Dustin "Goldust" Runnels talks his career, living in shadows of Dusty, battling drug problems, Cody
Interview conducted April 9th, 2013.
Did you think it was inevitable you would follow your dad into the business?
Yes, definitely. I knew at a very young age that that was my path that I’d be taking later on in life. That’s all I ever wanted to do, when I was young, was to follow in dad’s footsteps and become a pro wrestler/superstar – and it all paid off. It did very well for me.
Was it your dad who trained you?
No. You know, he didn’t really want me to get into the business. He wanted me to go to college and play football and eventually, maybe, go to the NFL. I was good at football and high school sports and things, but my grades just weren’t there and my heart was in football, but bot as much as wrestling. I wanted to wrestle and so that’s what I chose to do. He trained me as far as telling me the ins and outs, but my physical training was Mike Graham, Steve Keirn and Skandar Akbar. They trained me in the business in the first couple of years.
Did you find it difficult living in his shadow, so to speak, in your early days?
Yea, I did. There were always fights in school. People would say that wrestling was fake, crap like that. I didn’t like that and I flipped out many, many times and I got in more than a handful of fights over situations like that. When I was young, and just starting in the business, it was different. I was glad to be under his wing. The first few years passed and I started feeling that everyone’s just referring to me as Dusty’s son and that, and it’s cool, but I wanted to make a name for myself. I wanted to set some goals and create some ‘Dustin Rhodes’, without the huge shadow, or umbrella, and the huge boots that you just cannot fill, of the ‘American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes. A great opportunity came along later on in my career and Goldust took off. I took that, what Vince gave me, and ran with it. It was a golden opportunity – I didn’t know what kind of opportunity it was, but it was something that would definitely get my name completely different, on my own, I can do this – with Vince’s help – and make this the global phenomenon it is today. At a young age you don’t see that. I was happy to be in the business, happy to be Dusty Rhodes son, this is cool shit, I’m living the dream. But as you get a little bit older, it’s like “Man, I got to make a name for myself.” But now, I’m very proud of the Rhodes name. It’s come around full circle. It’s time to get back to roots of a sort. And now I’m watching Cody grow up in the same kind of situation with the Rhodes name and stuff like that, but he’s doing a fantastic job. He’s awesome. This family, we have Jedi powers! The family name is very strong in the business. I’m very proud of our name, our heritage, our legacy that we are leaving – it’s a good feeling.
During your run in WCW in the early 90’s you won the US title twice, but both times it was after the belt had been vacated, rather than winning it off Rick Rude in a feud. Were you upset by this or were you happy as a young guy to have the company put some weight behind you?
I was very happy at that stage. To be a part of the Unite States title and to be in the ring with Rick Rude – my god! – Steve Austin, Lord Steven Regal…….me and Regal have had so many good matches over the years. We’ve probably more than I’ve wrestled anybody throughout my career, me and Regal. He taught me a lot in my younger years. We were both learning, but he was so knowledgeable and such a great technical wrestler that it just feels like when you’re in the ring with him you need to be doing something, but he’s doing it for you. He’s that good, he’s that smooth, and it’s really cool to work with him today. Getting to work with Regal is awesome! He’s a class act and I love him to death. But I had fun, with the U.S. title reigns, with Rick Rude, Austin, Arn, Barry Windham and all those guys. That’s where I learnt. And Ricky Steamboat. I learned from those guys. Those were some of the greatest times I’ve had in my career.
For those fans that don’t know the circumstances behind it – what exactly led to your firing after your match with Bunkhouse Buck at Uncensored in 1995?
