Wrestling fans probably most remember Terri Runnels as Marlena, the glamorous, cigar-smoking companion of then-husband Dustin “Goldust” Runnels. The former WWE diva, who left the company in 2004 to spend more time with her daughter, has now turned her attention to philanthropy. She has launched a national contest called Make The World Write, in which entrants are asked to write an essay detailing how they would make the world a better place. The winner will receive Runnels’ home in Gainesville, Fla., and $100,000 to apply to their idea.
I spoke with the former WWE diva about the contest and her wrestling career last week:
How did the Make The World Write contest originate? Was this something that you came up with?
No, I cannot take credit for this. I was going to sell my home in Gainesville. … You know how depressed the market is right now. And so I heard about this lady doing this contest where she was giving away her home through an essay contest, and the entry fee was $200. Her minimum number was 6,000-something [entrants]. But her essay was about your favorite story about your pet. And while I have pets that I love dearly, I just felt like that was all about her and it didn’t help anyone else. So I thought, I’m going to do the same thing, but I’m going to change it to where it helps other people. I kind of copied her in doing the same exact idea: $200 entry fee; essay contest; my minimum is 5,000 [entrants]. But instead of writing about your pet or something silly like that, my thing is, how would you make the world a better place?
When I started thinking about it, I thought, “What is the worst case scenario?” Somebody spends $200, which is less than they would spend on pay-per-views for wrestling throughout the year. But in doing that, they actually have to put pen to paper and think about what they would do to make the world a better place. As you and I both know, when you put pen to paper, you’re more likely to follow through with an idea than if you just sit and think about it. … If this works, I would love to do it annually, so people could look forward to this sort of thing every single year. I called my attorney and said, “Please make sure everything is on the up and up. I don’t want anything to be illegal.” Even though this is not a lottery of a raffle, when you think of it in terms of the odds, one in 5,000 people will win a home and $100,000 to put toward whatever their essay is about. And you can keep the home — you can live in it, you can rent it out, you can keep it as a vacation home, you can sell it, whatever you want to do. The winner doesn’t have to put 100 percent of the $100,000 toward whatever their essay was about. God forbid they had $25,000 in debt. I would love for them to take care of that and then put something toward something that would help other people.
You mentioned doing this contest annually. Obviously, you can’t give your house away every year. How would it work?
If this is a success, what I would love to do is purchase a home every year and do the exact same thing. Yes, I need to benefit my own family by paying off my home and then buying another property because we want to live in another state, but in the years to come, I would love to have a lower minimum and just have people look forward to it and be thinking for an entire year about how they want the world to be a better place. I think it’s a positive every way you look at it, whether it’s only this year or whether it’s an annual event.
Will you be judging the essays yourself?
I have a panel of judges who will give me their 10 finalists, and then from the finalists, I choose.
What are some other causes and charities that you’ve been involved in over the years?
From the moment I was in the business eons ago — which, I hate to say that because it tells everyone how old I am — that was the one thing that made me feel like I was doing something good. Even though I loved live TV and doing my job, when there was a child with the Make A Wish Foundation or when they said, “We need you to go to these children’s hospitals and visit these children,” that was heart-wrenching. To see 30 children who are either terminally ill and days away from death, or children who are battling cancer or a disease in which they might or might not make it, you leave there and you’re ripped apar, because I have a child and I can only fathom how it would feel for my child to be sitting in a hospital dying. The thing that made me feel so great about it was to know that I could give a smile or some tiny bright spot to that child or their family in their horrible situation.
There have been many things — The Make A Wish Foundation, the Boys and Girls Club. There’s something called Taylor Fit for Kids, which deals with helping our horrendous obesity issue in the United States right now. You can go on my Web site, which is www.theterrirunnels.com, and I encourage people to be involved in any of the things that I have been involved in, or if there are things that you are passionate about, just do something. I know this sounds silly, but to give $5, most people say my $5 won’t matter. But when you think about it, $5 times a million people — what if those million people all said that it doesn’t matter. Wow, we’ve just lost $5 million. On whatever level you can, try to help those around you. Start in your own home — treat the people that you live with with respect, dignity and love. Move from your own home to your neighborhood, to your community, to your county, to your city, to your state, and then it should move across the world. I’m on a soapbox! (laughs)
Before moving on to some questions about your wrestling career, is there anything else that you wanted to bring out about Make The World Write?
