The topic of my article for the month of April/99 became a real no brainier when I learned of the unfortunate and untimely passing of yet another wrestling legend...
Mr. Richard Erwin Rood, better know to wrestling fans worldwide as "Ravishing" Rick Rood, died on April 20th, 1999. Rick had only reached the tender age of 40 and is survived by wife Michelle, daughter Merissa, and sons Ryan and Colton. While I do not claim to know, or even have met the man, I still feel it fitting to honor his career and dedicate this little corner of the web to his memory.
A classic career:
Make no mistake about it, Rick Rude was a winner. He was a world class heavyweight champion in the southern U.S before McMahon signed him in the 80's at the height of the wrestling boom. It is in the WWF where Rude gained international fame, becoming a household name to children and adults all over the world. He made his presence felt immediately upon entering the Federation; his airbrushed ring attire, long hair and incredibly toned body made him one of the most recognizable superstars of the era.
As much as the fans despised his self-centered attitude, nearly everybody realized that Rude had all the trappings needed to succeed (He was truly a guy that the fans loved to hate). At the height of his popularity, Rick's Ravishing character with the gyrating hips caused a stir with conservative viewers. Rick actually found this amusing and took it as a compliment With widespread sexuality accepted in wrestling today, it's hard to believe that Ravishing Rick was a controversial, cutting edge character only a short time ago.
Rude intrapped himself in my memory with many great battles during his stay with the WWF. One of Rude's best known feuds was with another former champion, the hugely popular Ultimate Warrior. These two superstars battled several times, electrifying audiences around the world. It was only fitting that Rude's career pinnacle came against the Warrior, when he captured the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania V. Although Rude would eventually lose the title back to the Warrior, "The Ravishing One" had established himself as one of the greatest superstars of the 1980s.
Rude also participated in several other memorable vendettas in the Federation, including my personal favorite in which he was pitted against a superstar I adored; Jake "The Snake" Roberts.
Jake vs. Rude
The battle began over the affections of Roberts' wife, Cheryl. I will never forget when Rude entered the ring wearing colorful tights that displayed the likeness of Jake's hubby on the crotch and rear. This was the straw that broke the camels back, Jake ran to the ring in a furious fit of rage and ripped Rude's tights off, just as this occurred a large "censored sign" conveniently appeared to cover Rude's bare bottom! Quite easily one of the funniest moments I ever witnessed on "Saturday Morning Superstars".
Rude eventually left the WWF to continue his career in WCW; he was one of the first big names I can recall leaving to resurface on that "other wrestling show". At the time I didn't really understand the "business aspect" of wrestling, I just remember being baffled when I saw rude in that horrible looking WCW ring. While working for WCW, Rude continued his success capturing the NWA World Heavyweight Title from Ric Flair on September 19, 1993 in Houston TX. WCW withdrew from the NWA shortly after Rude won the belt, and the title was renamed the WCW International World Heavyweight Title. Hiroshi Hase beat Rude for the belt on March 16, 1994, but Rude triumphantly regained the title back on March 24, 1994. Rude again dropped the belt in a truly great contest to WCW's franchise player Sting on April 17, 1994. Also fresh in the minds of many is a quarrel with a feisty, up and coming guy then known as "Stunning" Steve Austin. No doubt ol' Stone Cold learned a lot from wrestling against Rude. Then came the unforeseen climax to Rude's stellar career, while still under WCW contract Rick, who was besieged with a variety of injuries over his career, met a casualty he could not overcome. Rick suffered a serious neck injury in Japan that Paul E. Dangerously later called the most serious he had ever witnessed. The injury led to Rude's early retirement from the ring. Although he would never again be the in-ring force that he had been in the past, his charisma and attitude kept him as one of the best known personalities within the sports-entertainment industry.
Rude made his return to wrestling in ECW as a manager and commentator. Eventually, Rude made his way back to the WWF, acting as a spokesman for the first incarnation of D-Generation X.
He was said to have left the Federation in support of his good friend Brett Hart (an incident I need not describe). That move, more than any other I can bring up, show's Rude's true character - a man of devotion and loyalty. So it was back to WCW where Rick would finish out his final wrestling days as part of the NWO and an ally of longtime friend Curt Henning. Most recently Rude appeared on WCW's Backstage Blast programs on DirecTV providing color commentary. On these broadcasts Rick (as always) looked to be in perfect health, just another reason why his demise came as such an unexpected shock to his fans, friends and family. Even more ironic were rumors that swirled about an expected return to the ring. Reports stated that Rude had on at least one occasion attempted to get out of his WCW contract to jump back to the WWF. Further proof that you just never know what fate has in store for each and everyone of us.