Well, I think it was a number of things. What was said to me was that we had a rule at that point that there was no bleeding to be involved, and if you were going to bleed you were going to get fired. Then it came to the table, and I was asked if I wouldn’t mind doing it (bleeding), and I never have, I think it’s good business. So, I made sure to call all the right people and get it okayed – it was okayed – and we did our thing and I got fired the next day for it. And this was two weeks before the actual Pay-Per View. They had time to edit it, or we could have scratched it all together or whatever. But there were some other top names coming in and things like that. I think they (WCW) were looking to find an excuse to rearrange some money, but I don’t know. I was mad at the time, I was frustrated, but I didn’t pursue it in a court of law. I have a good heart – and sometimes I don’t have the best business sense in professional wrestling – but it worked out and it came around, and Bischoff made up for it when I went back. He made up for it in a big way and I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget Eric taking good care of me. Even though the circumstances when I got released (in 1995) weren’t the best, and I didn’t see clearly why, it came back around. If you’re patient enough in the business, and you work hard and keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told, good things are going to come. They might not come when you want them but they will come to you. That’s all I can say about it really. I’m not bitter at all. I love this business, it’s what my life has been, and I will protect the wrestling industry until the day I die, you know? It’s my livelihood.
You talked about how when you started the Goldust character it was a chance to break out on your own. Did it take much persuading from Vince to get you to play a character this extreme?
It was a trial and error type of deal. I got a little direction from Vince at the beginning with his visions of the character, but he never came out and said “Dustin we want you to act gay.” He never said that. He always used the terminology of “androgynous.” To me, (it was) figuring out what that meant from the dictionary (laughs) and then trying to pull it off, but also learning how to become a heel, which was very tough because I’d been a babyface for so many years. It took me about six months, and then finally, after being persuaded by Savio Vega, to just go over the line just a little bit. I did, and it worked. I fought it at the beginning, but when I did it, it was like magic. Once it was turned on I didn’t turn it back – it was easy at that point. I went with it and created the Goldust that everybody knows.
As you said, you pushed a lot of boundaries with it, whether it was your feud with Scott Hall, or if it was with guys like Warrior, Mero, Piper or Ahmed Johnson. Was there any reluctance from any of the guys towards some of the things that you were doing with the character?
Not really. There were some issues between me and Scott Hall at the beginning in trying to get this character over, but it never led to anything. People like to blow stuff out of proportion. Me and Scott are very close friends, and are tight. We had our little disagreements back then, but shit, everything else since then…..it’s business! Everybody wants to make a better company and draw some money. They all know it’s business. It was a great, great learning experience, man.
You may, or may not, want to go too much into this, because I understand from a lot of people how sensitive it is, but you were due to wrestle Brian Pillman on the night he died. How difficult was it for the company on that day of the Pay-Per-View?
It was really difficult. The night before – I think we were in Hampton, Virginia – it was a rough night for Brian and it showed in the match. I had to protect both of us from getting hurt and things like that. He looked not there, distant, and really lost. It was sad. You show up the next day at the Pay-Per-View and he’s nowhere to be found. There are calls being made and things like that, then we get word that he had passed on, or O.D.’d, or whatever in the hotel. It hit you – we’re all family. It’s a sad thing to see one of us go. We’re so tight knit, we travel together every day. So many of our guys, our family member, are dropping like flies and it sucks! I might not agree with going on with the show and shit like that – like when Owen died, I though right then “Let’s shut this shit down and let’s mourn a little bit!” It’s a respect thing. I hated it, that they went on with the show, but that’s just my opinion. It went on and here we are.
From my own perspective as a fan back at the time, I watched both of those shows live here in the UK, and instinctively on the night with Owen I knew straight away that something was up – I didn’t know what – and the same with when they said about Brian. I thought the same, that they should have just held their hands up and said “There are things that are more important.”
Yea. I mean, stuff like this happens in everybody’s life – but we’re talking about wrestling, it has a huge fan base and people are watching us on TV. It’s a lot to swallow, it really is. It’s hard to see something like that and put that shit out of your head. Especially whoever was next after that. I can’t remember who was next after that (on the night Owen died), but for them it had to be really devastating and hard to go on. For everybody in that arena and the people that watched it, it’s like “What the fuck? Holy shit!” you can’t really explain it. It hits you like a tonne of bricks.
When you left WWF and returned to WCW it was as Seven, where you’re remembered mostly for the shoot interview and burial of several gimmicks. How much of it was a straight shoot and how much were you told to veer down a certain direction?