I’ve had people tell me lately, “I want to be a part of this contest but I’m scared because I got horrible grades in school in writing and my grammar’s not great.” I don’t want people to be frightened off by the word “essay” or “cover letter.” I want them to just think in terms of truly how they want to make the world a better place. Just put your ideas on a piece of paper. The cover letter, all that is is your name, address, phone number and e-mail address so that we can get in touch with you if you win.
You left WWE in 2004. What have you been up to the past four years?
My funny answer is sitting on the couch eating bon-bons. My honest answer is that I took about a year-and-half off to be mommy and not get on an airplane, just be able to take my daughter [Dakota] to school, fix her breakfast and lunch; no more live-in nannies. Mommy is mommy and that was it. … I’ve been working on a couple of books that have nothing to do with wrestling, but they have to do with being a mommy. One is a very anecdotal advice book and one is a photographically-driven book with very little text to it. A friend of mine owns a premium cigar company called Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, and I worked for him a little bit as his national marketing manager But it ended up where he had me flying out more than WWE, so I told him, “I cannot do this anymore.”
After that I bought a child developmental soccer program called SoccerTots, and I am in the process of selling that, not because I don’t believe in it 100 percent, but because I just do not enjoy running a business on a day-to-day level. I would highly recommend anyone buying into the franchise. The first [wrestling] appearance I did in eons was for my dear friend, Hermie Sadler [in Virginia]. There were two shows. His daughter is autistic, and it’s great to do anything that benefits the autismspeaks.org foundation. I actually did two shows.
At Hermie Sadler’s show, were you doing anything in the ring or was it a personal appearance?
I managed Jerry “The King” Lawler both nights. I did what I used to do as a manager: Ididn’t take a bump; just a little distraction here and there. It was a blast. And I went to my first NASCAR race. Hermie has been begging me for seven years to go to a race. I’m hooked. … I actually want to do a show called Racing 101, where I go behind the scenes, and for all the newbies like myself, I’m able to be their mouthpiece and ask the questions and have the questions answered like on Speed Channel, ESPN, whatever. So I’m working on that right now.
Will you be doing more independent shows in the future?
It’s something where I’m making choices. It depends on whether it’s a friend of mine or someone I’m doing a favor for, if it’s something that is worth my while and lucrative. I love going out and seeing the fans. That is something I’ve missed terribly. So that’s really cool to do again. In the next month and a half, I have several appearances, and that’s also on my Web site. It’s fun to be back out there and talk to people who respect and appreciate the business.
I know that Hermie Sadler has a relationship with TNA. Do you have any desire to work in TNA or perhaps return to WWE?
I would love to do something again, but my only thing is that I don’t want to wrestle. It would have to be in a hosting/managing/valet/interview capacity. I have no problems taking a bump. When I would get to TV and Vince [McMahon] would say, “OK, Big Show is going to goozle you and throw you and you’re going to land on someone in the second row,” I’d be like, “Awesome.” But if he would tell me, “Hey Terri, you’ve got a bikini paddle on the pole match with another girl,” nothing against the other girls, because I so respect them and what they’ve trained to do, but I just cannot stand having an actual wrestling match. It’s just not for me. I love the big bump. I was the first female to be slammed through a table by The Dudleys — loved that, was stoked. Granted, it didn’t feel well the day after or the day after that or the day after that, but I was still very excited to do that bump.
When you left WWE, I read that you requested your release. Are you on good terms with them?
Yes. It was a mutual meeting of the minds.
Do you have a favorite angle that you were involved in during your time in WWE?
