In Strasberg at the Actors Studio: Tape-Recorded Sessions (1965), Lee Strasberg said:
The human being who acts is the human being who lives. That is a terrifying circumstance. Essentially the actor acts a fiction, a dream; in life the stimuli to which we respond are always real. The actor must constantly respond to stimuli that are imaginary. And yet this must happen not only just as it happens in life, but actually more fully and more expressively. Although the actor can do things in life quite easily, when he has to do the same thing on the stage under fictitious conditions he has difficulty because he is not equipped as a human being merely to playact at imitating life. He must somehow believe. He must somehow be able to convince himself of the rightness of what he is doing in order to do things fully on the stage.
In the middle of reading tributes lauding the matches and promos of the late “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes (real name: Virgil Runnels), the above Strasberg quote came to mind. Because, no matter what your opinion is of professional wrestlers, they are actors. They perform, with spoken words and physical acts, a fiction, a dream, as all actors do. And Dusty was a damned good one.
Yes, the squared circle is a stage and wrestlers are performers that inhabit it. Some are okay at it; most are not. A rare few can take a storyline/plot that’s been handed to them by a booker/playwright-director and weave a reality out of it. Fewer still can truly get the audience to buy into the story and believe.
That was Dusty. That not-so-pretty face was able to do what many try and fail at. He created a role, a reality inspired by real life, set in a fictional environment and drew the viewer in. Be it in the arena, the studio, or through the tv screen at home, Dusty Rhodes grabbed his audience by speaking of the same issues they faced: loves lost, pain and anguish, clash of classes, victory and betrayal.
As a man of a certain time and place, he most likely experienced them firsthand. When he spoke in the ring or in front of the cameras, these promos never seemed forced or fake. His speech or gesticulation may have been too wild or exagerated for refined tastes, but that wasn’t his audience. Dusty Rhodes represented the common man and that’s who he played to, and for. And he did it with the same vim, vigor, and fire as a preacher standing at the pulpit convincing his flock to fill the offering baskets.
Dusty Rhodes played the role of a humble son of a plumber, the epitome of the American Dream, who knew what it was like to fall upon — and rise from — hard times. When he spoke, angrily at a double-cross or with heavy sadness at the injuries of a friend, he spoke with the heart and conviction of an actor who was only able to do so because he believed it as an actor and as a man. Therefore, according to Strasberg, Dusty lived and will live on as long as fans continue to view, be captivated by, and appreciate his work.