I spoke with Dustin "Goldust" Runnels for an interview last week. In the first part of the interview below, Runnels discussed his first run with the WWF, leaving WWF shortly after debuting, being given the Goldust gimmick, if GTV was meant for him, being in WCW when it folded, overcoming his addictions and more.
WrestlingINC: I actually wanted to start with your WWF debut back in 1990. What was that like signing with the company at that point in time at such a young age?
Runnels: It was very cool. Back then, they still had tryout matches and I worked with Black Bart as a tryout match. I guess Vince [McMahon] liked it so we kind of just worked from there. I got picked up and signed and dad [Dusty Rhodes] was already there. So, they worked me into their angle, I guess. That was cool, to be involved with [Ted] DiBiase and pop and Virgil.
WrestlingINC: You got a televised victory over DiBiase who was very protected at that time by lasting 10 minutes in a challenge match. Not many people beat him on TV. What was that like?
Runnels: I don't recall beating him, I just recall lasting the ten minutes which was really cool. And the people really responded well to it. I just shut my mouth. Young guys today just need to keep their mouths shut and listen to the veterans. But, in our business today, there's not too many veterans left. So, it's a bunch of green guys going at it.
But, I kept my mouth shut because that's how I was brought up and raised. You just go out there and do what they tell you to do and you learn. That's what I did, I just listened to Ted and he took me through that thing, man. It was awesome.
WrestlingINC: You were there and then you left shortly thereafter. You were only there for a few months and then you went to WCW. What prompted you to make that change?
Runnels: Dad did. Dad was going back to WCW -- I didn't know it at that time but at the Royal Rumble where we did our business with Ted and Virgil, at the end there, dad said, 'Why don't you ask Vince for your release and come with me to WCW?'
So, I did and he granted me that. Dad tells this story to everybody still to this day. He's like, I walked off and I thanked Vince and him and dad we're still talking. I'm out getting my bags or whatever it was and Vince said, 'That guy there, you're taking him with you to WCW and that's fine. But, he comes back here, I'm going to pull him from you and make him a star.'
He tells that story and it's still really cool because he did. Goldust is a household name and he made me a star. It's awesome because it's kept its longevity for such a long time.
WrestlingINC: Yeah, it's definitely one of the more memorable characters of the current era. Everyone that's watched wrestling over the past 20 years knows that character. How soon from re-signing with WWF were you presented with that character?
Runnels: Well, let's see, I went to WCW and had the infamous back-of-the-truck match [with The Blacktop Bully at WCW Uncensored in 1995, where both men bladed and subsequently got released] and got let go from there. I was sitting at home for about 6-8 months trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do. Because I was still pretty young at that point. Bruce Pritchard called me out of the blue one day and he said, 'Hey Dustin, I got Vince McMahon here. We'd like to run a character by you and see if you'd be interested in doing it. Are you sitting down?' I said, 'I guess so.'
So, I sat down and he kind of explained the character and he threw out that word 'androgynous' -- and I had no idea what the f-ck that meant. But I'm just agreeing with him -- yeah, yeah, yeah -- and at this point, me and my dad were having some trying times. We weren't talking and I was searching and kind of looking to do something on my own. I really wanted to step out, you know, at that point. Let's get this thing rolling.
So, he explained the character and I agreed to it and all that. So, he was going to fire me up and start putting it together. Getting off the phone, I had to go to the dictionary and look up androgynous because I had no idea what the hell that meant. And I laughed, I said, 'Well, let's do this. I'm going to put my 110% into it. Vince is backing it, he's behind it and he's pushing it. Great, let's do it.'
So, we kind of went from there and it just grew. It took a good six, seven months to figure out the character. Plus, I had been babyface for so long that I didn't know how to be a heel. So, I had to learn that and learn this new character. And all this WWE/WWF stuff was very new to me because I had been with WCW.
So, I had to learn the new way of how things work. But, I'm "The Natural" Dustin Rhodes, I can do anything. So, it took me about six or seven months to learn that heel way and learn this androgynous character. Then, once I finally agreed to step it forward to the edge and take it to the next level, it really snapped. It really worked. I didn't turn back, I just went straight ahead.
WrestlingINC: Were you apprehensive at all? Because, when I look back at that era, it's really Goldust and Sunny -- those were the two characters that kind of ushered in the Attitude Era. Everything was kind of G or PG rated before that. I felt those were really the first two characters that stood out that marked this new era in the beginning. Were you nervous about some of the things you were doing? Were you apprehensive about how far you could go?
