost to Randy Orton at the Great America Bash. However, he’s been in several story lines since then, including one earlier this year with his real-life sons, Cody Runnels and Dustin Runnels, who wrestle under the names Cody Rhodes/Stardust and Goldust, respectively.
Runnels began his pro wrestling career in the 1970s when he performed in various pro wrestling leagues around the country, but he reached peak fame after taking on the persona of Dusty Rhodes, aka the “American Dream.”
“When I became ‘The American Dream’ they needed a hero down here,” he said. “I had no money. I couldn’t buy a car without being tied under but I had to have a Cadillac with blue stars on the hood no matter what it cost because just driving in it will set how they look at me and perceive this guy, they’ll know.”
By 1989, Rhodes was practically a household name. That’s when he signed with WWE (then known as WWF) and began wearing his famous yellow and black polka-dot ensemble.
Runnels’s larger-than-life presence, zealous promotions and rampant blading, which often left him covered in blood in the ring before WWE decided to rebrand itself as PG, made him a fan favorite and on March 31, 2007, Runnels was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by his two wrestling sons.
On Thursday, the pro wrestling community took to social media to remember one of the best and express their condolences to Runnels’ friends and family.