Living life in the shadow of a giant is no way to live. Dustin Rhodes—the artist also known as Goldust—could once relate.
Back in 1994, despite standing at a towering 6'6", Rhodes was engulfed by the shadow of his father, the legendary Dusty Rhodes. While he loved, respected, and admired the man who helped bring into the world, a desire—an anger—cut through his heart. Regardless of whether Rhodes opened his eyes in the morning or closed them at night, he was endlessly haunted by the thought that he would never be known for anything besides the name his father made famous.
With the help of Vince McMahon, Rhodes created Goldust, ushering in a complicated but memorable stretch of WWE’s “Attitude Era.” Just as importantly, while he may not have initially received his father’s approval, Rhodes certainly grabbed hold of his father’s attention.
“I wanted to do something outside of the Rhodes name,” said Rhodes. “It was my time to try something new and really make a name for myself.”
Rhodes remembers vividly the response of his family when he debuted the Goldust character, wearing a long gold wig, at “In Your House 4” in 1995.
“Dad was sitting on his couch, and my brother Cody, who was only a kid at the time, was down on the floor playing with his action figures,” recalled Rhodes. “The music hit, I came out, and Cody turned to Dad, who had this deer-in-the-headlights look, thinking, ‘What the hell is my son doing?’
“I got his attention that night, and I got the world’s attention.”
Twenty-four years later, Rhodes is still turning heads. He is also building contacts in film, which is next goal, and will appear this Friday and Saturday at the Astronomicon pop culture convention Sterling Heights, Michigan, just outside Detroit.
“I’ve been slapping hands on the way to the ring for the past 30 years, so this is a chance for me to be more personal with the people who have supported me,” said Rhodes. “This is my way of giving back, shaking hands and sharing stories. This is my way of saying thank you, and it means the world to me.
“People have come up and told me they were WCW fans from the early ’90s, or they were watching my work in FCW when I first started in the late ’80s, and they’ll spit out a match of mine that they still remember. I stand there in awe, shocked that someone still remembers. I have some really super fans out there that are really into what I do, and have been for the past 30 years, and that’s very special to me.”
The 49-year-old Rhodes, who is recovering from double knee surgery, first appeared on WWE programming in October of 1990 during a Saturday Night’s Main Event that ignited a feud between “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and Dusty Rhodes.
“The night we started that angle, we were in Toledo, Ohio, and DiBiase was buying all the front row seats, giving $100 bills for everyone to move away so he could take their seats.”
The storyline saw Rhodes refuse to give up his seat, as he was in the crowd to watch his father wrestle “Macho King” Randy Savage, and he was subsequently attacked by DiBiase.
“Older wrestling fans will remember they had those old wooden folding chairs, not the metal ones, and DiBiase swung one at my head like a dart, like he was stabbing me,” said Rhodes. “He hit me in the head and split me right open, which is what we call a ‘hard way’ in this business, and the moment was electric. The crowd erupted, Dad came over to protect me, and the blood was rushing down my face. I remember DiBiase apologizing before I went to the hospital to get stitched up, but I told him I was so happy that I didn’t even want to wash off the blood. That led to some tag matches with my father, which were indescribable. Every one we did was more special than the last.”
Dusty Rhodes exited WWE only a few months later following a Royal Rumble tag match between himself and Dustin against DiBiase and Virgil.
“Dad decided it was time to leave and start a new company in Florida, and I wanted to go with him,” said Rhodes. “So I asked Vince McMahon if he would also allow me to leave, and Vince gave me that option.
“I didn’t know this until years later, but Vince told my Dad, ‘I’m going to bring your son back one day and he’s going to be a star.’
Over the past 24 years, there have been multiple variations of the Goldust character, each highlighting a different part of Rhodes’ mind, sense of humor, and dramatic flair. But the one unmistakable part of his tenure in gold is that McMahon was correct: Rhodes become a genuine star.
“I’ve kept evolving the character,” said Rhodes. “At first you hated Goldust with a passion, then you laughed with him. You loved him, you hated him again, and 24 years later, I can try to be the meanest, dirtiest heel in the business, but people are still going to love me. And I love them, too.
“The landscape for professional wrestling has changed, and there are very few that can go out there and get good heat anymore. And it would be no good for me to try that, as people have grown to accept and love Goldust.”
Ultimately, Rhodes found success in wrestling, even under the face paint of Goldust, only once he finally embraced himself.
“I am Dusty’s son, but I learned the hard way I was never going to be ‘The American Dream,’” said Rhodes. “That was difficult for me, and I made some molehills into mountains. Before Dad passed, we talked so much about the Goldust character, what it grew into, and how much he was proud of it. And he talked a lot about how proud he was of Cody and my sisters, too.
“I get teary-eyed just thinking about it, but I’m honored to be in this family. So it’s important that Cody and myself do everything we can to leave our lasting impression in this business. I’ve done that, and now Cody is on his own and doing exactly that.”
The Dustin Rhodes story is raw, real, and emotional. He even overcame a battle with addiction to return to the ring, which remains his first true love.
“This business is my passion,” said Rhodes. “I came out of my mother’s womb wanting to be a professional wrestler. But then notoriety and stardom happened, and I started getting cocky. Drugs and alcohol started to consume me. That tore me up in a downward spiral. I chose to go down a very dark place, and I can’t change that, but those moments have served as an education for me.”
As for his current health, Rhodes reported that his surgery went well. He has hit the tail end of his recovery with some stem cell injections, and is doing everything possible to strengthen his knees.
“Hopefully I can be back wrestling within the next couple weeks,” said Rhodes. “What that holds for me, I have no idea. There are no plans for me that I know of, so I’ll just take it day by day.”
In addition to focusing on his acting career, Rhodes will be closely watching Cody’s new All Elite Wrestling.
“Me and Cody talk a lot, and I was on a movie set for a horror film that I’m doing, and we were texting about that AEW rally in Jacksonville,” said Rhodes. “The pyro alone was spectacular. They’re doing it really professionally, from the heads of the company to their big talent to the newer stars. I’m very curious to see what Cody and the Young Bucks can do with All Elite Wrestling.”
Rhodes—who noted that the highlight of his career was the tag team victory for Cody and Dustin, with their father in the corner, against The Shield at WWE’s Battleground pay per view in 2013—explained that success for AEW will be healthy for the entire business, especially WWE.
“I hope this really takes storm and becomes something formidable,” said Rhodes. “You need places to go and work, competition is great and it is the best thing that can happen for WWE.
“I am very proud of Cody, and I know Dad would be so proud and happy for Cody. He has a great mind for the business, he’s done so much already, but he’s paid attention and learned from mistakes. He’s fought for what he has, and his work in AEW will show that.”
The future remains unwritten for Rhodes. While wrestling fans would certainly enjoy a return of “The Golden Era” to WWE programming, Rhodes is looking forward to meeting his fans this weekend at Astronomicon in Michigan.
“It’s important to give back,” said Rhodes. “There would be no Goldust without the fans. They’ve made my career. I’m going to do a lot of these this year, plus continue my acting career, and we’ll see what wrestling has in store for me in WWE. I am really looking forward to saying thank you to everyone I meet at Astronomicon.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.