Runnels: At that point, I was just so young, I was ready and willing to take this on. Vince would say, 'Hey Dustin, you're going to get a lot of flak from the boys and some fans and stuff like that. If you ever get discouraged, give me a call.' And I did more than a few times.
He was pushing the character, and it was just a matter of figuring it out. Yes, I was apprehensive about doing the over-the-line, really kind of gay stuff. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to make this character androgynous, but not in that way. And he would never come to me and say, 'It's gay. It's not, it's androgynous.' He would never say that. He let me figure this character out.
With some persuasion from Savio Vega, I tried it in the Garden. Man, the reaction I got, I was not expecting and I did not realize how easy it was. From that point, I was like, 'OK, I can do this sh-t.'
That's what I'm saying with young talent, they've got to own their character when they've been given a character. Fandango is doing a great job. When you're given a character, you need to take it to the next level. 110%, you've got to be that character.
I'm a redneck and a cowboy. I put the paint on and I walk through that curtain, I become Goldust. You have to become that character until it's over. Then, you come back and you get back to whoever you were. But you have to own it, man, to make it a success. And really believe in it. That's what I did.
WrestlingINC: You mentioned the young guys today. Do you think that guys today just aren't putting enough into their character? Or do you think that promotions are just not patient enough with them?
Runnels: I see a lot of impatience and I see a lot of guys getting a little lazy at times. Not everybody, but you get frustrated a little bit at times when you're going to the writers and they're telling you, 'Yes, we're going to do this...' But, don't talk to the horse's ass, talk to the horse's head -- which is Vince McMahon, Stephanie or Triple H.
You talk to the boss about your ideas and things like that and all he can say is yes or no. I mean, you don't open your mouth, you don't give him your ideas, you're not really trying. Some of them are OK with being mid-card or opening the card. Or they're happy with their little things that they're doing -- and that's them. But, that's not going to get you a world title shot.
And if you've gotten into the business to be just mediocre and to kind of just open to show -- and opening the show is the most important match of the card. You've got to get that crowd right. But I'm talking about as far as back then. If you're just happy with that, that's not going to make you a success. You've got to step out and you've got to step above and beyond and keep giving those ideas. Keep trying new stuff.
Back then when I was doing it, there were veterans to learn from and now you don't have too many left. They're all young. Yes, they're very talented; you've got a great group of guys. Vince will not bring you up to WWE until you're ready. He's definitely not going to put a microphone in front of your mouth and put you on national TV until he knows that you can talk. Sometimes, I just think that guys get impatient because of storylines or they feel they're getting over-looked -- and maybe they are, maybe they're not. But, you've got to have some patience and the right attitude and that desire to succeed or you're not going to go anywhere.
WrestlingINC: You got over very quickly. You won the Intercontinental title shortly after debuting, and that title was a big deal back then. When you learned that you were going to be winning the title, what was your reaction?
Runnels: I really don't remember. I was really appreciative and thankful. Still, at that point, I was trying to learn that character and do my job and be respectful of others. Learn what I could and take what Vince was giving me and make something of it.
Of course, I was excited and it was cool. But, I had to focus on getting this character over and keeping it a certain way. It was awesome, too, though. It really was.
WrestlingINC: Do you remember the whole GTV thing? Everyone thought that was meant for you. Is that how you understood it?
Runnels: Yeah, that's how I understood it. It was for me. In recent years, I've tried to bring that back to the table with Vince but he's like, 'No, no, no. We're not going to use that right now.' Now, it's kind of gotten lost in the shuffle, the majority of people wouldn't remember GTV.
WrestlingINC: Do you know why they never did a reveal for that and just kind of dropped it?
Runnels: Well, I got released. So, I guess that was one of the reasons they dropped it.
WrestlingINC: When you were in WCW, that was just a crazy time in the business. They kind of gave you a dark character at first with Se7en and then you became yourself. You were there for the highs and lows. What was it like towards the end of WCW and being on their last ever pay-per-view.
Runnels: I did not wrestle that night, I did some stuff in the back or whatever. But, I was starting my downward spiral at that point with drugs and alcohol and stuff like that. So, I didn't really give a s--t. You know what I mean? I was making good money and just making poor, bad decisions at that point. It just kind of grew, it took on its own beast.
