Pro wrestling superstar Dusty Rhodes died on Thursday at age 69, the WWE confirmed.
The rotund strongman, born Virgil Riley Runnels Jr., was one of the sport’s longtime legends, thundering across the ring through the 1970s and 80s, often in his signature yellow polka dot singlets.
The circumstances of his death weren’t immediately clear.
“WWE is deeply saddened that Virgil Runnels, aka “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes — WWE Hall of Famer, three-time NWA Champion and one of the most captivating and charismatic figures in sports entertainment history — passed away today at the age of 69.,” the WWE said in a statement.
Tributes poured in from pro wrestling’s biggest names as the news spread.
“I am absolutely devastated to hear about the passing of my long time friend Dusty Rhodes,” wrote famed announcer Gene (Mean Gene) Okerlund tweeted. “One of the best ever. GO.”
The Iron Sheik, a contemporary, posted, “RIP MY BROTHER DUSTY RHODES. GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY FOREVER.”
Runnels, the father of WWE stars Goldust and Stardust, styled himself as the working class hero, the son of a plumber. He drew legions of followers with his everyman physique and unparalleled skills on the microphone.
“I have wined and dined with kings and queens, and I’ve slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans,” he famously bellowed.
Runnels inspired a new generation of superstars, including rival Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan. (Courtesy New York Times)