WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes, aka 'The American Dream,' dies at 69
Dusty Rhodes, one of professional wrestling's legendary characters, died on Thursday at the age of 69, the WWE announced.
The company said Runnels died Thursday, but a spokesman declined to say where or how he passed away, saying the family had not authorized the release of that information.
Rhodes, real name Virgil Runnels, was a WWE Hall of Famer, a three-time NWA Champion and one of most entertaining performers in the game.
He became famous during the height of wrestling's popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, appearing in signature yellow polka dot tights with his sidekick "valet" Sapphire.
In a statement, WWE offered condolences to Runnels family, calling him "a caring husband and a creative visionary who helped shape the landscape of WWE long after his in-ring career had ended."
Runnels remained a fixture with WWE after retiring from the ring and was working at WWE's Performance Center in Orlando, Florida.
Throughout his several decades in the ring, the Austin, Texas, native endeared himself to fans as an everyman with a less than stellar physique, but a gregarious gift of gab behind a microphone.
Runnels was also the father of two other famous WWE wrestlers: Dustin Runnels, better known as Goldust, and Cody Runnels, who wrestles under the name Stardust.
Jim Ross, a longtime WWE broadcaster, worked alongside Runnels for several years after his in-ring career had ended. He spoke slowly Thursday afternoon in a phone interview as he described being "heartbroken" about losing what he said was "a broadcast partner, colleague and mentor."
"He was arguably the most charismatic performer of all time," Ross said. "His amazing unique verbal styling will never be duplicated or exceeded. He was exactly what he portrayed on TV: A blue-collar, common man, who rose from being son of farmer to being a part of American pop culture, whose memory will live forever. Therefore, for many he was truly the American dream."
WWE executive Triple H also expressed his condolences on Twitter:
Several other past and present WWE wrestlers and personalities took to social media to express their thoughts:
RIP MY BROTHER DUSTY RHODES. GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY FOREVER #RIPDUSTY— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) June 11, 2015
My children just called with the news that @WWEDustyRhodes had passed away. I'm crushed. He was a one-of-a-kind talent with an amazing mind.— Mick Foley (@realmickfoley) June 11, 2015
I am absolutely devastated to hear about the passing of my long time friend Dusty Rhodes. One of the best ever. GO pic.twitter.com/e0BolBDNZj— Gene Okerlund (@TheGeneOkerlund) June 11, 2015
"I've wined and dined with kings and queens... And I've slept in alleys and ate pork and beans!" ❤️ pic.twitter.com/VKnSXU2Qpl— Charlotte (@MsCharlotteWWE) June 11, 2015
The Associated Press contributed to this report.