One of my favorite parts of Raw these days – and that is a small list, let me tell you – is the return of Goldust to his roots as a mysterious film aficionado rather than as wacky comic relief.
See, over the course of just the first three years of his character’s run…
…the bizarre, androgynous movie critic lost much of his mystique…
…evolving into a gay sexual predator movie critic…
…then a secret transvestite movie critic…
…before coming out of the closet as a heterosexual family man…
…then abandoning his family to become just a blatantly weird guy who wore ball gags and diapers to the ring.
All those character tweaks would be enough to wear anyone out, so in May 1998, Goldust burned his costume, blaming Vince McMahon’s sick imagination for ruining his career and life. The crowd was… well, less than sympathetic.
Shedding his former ring persona and wrestling under his real name didn’t lead to instant success, though.
The next week, Dustin Runnels lost to Dude Love. Thus, for the next 30 days (per a pre-match stipulation) he had to wrestle for Paul Heyman. No, not really, but he still had to wrestle without collecting a paycheck.
Runnels’s hard luck continued until, with the assist of a distraction by Sable, he beat Marc Mero and thanked Jesus Christ for the victory.
Show of hands: who here thought this gimmick would be executed tastefully?
His ensuing matches saw Runnels, who eschewed entrance music, pray before the bell…
…point to heaven…
…and offer handshakes to his opponents both before and after the match…
…which did not go over well with them.
Nor did Dustin’s heavy-handed proselytizing go over well with Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross.
While he would never quite lay it on as thick as he did on commentary that night, Runnels didn’t win many new fans the next month when he prayed for the audience before the Fully Loaded bikini contest (a very physical bikini contest, as JR predicted).
The born-again Christian Dustin began proclaiming, “He is coming back,” wearing the slogan on his clothes…
…and displaying it on signs as he marched through the crowd. This “He is coming back” business perplexed Jerry Lawler for some reason. “Who’s ‘he’, JR?”
JR wouldn’t say it outright, but the answer was obvious:
Shane McMahon wasn’t too quick on the uptake, either regarding whom the scripture-quoting born-again Christian Runnels might be talking about, but JR gave him a straight answer:
“I think it’s Dustin’s new spiritual…
In the plainest of terms, Dustin Runnels was “playing for a different coach” and “dancing to the beat of a different and more omnipotent drummer”.
Get it? Like, God or something.
The turning point of this angle came after Val Venis’s so-called castration, the reaction to which was divided even within the WWF.
Some, like Mick Foley, took a very bold stand against it:
Mick Foley had some controversial opinions on the Attitude Era. #wwepic.twitter.com/R0qPqSEDwk
— Art O’Donnell (@Art0Donnell) July 20, 2017
Others, like, for example, WWF owner Vince McMahon, didn’t see what the fuss was about:
1999 Vince McMahon talks to ESPN. #wwe#attitudeera#castrationpic.twitter.com/b5lY5bEW2E
— Art O’Donnell (@Art0Donnell) July 21, 2017
(By the way, Vince was technically right to mock critics accusing him of portraying castration on his television show: this was not a “castration”, but rather an emasculation, or more specifically, a penectomy. In wrestling terms, it had to do with strudel, not grapefruits).
Before Val Venis’s follow-up segment with John Bobbitt, Runnels aired a PSA encouraging viewers to instead watch a special on reptiles on the Discovery Channel, closing with an assurance that “he” (or, if you will, “He”) was “coming back”.
Sure, this was an obvious jab at the many uptight wackos criticizing the WWF for its supposedly lewd content, but you have to wonder why on this night Runnels singled out Val’s post-emasculation press conference with Bobbitt as particularly objectionable.
Why not speak up before the match that Vader forfeited in exchange for group sex with three prostitutes?
Or before the match that LOD forfeited due to Hawk being too intoxicated to walk?
(Let alone attempt a spin-aroonie)
Or before the segment where DX used the words “jack-off” exactly 19 times before mooning the audience?