I remember that last TV taping and stuff like that, but I also remember that I couldn't wait to get the f-ck out of there and go home.
WrestlingINC: How were you able to get out of that downward spiral?
Runnels: I had been hired and fired so many times and been so very blessed and lucky. It got so bad back then with drugs and alcohol, with so many pills, cocaine and booze. Then, finally going to TNA and doing the Black Reign and then going back to WWE -- even the times with Booker -- which were the funnest times in my career. We took that character to the next level. There was still, when I'd get home, it just started getting worse and worse. I feel into that trap and drugs and alcohols.
I've almost been 5 years clean and sober from any drugs and alcohol and I'm very, very proud of myself for that. But, I'm also -- those last three days when I was on a pretty serious bender and almost died. Divine intervention, I guess, God said, 'Hey, you need help.' And I knew I needed help but I wasn't ready for it. I wasn't ready to accept that, hey, this is it. I was very scared about the whole situation.
Then, I would just drown myself in more and more to avoid it. Finally, I just threw my hands up and said I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I made that call to my dad at four in the morning, stumbling drunk outside in the rain and not even being able to stand up straight and s--t like that. The next day, WWE and their Wellness Policy, they reached out back to me and got me straight into rehab and I haven't looked back.
It takes some guys three, four or five times but it's not going to work until you're ready for it to work. You've got to be ready, you've got to want this and I did. So far, I'm doing good and I have not had that desire to slip up and doing anything.
At the beginning of me getting out of rehab and thinking about going back to work, I was scared because I didn't know if I could do this clean and sober. I had worked with some kind of something in my system -- not necessarily alcohol, because I was always taught not to that and then go to work -- but I had plenty of pills in me and s--t like that to get through something. I was scared, can I do this clean and sober? And, man, yes I can.
I'm in the best shape of my frickin' career. It's a little late, but that's OK. The past is history and I've got to go with right now and what I've got. I can't look into the future, I've got to look at it as what I've got right now. I'm in good shape, I still want that match with Cody. It will happen I just don't know when.
I'm getting older. I'm 44-years-old, I'm having fun getting back to my roots as far as doing independents and things like that. Here we go, let's do this -- and I'm doing it clean and sober and it feels damn good. I'm damn proud of myself and I can be healthy for myself so then I can be healthy for my family and what they need.
WrestlingINC: Congratulations on your five years. Like you mentioned, there are a lot of people who haven't been able to come clean and beat their demons.
Runnels: Those demons are always there. They're right on my shoulder, all I've got to do is turn and divert back to them. But, I'm keeping them at bay and it's because I'm ready. I was done with the crap. They've got to want to be free of it. They have to feel like, OK, that's it, I've had enough.
WrestlingINC: So, you got clean before your last WWE run, right?
WrestlingINC: What made you leave last year?
Runnels: Well, in 2010, I was fixing to make the run of my life with [Ted] DiBiase. I was in shape, feeling great. Then, I had a shoulder injury and I had to get surgery on it. Shoulder injuries are pretty tough. To me, it's the worst surgery I've been through, it was hard.
I really tore up my shoulder, my labrum was completely 360 torn, my rotator cuff was torn and my bicep. So, it was like three injuries in one where I got 13 [INAUDIBLE] in my shoulder. That took a little longer than expected with my rehabbing the shoulder and things like that.
Basically, that developed to John and he had been asking me to do this producing stuff. At that point, I said, 'OK, my shoulders hurt, I'm going to give it a shot.' I tried this producing stuff for about a year and a half and then I got released from that as everybody knows. That was the hardest job I've ever done in my life.
WrestlingINC: Do you prefer wrestling to being a backstage agent?
Runnels: The backstage stuff is not for everybody. I'm very hands on, I like to train and teach young guys now because there's so many of them. There are certain ways to do things, to get crowd reactions and sell your emotions and sell stories.
It was more than that. It was a lot of paper work, pushing pencils, typing, going to meetings and stuff. It was very, very stressful. It wasn't for me and I made a bad call live on TV and I got fired for it. It's all good.
Make sure to check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview, where Runnels discussed TNA, a potential match with brother Cody, his surprise appearance at The Royal Rumble last January, Cody's match getting bumped at WrestleMania, his upcoming projects and much more. You can follow Runnels on Twitter at @DUSTIN_RHODES1, and you can purchase his book Cross Rhodes: Goldust, Out of the Darkness at this link.