Murdoch Was Larger Than Life

Dick Murdoch

Dick Murdoch

An article by Mike Mooneyham

Published June 23, 1996

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dick Murdoch, who passed away June 14, 1996, at the age of 49, was an integral part of a generation of wrestlers who helped pave the way for today’s stars. A colorful performer whose love for his home state of Texas was reflected in his character, “Dirty” Dick Murdoch’s passing leaves a void in wrestling that will never again be filled. Dick Murdoch is remembered in the first of a two-part series.

One of Dick Murdoch’s favorites things, besides wrestling, was talking about the old days and growing up in Waxahatchie, Texas, where boys were molded into men at an early age and modern-day cowboys still roamed the ranges.

Like his home Lone Star state, Murdoch epitomized a larger-than-life figure in the sport of professional wrestling. A barroom brawler affectionately known to many fans as “Dirty Dick” and “Captain Redneck,” Murdoch spent 30 years in a profession he loved with a passion.

Murdoch, who retired from a full-time schedule several years ago but continued to wrestle on an occasional basis, died of a massive heart attack at his home in Canyon, Texas, after having worked a rodeo show earlier that day in Amarillo.

A star athlete out of high school, Murdoch was heavily recruited by the University of Texas. His grades, however, didn’t get him in, so he opted for West Texas State, which at that time featured future pro footballers Duane Thomas and Mercury Morris and would spawn such future stars as the Funk Brothers, Stan Hansen, Manny Fernandez, Ted DiBiase, Tito Santana, Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham, Scott Casey, Kelly Kiniski and the late Bruiser Brody (Frank Goodish). But whether Murdoch actually attended West Texas State is a matter of conjecture.

“I don’t know if he ever went to school there a day in his life,” said WWF announcer Jim Ross, who worked with Murdoch in Bill Watts’ popular UWF promotion during the mid-’80s. “He played in one of their alumni games one time and talked his way into that deal.”

It was at West Texas State where Murdoch was to form a lifelong partnership with a fellow athlete by the name of Virgil Runnels Jr., who, like Murdoch, had big dreams that transcended the boundaries of a college football field. After a stint with the Marine Corps, Murdoch rejoined Runnels, but this time in a professional wrestling ring.

Runnels, however, was no longer Runnels – he was now Dusty Rhodes, who was later to become “The American Dream” and was to revolutionize the sport in a way Muhammed Ali changed boxing. Together, known as “The Texas Outlaws,” “Dirty” Dusty Rhodes and “Dirty” Dick Murdoch swept through opposition like a Texas tornado, leaving in their wake a path of broken bones and sellout crowds from Detroit to Australia. They were to become one of the greatest tag teams in wrestling history.

“Dusty and I had a great time together,” Murdoch said in 1989 interview. “We broke into wrestling together and were partners for nine years in a row. We traveled together every day, wrestled together every day and we lived next door to each other. But we finally just had to shake hands and go our separate ways.”

Although Rhodes and Murdoch were also on opposite sides of the ring at times during their careers, they remained close friends and even bought some land together in the mountains of Colorado, where they would hunt and fish. But they always called Texas their home. Murdoch lived in Canyon, only six miles from longtime friend Terry Funk, who once broke Murdoch’s ankle with a spinning toehold.

“Dusty’s a heck of an athlete, a heck of a wrestler and a heck of a nice guy,” Murdoch said in the 1989 interview. “Who knows, maybe one day before we both retire, we’ll get back together as `The Outlaws’ one more time. That would be fantastic.”

Murdoch’s inclination toward the sport came naturally. His father was famous mat villain Frankie Hill Murdoch, and his uncle was the legendary “Farmer” Jones, who gained notoriety by bringing a pig into the ring.

Scars and a couple of missing front teeth represented the rugged part of the business that the big Texan proudly carried with him. But family always remained the most important part of Murdoch’s life.

“I make a living to take care of my family, and that’s what I really care about,” said Murdoch. “I think I live a good, clean life. The only thing that’s ever been strong in my body is a few beers and every now and then a shot of whiskey.”

Murdoch was also active in drug awareness programs, working with Elk’s lodges throughout Texas.

“I try to teach my kids to grow up a good American way and to keep away from drugs. Anyone even associated with drugs is not welcome in my house.”

One of Murdoch’s fondest recollections of this area involved a not-so-successful fishing trip during the early ’80s.

“(Blackjack) Mulligan and I had this boat and we went down to the Santee-Cooper, which was supposed to be the greatest bass fishing lake in the history of the United States,” he joked. “We went down there and didn’t catch nothin’ but a heat stroke. The game warden checked us and couldn’t believe we didn’t have one fish.

“We were wrestling in Charleston later that night. Everyone knew we had gone fishing and we didn’t have any fish. We went down to a bunch of fish markets, but unfortunately they were all closed.

“It had been a hot summer day and we had to wrestle in that old building (County Hall). We were wrestling (Ric) Flair and (Greg) Valentine that night, and I think the match went an hour, and it was all Mulligan and me could do to get to the shower. I was in the Marine Corps in Twentynine Palms in the middle of the Mojave Desert in California. But that night here in Charleston, after that sunburn; man, it was a memory, and I wouldn’t trade for it. I loved it.”

