Dusty Rhodes, pro wrestler called 'The American Dream,' dead at 69

Dusty Rhodes, the famed and flamboyant pro wrestler known as "The American Dream" in the 1970s and '80s, has died, World Wrestling Entertainment confirmed. He was 69.

Tributes pour in for former world champ, father of WWE wrestlers Goldust and Stardust

Virgil Runnels, better known as pro wrestler Dusty Rhodes, has died at the age of 69. (WWE.com)

Dusty Rhodes, the famed and flamboyant pro wrestler known as "The American Dream" in the 1970s and '80s, has died, World Wrestling Entertainment confirmed. He was 69.

Rhodes, whose real name was Virgil Runnels, first gained fame in the southern U.S. pro wrestling territories in the 1970s.

By the '80s he was one of the biggest stars in the National Wrestling Alliance. He became famous for his "common man" persona, as well as his charisma both in the wrestling ring and on the microphone.

"Saddened to hear the passing of Dusty Rhodes," wrote wrestler Paul "Triple H" Levesque on Twitter. "Legend, teacher, mentor, friend ... Love you Dream."

More recent wrestling fans probably know Rhodes from his stints in World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wrestling Federation) in the 1990s, where he performed in the ring and also worked as a writer and executive behind the scenes.

Left to right: Dusty Rhodes and his sons Dustin Runnels (as Goldust) and Cody Rhodes. (WWE.com)

"Runnels became a hero to fans around the world thanks to his work ethic, his impassioned interviews and his indomitable spirit," the WWE said in an official statement.

The patriarch of one of the best-known families in North American pro wrestling, Runnels' sons Dustin and Cody are also veterans in the WWE ring, currently under the personas of Goldust and Stardust, respectively.

Fans, as well as wrestlers past and present paid tribute to Runnels in droves on social media. Many pointed to his iconic "hard times" interview from October 1985, during one of his feuds with then-world champion Ric Flair.