Part of rock bottom for Cody Rhodes was a tumbler filled with Gatorade and whisky.
The new two-hour documentary “American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes,” which begins streaming July 31 on Peacock, covers Rhodes’ upbringing and ends with his WrestleMania 39 loss to Roman Reigns, and chronicles Rhodes’ deep love for his dad, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, as a pro wrestling icon and a father.
During one portion, the WWE star reflects on the end of his first tenure with the company – which concluded with him asking for his release in May 2016 over creative differences.
Rhodes was still struggling at the time with the grief of his father unexpectedly getting sick and dying in June 2015.
The mix of personal and professional sadness led to Rhodes doing things that varied as “a cry for help and self-punishment.”
He reveals during the show that near the end of his first WWE go-around he would find himself drinking a combination of whisky and Gatorade after his matches at the monitor – almost looking to get fired.
In a Zoom interview with The Post, Rhodes called doing that “ridiculous” given how hard he worked to get to where he was and that the feelings of despair found their way into his mindset going into matches after his prior attempts to quit didn’t go well.
“There were many times I went out there almost trying to hurt myself or doing things that were dangerous, knowing they were dangerous and kind of saying whatever happens happens,” Rhodes said. “Which is now the worst possible attitude you can have because a lot [of] bad can happen. At the time, I had no real way to deal with the emotions.”
Even at 8 years old he declared the dream of doing things Dusty never did in his career, from main eventing WrestleMania to delivering him the WWE championship he never won.
At the time of his first WWE exit as Stardust, he had lost his dad and was so far from doing those things professionally after growing tired of the mid-card character.
Rhodes is happy he is getting to share everything he went through now.
“Mental health is no longer this taboo subject for anybody for athletes and entertainers,” he said. “At the time, I needed a lot of help identifying what that pain is, carrying what I wanted to carry with me and also knowing that I have to move forward. That whole period was very tricky.”
At the time he said he always knew his actions were wrong while still doing them.
“You shouldn’t be drinking at the monitor, hey you shouldn’t be doing this incredibly risky thing you didn’t rehearse or try,” Rhodes said. “I always knew I was detached from how I normally am and I’m thankful and grateful to say now I’m no longer of that mindset.”
Leaving WWE became the turning point of Rhodes’ life, but pieces of the foundation were laid at an early age.
The documentary gives us our first in-depth look at Rhodes’ life growing up and how it seemed to prepare him to handle a lot of what would come with trying to fulfill his goals in pro wrestling and handling all the things that come with being Dusty’s kid.
It tells the story of how at one of his early amateur wrestling matches a parent in the stands was telling his kid to “beat Dusty.”
We learn of Rhodes’ tireless work to go from a struggling high school wrestler as a freshman to a Georgia state champion at 189 pounds in his junior and senior years and dealing with the pressure and media attention of being the son of the “American Dream” along the way.
When high school ended he and sister Teil left for Los Angeles and enrolled in the Howard Fine School, where one of the classes he took was learning how to tap into and open up about your own life –something he does regularly in his wrestling promos.
Rhodes said he actually thought back then there would come a time when he would no longer be “Dusty’s kid” and his shadow would eventually dissipate.
The opposite has been true, considering he and his brother Dustin are still wrestling and his dad mentored so many of WWE’s current stars.
“I felt like time will pass to wherever I’m doing, even if it wasn’t in entertainment there won’t still be this specter and this giant shadow and individual that proceed me,” Rhodes said. “If anything, I learned throughout all of that when I was wrestling in high school and I was going to Howard, understanding how to communicate the emotions that you feel inside all the way to just coming off of WrestleMania, I feel like that was a silly thought. Because for some reason he gets bigger.”
He said going through the documentary process led to him gaining a greater appreciation for his time with Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase Jr. in the Legacy faction.
Rhodes acknowledges that some of the stuff from his first WWE run was so bad in his mind that it led to him “blocking out” some of the things he did enjoy.
The documentary also covers his and wife Brandi’s courtship, which began with Rhodes approaching his future wife about what he thought was a bad hairdo before she stepped out in front of the audience for her ring announcer duties.
Watching that portion of the show sitting next to her was special for him. The two now share a daughter, Liberty, together.
“I wanted her to know how respected she was and how much it changed my career and my life,” Rhodes said. “It’s not just this throwaway thing.”
One thing Rhodes was not going to leave out of the film was touching on his time as an executive vice president in All Elite Wrestling, the alternative brand, that him, Matt and Nick Jackson, Kenny Omega, Tony Khan and others started.
“I feel like it would have been fraudulent had AEW not been in there,” said Rhodes, who chose not to re-sign with the company to return to WWE — this time as a main eventer — in 2022.
He left how much made the final cut up to director Matt Braine and fellow executive producer Ben House, but noted that expanding on the All In show from 2018 was very important to him because “that’s really the changing point in our business.”
One key person who does not appear in interviews in the show is Rhodes’ brother Dustin, who is currently signed with AEW and for a period their relationship wasn’t the best – though fully repaired now.
Rhodes, however, said he was left out because the time they had together in WWE as Goldust and Stardust “just stunk” and he didn’t want to drag it all up again.
“I didn’t want to present any family drama, over Gold and Stardust and what that was,” Rhodes said.
The story he is telling, however, is a family one in so many ways, the completion and ascension of the Rhodes family to a level on the card it had never been which Cody still striving to become WWE champion.
Rhodes sees the documentary as the best way for fans to learn its full scope of what that all means.
“We are saying, “Finish the story, finish the story,’” Rhodes said. “Well, if you didn’t know the story, here it is.”