Welcome to what I hope will be a regular feature on the lives and careers of the wrestlers that have made an impact on me since the 1990’s. And what better way to start that with a man who is still wrestling now, into his fifth decade. A true ‘Natural’ if you wheeeel (Dusty voice).
Firstly, even though my focus will be on Dustin Runnels and his time as Goldust, I would be remiss in mentioning his stint in World Championship Wrestling as ‘The Natural’. Runnels re-joined WCW in 1991 as ‘The Natural’ Dustin Rhodes, and by this point had been wrestling three years. His two big successes during this time was a Tag Team Title run with Barry Windham and winning the United States Heavyweight title from Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat. Runnels was fired for blading at Uncensored 1995 (it was against WCW policy at the time), but as that door closed, another larger one opened. Enter Goldust.
So before we go jumping into ‘that’ Hollywood Backlot Brawl, the origins of the character had Dustin debuting as a parody of a physical Oscar trophy, and was a caricature of a director of sorts with his ’24 Karat Productions’ vignettes. Gold from top to toe, he made sexually suggestive mannerisms, and his incredible in-ring psychology lead people to believe that he was this mysterious and bizarre character. As a young teen, I just assumed he was a gay drag queen and loved the character firstly because there was nothing else like him on the WWF at the time, and secondly because he made people uncomfortable.
His heavy breathing during vignettes, the quick biting at the end of it, and one of my earliest memories of the character was him suggestively feeling up Savio Vega, who acted both mortified and angry over being rubbed up against. Years later Savio Vega actually mentioned that he called that in the ring with Dustin, and it got a huge pop from the live crowd, and Dustin has also mentioned that this was one of the small factors that started getting him comfortable in the character. After being booked to beat the likes of Bam Bam Bigalow and Razor Ramon in 1995 and early 1996 respectively, Goldust was scheduled to have a rematch with Ramon at WrestleMania 12. Then Razor got suspended. This lead to ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper stepping in to take Ramon’s place.
In probably one of the more famous things that the Goldust character did in his career, he and Piper would fight in a Hollywood Backlot Brawl. As per his appearance on the Edge and Christian podcast some time back, Dustin went into what happened during the filming of this segment. He said that Vince McMahon told them he didn’t want blood in the match, to which both men agreed. But Piper and Runnels agreed with each other that Piper would open Runnels head ‘hard way’ with a real punch. What ended up happening was that Piper hit Goldust in the head…and broke his own hand. The finish of the taped segment saw Goldust escaping in a gold Cadillac, with Dustin also mentioning in an interview with Inside The Ropes that Piper was supposed to jump out of the way of Goldust’s Cadillac but instead ‘Hot Rod’ called and audible and fell onto the bonnet of the car and held on before allowing himself to be thrown off.
Then my memories of the character got blurred because the character itself got a bit crazy. After his heel turn, there was ‘The Artist Formally Know As’ Goldust, where he teamed up with Luna Vachon as a character that was into a bit of S&M, then I remember a brief stint with the Blue Meanie as ‘Bluedust’ and then Meanie becoming Goldust’s apprentice. It was a strange time for the character, and in with all of that was Dustin’s weird born-again Christian gimmick.
Runnels went back to WCW in 1999. I won’t go into the debacle that was the ‘Seven’ gimmick, but in 2002, after the sale of WCW, he returned at the Royal Rumble as Goldust. In later 2002, after RAW and Smackdown split brands, he began working a programme in a tag team with Booker T, and I remember it being really entertaining. By this point, he had dropped a lot of the sexual innuendo that he divulged into in his first run, but this enabled him to tap into his comedic side, and he and Booker had some great vignettes, which ended up getting them into the World Tag Team Title picture. Now, not to put too finer point on this but the tag division on RAW at this time was terrible, but it was great to see Booker and Goldust win the titles at Armageddon 2002.
Then shortly after the team was split, and Goldust was saddled with the shitty stutter gimmick, where he had somehow electrocuted himself (I don’t remember how) and in backstage vignettes would stutter and stammer his way through certain words.
He left again shortly thereafter, and after leaving and returning to the WWE three more times, his final run with the company came in 2013, and started with a tag team run with his half brother Cody. They had what many have said was the best tag team match of that year when they defeated The Shield at Battleground. By this point, the character of Goldust had completely dropped all of the gimmicks from the first run, and he had replaced them with a gold hooded top and spoke with his native Texan accent. After a stink in another tag team (this time with R-Truth) between 2016 and 2017, he was sparingly used for the next two years, until his release in April 2019.
The Goldust character came to fruition way before its time. Promoting the idea of homosexuality and homophobia all in one mid to late 1990’s package, the company took the gimmicks of Gorgeous George and Adrien Street and amplified and pushed the envelope on what he could get away with. ‘Legend’ is not a term I have ever used loosely, and whilst the Goldust character will be forever remembered and associated with Dustin Runnels, the man who inhabited the character is a true, legitimate legend. Still going strong in 2020, The Dream would be incredibly proud of your legacy. I know, as a fan, I am.