Well, you know, I was pulling for the Seven character. It was my creation and Vince Russo came in at the time of its debut and shut it down. He did give me the option and, for whatever reason, he kind of swayed me into “Let’s kill this gimmick.” I can’t remember why I did what I did but we killed it. I made the interview as straightforward of a shoot as possible – that I could get away with – because to see stuff with my father happen and to see stuff with my characters over the years, I just felt like saying certain things. It just happened. Nothing bad has come from it, or anything like that, it was just one of those in the moment things. I was kind of pissed off about it, but also I got a job so if you don’t want to do this Seven character, fine, let’s do this. But I’m going to make you rethink it, you know?
You mentioned Vince Russo. You had an infamous outburst towards him towards the end of your time there. What led to that pent up frustration coming out?
Let me get into this real quick. I’m in a different place in my life now, as you know. Vince Russo wrote some unbelievable character stuff for the Goldust character. He did some amazing work with me and was coming up with some sick, sick shit that I would memorise or whatever and throw it out there and it would get over. He was very creative and was very good at what he did, but me – I made the wrong decisions and choices in those years of getting frustrated and letting my frustrations get the better of me; by starting to take drugs and alcohol more and more seriously, more so than tan the business. It took control of my life – I made horrible decisions, bad decisions. They should have fired me and never hired me back. All companies! I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. They gave me chance after chance and I kept messing it up. I was not a reliable person in the person. I can work my ass off, and I’m damn good at what I do, but I was unreliable. It was probably the reason why I never got that World title shot, or WWE title shot or whatever. I went about as far as I could go in the business – drugs and alcohol took over, man. It’s nice – it’s coming up on five years that I’ve been clean and sober. It could have been very, very bad. Those last few years before I got clean and sober were tough, tough years, man. I was living in a hole and life was bad and for some reason, somehow, God intervened or whatever, and I needed to get some help. I saw that and I grabbed it. WWE has the greatest wellness program on the planet, man, and they got me right in. a lot of guys it might take once, twice, three or four times – for me, so far, it’s taken that one time. I’ve got my second chance at life – not the wrestling business – but at life. I’m just trying to grasp hold of that one day at a time and continue my life. First, it’s my health and wellbeing above any and everything – even my family. I’ve got to be good so that I can be good for my family, be good for the wrestling business, be good for acting or whatever comes my way. You know what I’m saying? It’s a one day at a time battle that I’m battling, but it’s gotten a lot easier now not having anything in my system for five years. You can tell the difference. I feel good about myself, I’m in the best shape of my career – unfortunately I’m almost forty four years old – and it’s a little late, but that’s ok. The past is history, tomorrow’s a mystery! Today is what I have. If Vince calls me today, I’ll be back!
I’ll jump forward to a question that I have and then I’ll jump back. You talk about the shape you’re in now and people have seen that. Even as far back as the Rumble in 2009 when you appeared and had a stare down with Cody, the fans were dying to see the two of you face off. Even this year again (at the Rumble) the fans reacted big but the match has never happened. Do you hope it will still happen in WWE down the line?
I always hope that, because the Royal Rumble this year was very special to me. It’s probably the best moment I’ve had in my career. A very close second would be the Roddy Piper “Backlot Brawl”. To get that reaction – I had no idea I was going to receive that kind of welcome back, being a surprise or whatever – but it was like “Holy shit!” To get in there and we get a little piece of each other it kind of set the stage, but it could be my path. All I can do is keep trying. I’ve tried for two years now – last year’s WrestleMania and this one – to get this match. The interest is definitely there as far as the fans are concerned. I don’t know how many fans want to see it. I know my fans on Twitter and things like that want to see it. I don’t know why Vince doesn’t think that that would be good for the company and good for business. It’s a story driven angle. It’s not a main event match, it’s a story driven fight between brothers. People always like to see that, to me personally, it’s my opinion. They haven’t had too many good, brother matches. You’ve had Owen and Bret, you’ve had the Hardy Boyz. For whatever reason it just hasn’t happened. We’ll give it one more year before I give up on it happening or not happening. Right now, I’m making a push for SummerSlam since it’s in L.A. – why not have a “Backlot Brawl II”, the second “Backlot Brawl” ever, with Cody? I think there’s some interest there. For whatever reason, Vince doesn’t see money in it. I can’t get into his head and see what he’s thinking.