His memory will live on:
Rude was a trailblazer in the industry. From the customized costuming and tendency to address the audience over the house microphone, to the in-ring promo that became synonymous with his character, Rick Rude is someone fans will never forget. His constant belittlement of the "fat, out of shape, sweat-hog" fans always managed to get a huge reaction. In fact, like Kevin Kelly of WWF.COM pointed out in an enlightening article, there are many living tributes to him today. Rude's persona was a definite forerunner to the entrance speeches of Val Venis, The Road Dog, The Rock, Scott Steiner and countless other superstars.
Similarities between Rud & Val...you betcha'!
In an interview for the March 1999 issue of the Raw Magazine Val suggested "Ravishing" Rick Rude set the stage for him and set the trends. Val said that Rude pushed the envelope before that envelope may have been ready to be pushed. Rude's sexuality blurred the lines during the era of "good vs. evil" as women screamed for him and men wanted to see him get slaughtered out of jealousy. People loved him and hated him, but most of all they remembered him.
Every time someone gets on the mike and says "Cut the music!", say hello to more impact and memory courtesy of "Ravishing" Rick Rude. His patented expressions can be recited verbatim by any fan today. Another interesting note is that Rude will more than likely go down as the only man in history to appear on both Raw and Nitro on the same night. Raw was taped in advance on the night Rick showed up for a live Nitro and told the world that what McMahon did to Brett Hart was real and wrong. While his last working relationship with the WWF did not end on a positive note, it certainly was controversial and thus memorable. "Ravishing" Rick Rude certainly was worth remembering and his legacy lives on through living tributes such as Val. It's nice to see that through his incredible talent and remarkable work Rick has undoubtedly left a mark on the business, his contemporaries and his fans.
Richard Erwin Rood...the man:
Rick Rude's in-ring persona was that of a muscle-bound, egocentric ladies' man. But to his friends, family, and those fans who had an opportunity to meet him, Rick is remembered for being a good person, a devoted friend and husband, and an honorable man.
Allot of wrestling sites I've seen lately have contained insightful, inspiring letters to honor Rude's career. Almost all embody the same theme, with tribunals from fans who had the opportunity to meet Rude. They explain how Rude was nice and kind outside of the squared circle, always willing to take the time to converse and sign autographs before leaving the stadium he performed in that night. I read a letter on a fan-site recently that I believe sums up what Rude was all about, it told a story of how this guy worked security for a WWF show back in 1990. He told of how at one point in the evening he saw Rude outside of the arena loading bags into the trunk of his car preparing to leave (obviously in a rush). Just as he was about to get into his car he was approached by a girl for an autograph. Rude accepted and stepped from his car, signed her paper, then proceeded to give her a hug. He then chatted for a few minutes with her and some other fans who had gathered…the guard was amazed with Rude's patience. He went on to explain how he would always think of how nice the guy really was off camera when he would see Rude playing a cruel heel on t.v.
From what I've read, Rude seemed to make an intense impact on almost all those who he worked with, individuals who eventually became his friends. Every single person in the sports-entertainment industry mourns the passing of this legendary superstar. With that in mind I would like to outline some comments from fellow wrestlers, guys who knew not just "Ravishing Rick", but also Rick the father, husband and friend.
Bad News Brown:
"He was a really good guy, I liked him. He was a hell of a talent, a hell of a worker, and a good talker", said Brown before laughing and explaining his greatest memory of Rude". "I didn't like driving during the day, so I said, 'you drive during the day, I'll drive at night. He said okay, But I'd end up having to do all the driving anyway…he was one of these guys that as soon as he got in the car he'd fall asleep on you".
"What a great guy. He gave so much to wrestling. He was in there, and never held back a thing. He always was 100% . I liked his sense of humor; it was always funny the way he looked at life. Being on the road, we always had frustrating situations with travelling and rental cars. He would always turn it around into a joke, put some humor into it. So that's why I liked to be around him. He was a happy-go-lucky guy".
"The Mountie" Jacques Rougeau Jr:
"I always found Rude easy to get along with. He was a good guy in the dressing room. Never looked for trouble. Always did his own thing. I got along perfectly with him. I can't believe he passed away".
"Mr. Perfect" Curt Henning:
Although this is not a direct quote, I included this little insert because I thought it was a classy way to honor Rude; In a recent WCW house show in Minneapolis, Curt stood over his fallen opponent, put his hands on the back of his head, then swayed his hips in the patented Ravishing fashion. After this impersonation, he pointed at the sky, a subtle tribute to his longtime friend.
"I had the honor of managing Rick for four years, and I am proud to say that he was devoted to his family and friends, and a credit to our business".
"Someone I didn't even know told me today that he was sorry to hear about Rick and that he never really liked him. But then he followed by saying - 'but I was never supposed to like him anyway, was I? No, you were not. He made not liking him fun though, didn't he? Rick still had allot to offer our sport, and he will be greatly missed".
