Rick Rood - Robbinsdale High School, Minneapolis, Class of 1976

Rick Rood is number 85 (extreme right, second row)


Rick Rude: 1958 - 1999
by Dave Meltzer

Rick Rude passed away April 20, 1999 of a heart attack after being rushed to the North Fulton Medical Center near his home in Alpharetta, Ga., an Atlanta suburb. He was 40.

At the time of his death, Rude had been working with World Championship Wrestling as an announcer for the Backstage Blast pay-per-view airings of Nitro on DirecTV once per month. This job came after he was removed from his role as childhood friend Curt Hennig's on-camera manager.

Rude also had been training for an in-ring comeback nearly five years after he suffered a career-threatening broken back in a May 1, 1994, match against Sting at the Fukuoka Dome. He reportedly had been trying to get out of his WCW contract since December 1998, presumably to wrestle in the World Wrestling Federation.

On April 20, Rude, whose legal name was Richard Erwin Rood, had taken his 8-year-old son to school, attended a martial arts class, and gone out to hit some golf balls. At about 5 p.m., his wife returned from shopping and found him on the floor barely breathing and with a light pulse. She called 911, and he was revived briefly in an ambulance before suffering cardiac arrest in the hospital. The cause of Rude's heart attack was not immediately known.

In the wrestling community, Rude was remembered as a consummate showman and an icon in the sport.

"He was a great entertainer," said his wife Michelle, 33. "He was nothing like the person in the ring. He was a great family man. He lived for his kids, and he ate and slept wrestling."

Richard Rood was born Dec. 7, 1958, and grew up in Robbinsdale, Minn. After high school, he was working as a bouncer, and he was known for being so powerful that he often could knock people out with an open-handed slap.

Although very muscular, he had the look of being in great condition, but not necessarily possessing great power. Obviously those looks were deceiving as he had incredible grip strength and was well-known as a tough street fighter. He also was a noted arm wrestler, finishing sixth in the world championships in Las Vegas in the light heavyweight division in 1983.

"You can talk about this and that guy being a great shooter," said Eddie Sharkey, who trained Rood, Barry Darsow, The Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff, and numerous other wrestlers. "But this guy kicked more ass than any of them. People didn't realize how tough this guy was. He'd slap guys with an open hand and it looked like their head exploded."

Growing up in Minneapolis in the early '80s - where wrestling was part of the local culture with the likes of Verne Gagne, Jesse Ventura, and later peaking with Hulk Hogan - it was natural for gym rats and bouncers like Rood to think about a pro wrestling career. In 1981, Rood was training for a Tough Man contest and had a 2-0 record as an amateur boxer training under Papa Joe Daszciewicz. Some say he could have made a lot of money as a boxer, but Rood gravitated toward pro wrestling and made a lot more. By 1982, Rood had broken into wrestling, but he barely had enough money for gas to get to his matches and often would sleep in his car.

Rood in Georgia Championship Wrestling

At the time, Ole Anderson, who was running Georgia Championship Wrestling, Inc., was starving for new talent, so he brought Rood and Darsow in. Rood was given a minor push at the beginning as a babyface with the gimmick - creatively enough - as the toughest bouncer in Minneapolis. He didn't last long in Georgia, though, and was sent to work briefly for Jim Crockett in the Carolinas as jobber Ricky Rood, and later Watts in the Mid South territory as a good-looking undercard babyface.

But it was Jerry Jarrett who made Rood a star after he had only about one year full time in the business. Jarrett changed his name to "Ravishing Rick Rude" and gave him the popular song "Smooth Operator" as his ring music. He also was given a monstrous heel push with valet Angel, playing the role he'd continue to play throughout his active career. Rude initially wasn't all that good in the ring, but since most of his main events were against Jerry Lawler, there was no problem in him headlining.

His interviews weren't polished either, although the potential was there. His strong delivery and arrogant personality made people believe he hated opponents like Lawler, Austin Idol, Randy Savage, and the Fabulous Ones, and fans hated him for it. Rude, with his movie star looks and chiseled physique, had memorable programs during a period when Jarrett's business was extremely strong, working as the main heel in the company for several months. Somewhere along the way, Angel disappeared, but Rude was made as a star.

He went next to Florida, under Dory Funk as booker. Rude had a good look, but in a territory based more on in-ring performance, he was usually paired as a tag team with Jesse Barr. Rude was put on top as Southern heavyweight champion, his most notable feud being with Wahoo McDaniel.

Rude's next stop was Texas starting in late 1985 for World Class Championship Wrestling, where he became the first-ever WCWA world heavyweight champion. On the biggest show to that point in his career, he worked the semi-main event on the May 4, 1986, show in Texas Stadium. He defended the WCWA title, winning via DQ against Bruiser Brody.

Rood vs Hawk

The next stop was Jim Crockett's office, which at this point had gotten the TBS contract and thus was Vince McMahon's only real national competitor during the late '80s. Rude arrived in late 1986, and immediately was programmed as a mid-card heel feuding with old rival McDaniel. Eventually he was put together as a heel tag team with Manny Fernandez, who had just turned on Dusty Rhodes, and both were managed by Paul Jones. The two spent several months feuding with the Rock & Roll Express over the NWA world tag team titles, which Rude and Fernandez quickly won. In May of 1987, Rude, without giving notice or dropping the belts, left while holding one-half of the tag team title.