The news of Murdoch’s passing had a numbing effect throughout the wrestling community – especially among those who came up through the ranks with the big Texan.

Former mat star Jerry Brisco, who now works as a road agent for the WWF, was particularly saddened by the loss.

“My brother and I have been really down in the dumps about that,” Brisco said from his home in Tampa. “Jack (former NWA world champion Jack Brisco) and I were devastated because we go way back with Dickie.

Not only did we have a good time and wrestle him and wrestle with him all over the world, he was a very close personal friend of both Jack and I. All I can say is there’ll never be another Dick Murdoch.

“No matter how he was feeling, he was always able to bring you up and make you feel good. “It was always a pleasure to be around Dick. He will be missed by a lot of people.”

Part Two

Published June 30, 1996

Professional wrestling lost one of its true originals with the recent passing of Dick Murdoch.

Murdoch, 49, died of a massive heart attack the evening of June 14 at his home in Canyon, exas. He reportedly had no prior heart problems, but had suffered from high blood pressure in recent months.

Murdoch, who had worked a rodeo event the day of his death, had promoted and wrestled a show the night before at the Amarillo Sports Arena. It was the same building where he had spent many of his favorite times as a child watching his father, the late Frankie Hill Murdoch, engage in a legendary feud with the late Dory Funk Sr., and where he, too, had main-evented on many occasions. Murdoch had, in fact, planned to bring a series of shows to the Sports Arena this summer as part of a “Blast from the Past Wrestling” series.

“Dirty Dick” Murdoch was known as much for his easygoing and endearing personality as his ability as a top-notch worker inside the ring. A master storyteller who could spin tales to match the size of his home state of Texas, Hart Richard Murdoch continued to live out his cowboy dream even after his days as a main-event wrestler had ended. As proprietor of a colorful establishment appropriately named Dirty Dick’s Dive, Murdoch perpetuated the legends of men who had long ago made their marks on Texas Panhandle wrestling history.

Murdoch, who had a lifelong passion for steer roping, was a member of the Coors Team Roping Association and the Elks Lodge in Amarillo. He took an active role in helping the lodge kick start a statewide anti-drug program in 1988.

The news of Murdoch’s passing had a numbing effect throughout the wrestling community.

Former mat star Jerry Brisco, who shared a 30-year friendship with Murdoch, said the 6-4, 270-pound Texan changed very little the entire time he had known him.

“From the first day I met him back in 1966, he looked the same and acted the same,” Brisco said. “I never heard of a single health problem about Dick Murdoch. That’s what really hit everybody by surprise. You could look at Dickie and see that he was a little out of shape, but Dick was like that his entire life.

“I saw Dickie about six months ago. One of my older brothers, Bill, who is in the car business and works out in Amarillo for a dealership, called (brother) Jack and I from Dirty Dick’s Dive less than a month ago. That place was packed with Dickie’s personality. He could really draw in those cowboys. Everything was going well with him. They were getting ready to have a big barbecue in Canyon, and he had even run a show in Amarillo and had wrestled in it. This all hit us pretty hard.”

Brisco, 49, said the loss hit close to home.

“We lost one of the best ones. Dickie was just one of those guys you get the pleasure of meeting and you’ll never forget. He always brought up everyone he came in contact with. Dickie was one of those guys you think is going to be around forever. He’ll be missed. It makes you realize that you can’t go through life being away from your family all the time. I guarantee you it hit home.”

Dory Funk Jr., who held the NWA world title from 1969-73 and whose brother Terry lives six miles from Murdoch’s home in Canyon, has many fond memories of his Texas friend, noting that many of Murdoch’s wild antics as a youngster – such as throwing chairs at wrestlers and being the first in line for a good fight – remained with Murdoch throughout his life.

“I used to watch my father (Dory Funk Sr.) wrestle his father (Frankie Hill Murdoch) back around 1950,” said Funk, who now lives in Ocala, Fla., but whose younger days were spent on the famed Flying Mare Ranch in Umbarger, Texas. “I was older by about seven years, but I used to watch Dick running around the (Amarillo) Sports Arena when he was around 7 or 8 years old. He was a hell-raising kid who used to throw seat pebbles at the guys after the matches. My father wrestled his father in Amarillo something like 30 times one year and packed the house at the Sports Arena every time. Dick grew up in wrestling and he died in wrestling.”

Funk called the funeral “just as crazy as Dick Murdoch’s life.”

“The funeral was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Funk. “The place was full as you would imagine it would be. There were tears and people crying, but at the same time whenever somebody talked about Dick, because of the way he lived his life, it was a funny story. There were people laughing one minute and crying the next minute. It was evident that Dick Murdoch was a friend of the fans. Many fans came a long way to get there. Dick helped lots and lots of guys.”

WWF announcer Jim Ross called Murdoch “a natural.”

“I knew him very well,” WWF announcer Jim Ross said. “He was a great athlete and certainly seemed to be born to be in wrestling. He was a natural if there ever was one as far as his timing and his aptitude. It was absolutely amazing. He’s going to be missed. The stories that he told in the locker room were legend. He was a heck of a good guy.

“He’s one of those colorful characters that you really miss and just can’t be replicated. He was a natural, he was a prodigy, he was born to be in the business.”

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