Anyway, like I said, what a bunch of uptight wackos.
But perhaps a better question was why the wholesome Dustin would make up a group whose initials spelled, “EAT ME”?
Probably the same reason the super-serious Alberta native Lance Storm would name a championship, the “Saskatchewan Hardcore International Title”:
A week later, before another Val Venis segment, Dustin again told us “He” was coming back via another PSA…
…this time encouraging viewers to stop watching Raw and to read a good book like The Bible.
You all remember when Val Venis was nearly emasculated, but do you remember when he sprayed Kaientai with simulated semen? #wwe#attitudeerapic.twitter.com/Q4Nwfi8gxh
— Art O’Donnell (@Art0Donnell) July 26, 2017
He found this preferable to watching Venis shoot a white, viscous liquid at his ex-lover and her husband with a pink Super Soaker. Prude.
As “His” return drew nearer, the evangelist’s campaign against Venis continued, with the adult film star now responding in kind each new step of the way.
Runnels picketed Val’s matches with one of his signs reading, “He’s coming back”…
…so Venis picketed Dustin’s matches with a sign reading, “I have come” (in the sexual sense!).
Runnels attacked Venis after his match …
…so Venis filmed himself having sex with Runnels’s wife and made Runnels watch it.
Here’s where you’d expect me to post an image macro of Ron Burgundy saying, “Well that escalated quickly”, but we’re all better than that, aren’t we?
The first movie, “The Preacher’s Wife”…
…and Val’s ensuing emotional torture of Dustin drew big cheers from the crowd for some twisted reason. True, Dustin was the one who left Terri for Luna in the first place in 1997, but much of Raw’s audience hadn’t even been watching way back then.
In all, Venis made three “films” with Terri Runnels, the first of which aired during a TV-PG Raw is War since re-classified as TV-MA.
Before Val premiered his third and final film, Dustin interfered in his match.
In turn, Val tied up Dustin, repeatedly slapped him and told him to “turn the other cheek”, taunted him with graphic sexual language, then forced him to watch him have sex with his wife again.
Val’s delivery, as well as everything I just wrote in the previous sentence, leads me to believe he was supposed to be the bad guy here, but in the Attitude Era, it was impossible to tell, especially as most fans were still cheering for Venis and his increasingly cruel antics.
At Breakdown, Val was accompanied by Terri, whom JR called, a “Jezebel”, signaling to the home audience that she was officially a heel. The fans watching live, however, didn’t know quite how to react to the match… so they didn’t.
Dustin wrestled a half-hearted match while Val initiated Terri into his, as JR called it, “adult-oriented lifestyle”.
After getting robbed of a pinfall by the referee when Val Venis failed to get it up (his shoulder, that is)…
…Dustin ended up getting covered with the Money Shot.
Speaking of which, after the match Val and Terri continued their X-rated antics, which one of the commentators appeared to really, really enjoy.
(Guess which one)
The next night, Val and Terri did more sex stuff backstage, but after Venis’s match, Dustin’s disembodied voice one last time told Venis that “He” was coming back, this time with Goldust’s theme music and Titantron video playing.
It turned out that all those months Runnels was saying, “He is coming back,” he was referring to the Goldust persona!
Hey, Dustin never said that the “He” he was referring to was supposed to be a messiah…
(…except for the first time, before the WWF toned down the overtly religious language, when he specifically called him, “The Messiah”…
…or the time he wore a “What Would the Messiah Do?” shirt in the ring).
This, apparently, was the brilliant plan Dustin Runnels had formulated:
1. Burn my Goldust gear.
2. Pretend to become a born-again Christian.
3. Launch a phony moral crusade against Val Venis so that he’ll sleep with my wife.
4. Become Goldust again.
5. Kick Val Venis in the nuts.
Whether the course of events made any sense was irrelevant; at least Runnels was back to the gimmick he loved so much…
…until the following year when he cut another promo about how much he hated Goldust, along with his new “Seven” gimmick, on his first night in WCW.