Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Review - "Cross Rhodes: Goldust, Out of the Darkness"

"If you don't shut your mouths right now, I will come out there and stick my tongue down each and every one of your throats!" With that threat, the androgynous, cross-dressing Goldust would earn the venom of fans in arenas around the nation.

The character of Goldust was created by World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman Vince McMahon in the mid '90s and brought to life by journeyman veteran wrestler Dustin Runnels. Runnels had been known professionally for the first seven years of his career as Dustin Rhodes. He had spent those first seven years trying to get out of the shadow of his father - one of the most famous wrestlers of the 1980's - "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes.

Dustin saw the gold bodysuit and gold face paint of Goldust as a way to get out of his father's shadow and accomplish something on his own. And what he accomplished was something spectacular. His character was ahead of its time, causing riots in matches against such superstars as Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall and Roddy Piper.

Through the last 15 years, the character of Goldust has gone from being one of the most despised, sick characters in wrestling history, to a comedy character that the kids love. How he got there is a very interesting story. It's a story told in "Cross Rhodes: Goldust, Out of the Darkness."

[Click to watch: debut promo - Razor Ramom promo - WM 12 vs Roddy Piper (2nd half) - Promo vs Undertaker - blind date promo - 7-11 with Booker T - in bed with Booker T]

When I first heard that Goldust was releasing an autobiography, my interest was piqued. At a quick glance, the longevity of his career alone would make for a great book. He went from the dying days of the wrestling territory system of the 1980's, to World Championship Wrestling, to World Wrestling Entertainment, to Total Nonstop Action, and a few stops between in each of the three promotions.

Thinking about it a little more, I realized that there had to be a reason he left WWE and came back a number of times. There had to be a reason that he was out of the limelight for a while. There had to be a reason he was considered washed up and past his prime upon his latest return to WWE, but proved all of his doubters wrong by working his way into the best shape of his career and becoming a valuable part of WWE programming over the last two years.

The first thing I noticed upon reading "Cross Rhodes" was that Dustin wrote it by himself, without a ghost writer. Usually, an autobiography is written by somebody else. The person talks about his life and an author physically writes it. Check out an autobiography, there are usually two names on it. One is the person whose life is being chronicled, and then the second name is the person who actually physically wrote it.

Dustin joins the ranks of other WWE wrestlers Mick Foley, Adam "Edge" Copeland, and Jerry Lawler in writing his own autobiography.

Dustin is very frank about two huge issues in his life: his several-year estrangement with his father and his multi-year battle with drug and alcohol addiction.

Dustin had issues with Dusty from childhood, stemming from him not being around and constantly being on the road wrestling. Things got better once Dustin started his career, but issues surrounding Dusty and Dustin’s future wife Terri (known to wrestling fans as Marlena) caused them to stop speaking to each other. The Goldust character also led to issues between the two of them, as both saw it as Dustin shunning the Rhodes name. Dustin saw this as a positive at the time, while Dusty did not.

His drug issues started the way a lot of wrestling drug problems start, with prescription pain pill abuse. Dustin rationalized the abuse in his head at the time by telling himself that they were prescribed. "…these weren’t illegal drugs. Doctors gave them to me. … I just didn't have any idea what was actually happening. I didn’t realize the descent was under way, or that the future was about to become a darker shade of gray."

He goes from his peak of wrestling the semi-main event of WrestleMania XII in 1996, to living in a trailer park, borrowing money from his parents to pay the rent.

His addiction grew to nearly 30 pills a day, on top of drinking, as well as using cocaine. He kept rationalizing his problems to himself, while at the same time knowing he had problems. "I had been taking painkillers for so long that I had convinced myself I really needed them. I was taking medicine because I worked in a tough business. That was the story I had cemented into my mind. But drugs have a way of altering everything, including the stories you tell yourself. Eventually I started doing a little coke before matches while retaining my vow to never drink alcohol before I got into the ring, as if that was something to be proud of."

Eventually, Dustin reached rock bottom in 2008 and reached out to WWE for help. They had recently launched a program to every current and former employee to provide drug rehabilitation services at no cost. Dustin took them up on their offer and got himself clean.

Later that year, WWE reached out to Dustin about making a few appearances as Goldust. Those appearances led to a career rebirth with WWE, where Dustin still works two years later. These days, at 40-years-old, he is one of the oldest full-time wrestlers on the roster. Dustin's new role is to help the younger wrestlers out in the ring to achieve their full potential, a role Dustin relishes. "In the end, Vince gave me another chance. I’m grateful for that opportunity. I’ll pass on every bit of knowledge I have to the next generation of guys. It’s the right thing to do. If I can do anything to help these guys get to the next level, then I’m happy to do so. I was one of those guys once."

"Cross Rhodes: Goldust, Out of the Darkness" at its core, is a story about a man who has led an extraordinary life and lived to tell it. He stepped out of his father's shadow to become one of the biggest names in the business, then nearly lost it all in a haze of drugs and bad decisions.

One of the few flaws with this book is that it skips around a little bit chronologically near the end, and occasionally Dustin will lose his train of thought in the middle of a story and start talking about something else. With those two notes aside, "Cross Rhodes" is a book that is required reading for any serious fan of professional wrestling, and something that even a casual fan could pick up and enjoy.

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