It might be a case, almost, of him needing to be persuaded that it’s his idea, if you know what I mean?
Yea, and you know, I’ve never been the politics type of guy – the ass kissing type of person. I let my work run my life for me, you know what I’m saying? I do good stuff in the ring and I work hard and have had a good, long career. But I mean, shit, let’s do this or not. Just tell me straight up again, just one more time, and then I’ll ask again “Why not Vince? Let’s do this! I think it’s money.” Especially when you have so many people that people are paying to see anyway, it’s just an added story driven angle which is interesting. It’s like a soap opera that we watch on TV. That’s what WWE is! But there is actual interest in this storyline and it has been building, so it’s good that we have some stuff that we can work back on. I just hope they take advantage of it soon!
You’re fondly remembered for you tag team with Booker T. How much fun was that?
That was probably the funnest time of my career! There were some fun times, man. It was supposed to be a one-time deal. They came to me, and I guess Booker knew – or didn’t! – but they wanted it as a one-time thing to promote Rock’s Scorpion King movie: Goldust and Booker T at the movies, kind of like Siskel and Ebert. We did it, they liked it – we liked it, it was cool. They liked it so much that they brought us back and wanted to do something the following week. It was like “The Odd Couple”, man, we were two completely opposite people. You have the freak and you have the ass kicking Booker T. Our chemistry clicked, it was unreal. We could just look at each other and know what the other one was going to say and when to shut up or when to say something and ad-lib, it was really easy. What would take some tag teams ten or twenty tries to get something right, we would do it immediately the first take – bam, we got it! Then we would do another one just for shits and giggles, to get a second one in the can. Most of the time we did our stuff live. It was good, I loved it. Every single vignette we did backstage and our tag team title reign and all that stuff was black gold man! (laughs)
It was very over with the fans – why did they split the team up?
Well, as they do with so many teams, they were going in a different direction with Booker. They were pushing him for the title and stuff like that. It’s cool, whatever – it sucks! But you can’t look back on it and say “Fuck them! Why did they do this?” because that’s no good. It doesn’t help anybody or the business. I see things so much differently now, in the business, from being behind the stage and being a producer for a year and a half – what all goes on and so many guys don’t really realise. It’s changed. I know the business and you can’t fight it – you either have to grow with it or get the hell out! (laughs)
Linked to that, what advice would you have for anyone getting into the business now?
First off, if anyone wants to get into business – which I get probably about one hundred times a day on Twitter, people asking me how do you get into the business, how do you go about doing it? You listen to the guy and tell them they’re only about fifteen or sixteen and I tell them to first graduate high school, then go to college and get a degree, something to back yourself up on. If you’re in the United States you go to NXT and WWE developmental, and you learn from the best there. You do your job, you have patience, you work your ass off, you keep your mouth shut – you learn everything that you can from your trainers! If you have suggestions, don’t keep them in. Give as many suggestions but also learn to take criticism really well. Keep your nose clean and out of drugs and alcohol and shit like that that will ruin your life. Work your ass off, a lot like Sheamus did. He was one of those people that kept his nose clean and his mouth shut and wanted to learn and asked the right people and had the patience. Those little group of things will make you a success story. It might not happen right away, but you have to have that patience. That’s where it comes in. You could be in developmental for six, seven years before you’re brought up to the main roster, but if you’re there that long you’re not doing something right! It you’re working your ass off and you have what it takes they’re going to see that. You just need to keep a good level head and not get cocky and not think that the world owes you something, that Vince owes you something. He doesn’t! Nobody does! I don’t know about the (wrestling) schools over there in the UK, but you get a chance whenever WWE is in town for the TV’s and stuff, in London, Birmingham, Manchester or wherever, you have to show up if you’re a young talent and get your tryout in during TV day with Fit Finlay and Arn Anderson and Jamie Noble. Vince is always watching, always looking for talent all over the world.
I remember being at an independent show here in Ireland which had Sheamus on it, it had Drew McIntrye on it and it also had Pac who’s now in NXT (Adrian Neville). It was interesting to see that a few months after that they turned up as “security” during a skit at a SmackDown taping in London. You could see that they had made that conscious decision to say “If we want to do this, we have to put ourselves forward.”
