Dusty Rhodes Bridged the Racial Divide

06/22/2015 05:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2016

My family moved to Georgia from Vermont when I was seven, in late 1971. It was quite a culture shock as both my parents were ultra-liberal poodle kissing bed wetters.

Then, in early 1972, after several months without a TV, we got a nineteen inch black and white Curtis Mathes.

It was then that my brother and I discovered two things; Johnny Carson and Georgia Championship Wrestling, hosted by the "Dean" of wrestling announcers, the late great Gordon Solie.

Like all good pro wrestling shows, there were bad guys and good guys. The bad guys had names like Abdullah "The Butcher" and Ox Baker. The good guys had names like Tony Atlas and Dusty Rhodes "The American Dream."

At that time probably the biggest name in wrestling was Andre "The Giant," the massive Frenchman who stood over seven feet tall and weighed over four hundred pounds. But in the Deep South there was nobody more loved in the squared circle than Dusty Rhodes.

Rhodes, a great blond bear of a man, was even more entertaining as he bantered with Gordon Solie, than he was in the ring. In his banter, Rhodes was a beacon of positivity and all things good. As his nickname, "The American Dream" implied. And the small but rabidly enthusiastic studio audience gobbled Rhodes up.

It was obvious that Rhodes' act borrowed heavily from then hugely popular boxer and global icon Muhammad Ali. Like Ali, Rhodes frequently referenced his own good looks and sexual prowess. "I can make luv like James Bond!" Rhodes would croon into the microphone. Heady stuff for an eight year old.

Rhodes even had his own version of the "Ali shuffle," which he called the "Rhodes shuffle." Duh.
To further thicken the stew, I once saw Ali being interviewed by Howard Cosell, and he told Cosell that he had developed his own bombastic style of self promotion, after watching a performance by the legendary wrestler of the 1940s and 50s, "Gorgeous George."

Ali said, at nineteen he met "Gorgeous George" and George told him people pay to see someone try to "shut me up." He told Ali to "Keep talking, keep sassing" and "always be outrageous." Mission accomplished.

So, for those keeping score, Dusty Rhodes was a white country boy from Texas, imitating a black man from Kentucky, Ali, imitating a white man from Nebraska, "Gorgeous George."

If "Gorgeous George" was imitating someone, Wikipedia failed to mention it.

During the 1990s, years after Georgia Championship Wrestling had gone off the air and after Rhodes had retired, I had the honor of meeting Dusty Rhodes in person. I had just walked into the house of Atlanta comedian James Gregory, for his annual Christmas party, and, in the kitchen, wearing a baseball cap, was Dusty Rhodes. My knees almost buckled. I walked up and started blabbering about Georgia Championship Wrestling and Gordon Solie and who knows what I said.
Mr. Rhodes could not have been nicer. I wish I could remember what he said, but I was so nervous I didn't know what was going on.

I do recall that I asked about the series of vertical scars on his forehead and he explained that early in his career, he would sometimes have a pin taped to his index finger and he would intentionally scratch his own forehead, during matches, to make the blood flow. That tells you all you need to know about how tough Dusty Rhodes really was.

Dusty Rhodes the man may be gone, but "The American Dream" will never die.