"I knew Rick Rude when he was in the Mid-South wrestling area working for Cowboy Bill Watts, so I've known him since the early to mid-80's and saw firsthand his rise to stardom. He went from the Mid-South, then to Memphis, and certainly made a name for himself on TBS, but gained international fame when he came to the WWF. Rick Rude was a man's man. He certainly was a tell it like it is guy. He has strong convictions in his own beliefs. Again, we remember the lean, muscular, vibrant athlete that we saw bumping, grinding and bumping some more in rings around the world. Rick Rude will be missed".
"Rick Rude was anything but...rude. In any circle of friends and phonies, you take the good with the bad. And the bad makes you appreciate the good even more. At the height of my road days, when 300 flights in 300 towns a year was normal, strangers became family and family became strangers. You can't pick your family but you can pick your friends. Rick Rude was one of the best picks I ever made. He was a great family man. He loved his wife. He was one of those kind of guys who never took his wedding ring off. He put a white piece of tape around it when he went into the ring. He was the kind of guy that when you needed someone to back you up, he wouldn't flinch at all. Not for money. Not for anything. When McMahon and his sidearm barged into my dressing room in Montreal, Rick was there. He was one of the guys who refused to budge. Refused to allow me to be put in a compromising position. Rick Rude stayed there to make sure my back was watched. There were, and are, some people who think the whole thing that happened between McMahon and I was a hoax. Rick was the one who called Eric Bishoff to say he was there, and told him what had happened. When I was forming new business relationships in WCW, Rude's call protected me and saved me from a lot of doubt, because even Eric Bishoff had to question whether this was a set-up or not. I was always grateful to Rick for making that call and for being with me in the room that day".
The business has wrote the tail of another tragic hero:
At the time this article was written the cause of Rick's death had not yet been released. Although I don't like to speculate (basically because every bozo with a keyboard has their own theory), early reports tell an unfortunate story. In short, it seems (to no real surprise) that the business has claimed yet another life. The rumored cause of death right now is an unintentional overdose of the drug Gamma-Hydroxy Butyrate, also know as the "date rape drug" or liquid ecstasy. Rick's wife returned home from shopping to find her husband on the floor. She immediately called 911, the paramedics managed to revive Rude in the ambulance, but unfortunately he went into cardiac arrest and died before reaching the hospital.
If your wondering what GHB is, and why Rude was taking such an obscure supplement, the answer is simple. The drug speeds up the production of growth hormone, and increases metabolism, thus burning more fat while a person is sleeping…it's all in the name muscle enhancement folks. Now keep in mind that this is not the official cause of death, and although no clinical diagnosis has been released, many have already cast partial blame on the wrestling business itself. Every where I go on the web I read articles throwing criticism at the evils of professional wrestling. Yes, it is true that people are dying at rates unparalleled to any other profession, but I choose to stay away from this argument, as it is a difficult point to debate. Some say routine drug testing is the answer, but this makes little sense to me. I mean first of all drug testing is not unfailing. Second, and most importantly is the reality that a large physique is what the fans want to see, and what the fans want, the promoters push - revenue is guiltless! For proof of the power of a large build, one need look no further than an individual such as Scott Steiner. As long as a Steiner is pushed above a Benoit, the company's priorities are crystal clear. I'm afraid that there are no easy answers, and little will be forthcoming. The bottom line; wrestling is an unforgiving business, both to the physical and the psychological. Wrestlers push themselves beyond normal capabilities in the wrestling ring and in training, not to mention their amazingly packed schedules. I think Brett Hart said it best when he stated in his documentary "Wrestling with Shadows" that "Wrestlers are treated like circus animals".
Either way, or wherever blame will ultimately be cast, the fact remains that Ravishing Rick is now a lost legend. He's become the next in the line of fallen wrestling heroes; Pillman, Kerry, Bravo, Adrian, JYD, Studd, Andre, Spicoli and the list goes on. So many, so young, so talented. Will Rick Rude's death make a dent? Will the business change?…do I even have to answer these questions?
I'll make my conclusion brief and spare the mushy stuff for those of you who just can't handle the sentimental…Rick Rude was undoubtedly a driving force in bringing wrestling to where it is today and his style set the standard that many have emulated. Now I'm sure there are bigger Rick Rude fans than me out there, infact I'm positive, either way I will never forget him…as far as I'm concerned he, along with all the other greats of the 80's and early 90's helped raise me, as I sat in front of the television cheering for my favorite superstars every Saturday morning. With the death of Rick Rude, the business has lost a fine talent, but more importantly (and from all accounts) it's lost a terrific person. It's one of those "why him" questions. I know he will be watching from that big-ring in the sky. We will miss you.
"It's better to burn out, than to fade away"
- Neil Young