You have to. You can’t sit there and………..ok, you get these six or seven, or ten, guys from the UK when we were there, or even in the US, who come to do a tryout and some of them are sitting around waiting for someone to tell them what to do or something like that. Be the first motherfucker in the ring! Be the first son of a bitch in the ring! Show me that you want a job. You know what I’m saying? Show Vince you want to work for this company. Step out above and beyond and just do it. It’s one day or two days that we’re there, you know what I’m saying! If they like what they see they’ll call you, if not, come back the next time! Keep trying and keep talking to the right people, the right bosses and things like that. Stuff happens, then once you get that chance you have to be focussed that this is the job for you and don’t let anybody stand in your way.
I’ve spoken to Jim Cornette a couple of times, and I think it was him who was saying that he would always have encouraged the guys in developmental when it came to promo day to be one of the first three or four to do your promos, rather than sit back so that a) it was seen but b) you were seen to be enthusiastic and wanting to put yourself forward.
Yea. I know that Jim’s right, too. Promos are so important – and here’s a little thing. Hunter (HHH) has just invested all this money into the new NXT training facility in Orlando, Florida. It is a state of the art, multi-million dollar facility. You can walk in, an NXT trainee or talent, to a room, push a button, practise a promo and it takes it for you – this is how hi-tech it is – and sends it straight back to Stamford. You can watch it back and try another one – all you have to do is push a button in this room! Wow! We never had that. Times have changed. Things are a little more scripted, and you do get a little more leeway when you’re a top guy and things, but Vince isn’t going to put a mic in your hand if you’re not ready. He will not do that. You have to know how to talk before you get the chance to talk, and that’s what practise is for.
You’ve been involved as a producer backstage, and you’ve seen how things run in a promotion with Turnbuckle (Championship Wrestling). Would you ever consider getting more involved in the promotion side of things again?
No, that wasn’t for me. I am a hands on type of person. I’m not a sit in a room and hand out storylines and bullshit. I let the writers and stuff come up with that. If I have an idea about my character, though, I’m going to take it to Vince McMahon. I’m not going to take it to a writer; I’m going to take it straight to the horse’s mouth not the horse’s ass! I’m going to take it to either Stephanie, Hunter or Vince. The writers are there, and they put together some great storylines, and they do their job – but everything goes through Vince. He either signs off on it or doesn’t. That’s true for the young talent – if you have an idea, and you do have that chance to be a part of WWE, you take it to Vince. That’s my opinion, it’s what I would do. Remember that if you’re a young talent. If you give it to a writer it might not ever get to Vince, or make it to the table at all. It might get shuffled under a rug and you can say to yourself “Oh, but I gave it to the writers!” Bullshit! You have to keep going and keep recreating yourself, keep yourself fresh and new and keeping yourself in everybody’s view – especially the ones who count!
What do you think the future holds for you in the short term?
Right now I’m transitioning, and I’m trying my hardest to get involved in acting and film work. I think I have a lot to offer with twenty five years of promo work and entertainment and acting as the Goldust character and some goofball characters, and things like that. It is a passion of mine and I’m going to give it a good run. I just finished my first movie with Diamond Dallas Page, called “The murders of Brandywine Theater”, which Mark Ordesky executive produced – he did all the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m going to shoot my second one in May. Stuff’s starting to happen for me – it’s just as hard, if not harder, than the wrestling business. It’s new for me, and they do things differently, but a lot of the thing I’ve learned from the wrestling industry is helping. It’s fun. I mean, how many more years can I beat up my body? I want to stay in good shape stay healthy, and if every once in a while Vince needs me……WWE is home for me. Not TNA, not any other wrestling organisation. WWE is what is putting my daughter through college and things like that. I will always be there for them if they need me.
Do you have any final words for the fans and ways they can keep up to date with what you’re up to?
Well, I know at the end of this month I’ll be at Wales Comic Con, for all the geeks over there! (laughs) That’s the 28th of April. And then PCW in the UK, I’ll be there at the end of this month and then again on June 1st. Twice in two months, so come see me! If you ever want to get my book it’s on my website. You can get it from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, but you can also get it from dustinrhodes.lockerdome.com.