There was something that actually never came to fruition that I would love to have seen played out. I thought it would have been the greatest angle. Dustin and I were doing an angle with Brian Pillman where Brian won me for 30 days. What was going to happen at the end of the 30 days was that Dustin and I were going to do a big renewing of our vows at the pay-per-view. So I had the wedding dress and this whole thing, and the way it was to be, in the midst of the renewal of the vows the preacher would say, “Is there anyone here who thinks this union should not take place?” and Brian was going to come out and say, “Me.” He and Dustin were going to get into a melee. My big thing was that I really wanted one or both of them to have massive blood. I think that would have been perfect for the passion of the story. And at some point, instead of protecting Dustin, I was going to jump on top of Brian, getting blood all over my wedding dress so it was a very visual, very dramatic thing. And then I was going to say to Dustin, “In these 30 days, I fell in love with Brian and I have to leave you, I can’t remarry you, I can’t stay married to you, I have to go.” Then I was going to go with Brian.
As you know, the sad news, Brian passed away that day. That was actually on my birthday, which is so sad to me. That was the one angle that to this day I just wonder how great it would have been. We ended up going in another direction — with Luna and Dustin. The only other thing I really regretted was when we did the whole D-Lo Brown/Val Venis angle where I said I was pregnant, and I was thrown off the ring apron and fell and supposedly had a miscarriage. I fought that one tooth and nail with Vince Russo. And he was like, “Terri, you know it’s all an act.” I’m like, “I know Vince, but my daughter’s getting to the age know where she’s going to go to school and they’re going to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know your mommy was having another baby’ or ‘your baby brother or sister died.’ That’s the kind of thing that I just thought went over the top and was too much for me.
After Dustin and his father , Dusty Rhodes, were reunited after being estranged, I remember they did some interviews together on TV in which they blamed their split on you. What was that like for you to see that on television?
I got very passionate about that because I loved Dustin with all my heart and still do. We talk often and have a great relationship. First of all, Dusty loves his son, but was not the greatest father. And I don’t blame that on him, I blame it more on the era that Dusty grew up in and the fact that Dusty was constantly on the road. Dusty’s way of showing love back then was to bring toys and gifts when he came through town, as opposed to spending quality time. He is an incredible father to [kids from his second marriage] and a supreme grandfather to Dakota. They text back and forth if they’re not calling back and forth constantly. I love and appreciate the grandfather he is to our child, but I’m sure if Dustin was being honest and not being prodded or trying to make a dramatic scene, he would say, “Terri has always been fair with me. She’s been a good mom. She’s been respectful of me. She loves me. And she never told me not to speak with my father.”
Those are issues that have been boiling since he was a child. I think that as they have gotten older they have worked on those, and that’s a great thing. But the last thing I would ever do is to say to Dustin, “Don’t speak to your father.” What I would say is, Dustin deserved better than he got. Dusty would give him a pat on the back at the bar after a match in front of everyone and say, “I love you, son,” but in private when it was just us, it was hard for him to say, “You know what, son? I am so proud of you,” or “you did a great job.” It was more for show. But I think Dusty’s changed a lot, so it makes me proud of Dusty. I think both of those gentleman know better than to say that it was me keeping them away. I wanted them to have a great relationship.
How much do you watch wrestling now, and what do you think of the current product?
I don’t watch that often. If Dustin calls Dakota and says, “Hey, I’m going to be on tonight and it’s going to be funny,” or “I want you to watch it,” we’ll tune in. The analogy that I have, and it’s been said by me time and time again, on wrestling and females is: If you make a cake and you have no icing on that cake — the cake are the men, the icing would be the females — it’s good and you enjoy it, but it’s bland. You need something more. If you have a cake and you have as much icing as you do cake, you just wanna go, “Yuck, that’s too much.” I think the mistake that Vince has made with the women in our industry is to go, “Well if one, or two or three women are great, then 12 should be awesome.” I think you have to have the majority be the males and the minority be the females and have that nice layer of icing, so that when you bite into the cake it’s just the perfect complement. Saying that, I give the new girls absolute credit in terms of being beautiful and being good workers. They’re working their butts off. I think all that’s awesome; I just think it’s a little bit much in terms of the ratio of men to women.