Once Rude had moved on and joined the WWF, he was not an instant success. He languished in undercards for several months until coming up with the catch-phrase entrance and hitting it big with his first program. Perhaps his most memorable of all was with Jake Roberts, which started when he tried to hit on Roberts' wife Cheryl in an angle that was apparently years ahead of its time. Even though Roberts pinned Rude every night, Rude was so arrogant that he continued to get great heat everywhere he went and got over stronger. The feud continued for most of 1988, with Rude eventually being managed by Bobby Heenan.

His other big program of his WWF era was with the Ultimate Warrior. Rude scored one of the first pinfalls on Warrior when he won the Intercontinental Title on April 2, 1989, at Wrestlemania V, leading to Warrior regaining the belt at the second annual SummerSlam on August 28, 1989. By this point, Rude had upped his workrate to where he became almost a bumping machine, which made him one of the few who could get a good match out of Warrior.

Of course, this also led to numerous injuries. After Warrior had captured the WWF title from Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI, Rude, who had largely feuded with Dusty Rhodes, was elevated to the top of the cards, with the storyline being that he was the one who had beaten Warrior for the IC title, climaxing with Warrior winning a cage match in the main event at SummerSlam on August 27, 1990. As it turned out, this was the only PPV show that he headlined as a single.

His WWF career ended shortly after his SummerSlam main event after a dispute with Vince McMahon. While Rude was out of action with a torn tricep, the WWF continued to advertise him for a house show run against Warrior. While business was disappointing during this period, as Warrior was a weaker-than-expected draw as champion after Hogan, Rude was still the heel challenging for the title in all the advertising in the top arenas. Rude felt that his name was being used to draw the houses, but McMahon was paying him very little, based on the fact he wasn't wrestling on those shows. In those days before significant guaranteed money contracts, injured wrestlers were not well paid until they got back into action. Rude eventually quit the company over not getting paid main event money on those shows.....

Rude worked independents and All Japan until his WWF contract expired. His style wasn't considered Japan-friendly, although he proved that wrong as he did very well with New Japan on big shows over the next two years after he signed with WCW. After his WWF deal expired, on October 27, 1991, he debuted with WCW under a mask as The Halloween Phantom, using the Rude Awakening on Tom Zenk and got the mega-push. Three weeks later, he captured the U.S. title from Sting due to outside interference from Lex Luger, beginning the last memorable feud of his active career.

Rude's career peaked in 1992, when he was the best heel in the business and headlined numerous house shows against Sting. But just as he really hit his stride as an all-around performer, injuries began breaking him down. Rude feuded mainly with Steamboat over the U.S. title in early 1992 in matches that were generally considered good but not great. What may have been the best match of his career was on August 12, 1992, at the finals of both the G-1 and NWA world heavyweight title tournament, losing to Masahiro Chono at Tokyo Sumo Hall. He is the only foreigner ever to go to the finals of a G-1 tournament.

Ultimately, Rude  was tearing houses down with classic U.S. title matches, as Sting's bumping machine until he was sidelined with two bulging discs, one of which pressed on a nerve. Watts, in charge of WCW at the time, decided Rude had to vacate the title because he was going to be out of action for several weeks. Rude eventually returned, but was never the same in the ring.

By this point, though, his reputation in wrestling was strong enough that it didn't really matter. He was scheduled to win the NWA world heavyweight title from Ric Flair on Sept. 19, 1993, in Houston at the Fall Brawl pay-per-view. Interviews were taped that summer - with Rude holding the belt and talkingg about upcoming defenses - long before the Flair match was even announced. The NWA Board of Governors, reportedly was upset at WCW for making the title change without consulting with the board first and voted to refuse to allow the change. This led to the final WCW/NWA split.

The final match of Rude's career as an active pro wrestler took place two weeks later. With his wife expecting the couple's second child, Marissa, they induced labor so he could be there for the birth on the morning of April 27, 1994. He had to leave later that day for Japan, where he was scheduled to win back a world title. While wrestling Sting at the Fukuoka Dome, Sting did a running over the top rope dive. Rude caught Sting, but he had a mishap on an elevated board that surrounded the ringside area and blew out his C-4 and C-5 vertebrae. Rude blamed Sting for being careless in where he dove, and there was tremendous heat between the two. Rude got up and won the title with a piledriver and a kneedrop off the top rope after distraction from valet Lady Love (who worked his corner in those days only on Japan tours).

Rude never wrestled again, and a few weeks later the title change was rescinded and given back to Sting due to the controversy surrounding the finish. Rude was injured and, in very bitter fashion, gone from WCW.

"He was 35 years old and in the second year of the biggest contract he ever signed," his wife said. "And then it basically ended. That just killed him. He was a great entertainer, and it really hurt him that he couldn't perform. Even at the risk of injuring himself seriously, he'd have tried it again."

Rude was out of wrestling for the next three years and living in Tampa. He eventually returned to ECW in 1997 as a television announcer there to screw with Shane Douglas, until turning on Tommy Dreamer. WWF also hired him to work television tapings as an "insurance policy" with Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley in the original incarnation of DX, before he stunned both groups (which he was working for simultaneously without a contract) by signing with WCW.

Rude's legacy in life, of course, surpassed the one he left in pro wrestling. Rude's rough exterior camouflaged the family man who talked excitedly to other wrestlers about his three children - Little Rick, 8; Marissa, 5; and Coltonn, 21 months. And friends noted in his passing that, outside the ring, he was the one person you'd want to have most as backup in a tough situation. Why? Because you wouldn't have to worry if he'd be there for you.

Rick Rude: 1958 - 1999


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