Hall of Fame hardcore wrestler Terry Funk dies at 79: 'Unbelievably Fearless'

Wrestler Terry Funk wears a cowboy hat and looks down a hallway
Hall of Fame wrestler Terry Funk, known for his tenacity and longevity, has died at age 79. (B Bennett / Getty Images)

The enduring memory of iconic pro wrestler Terry Funk is of him in a Tokyo ring screaming "forever" over and over, his face stained with blood, sweat and tears. It was Aug. 31, 1983 — nearly 40 years ago today — and he was announcing his retirement from wrestling in Japan.

Fans screamed the word along with him as he emphasized how much he'd miss wrestling in front of them moments after teaming with his brother Dory Jr. to defeat longtime rivals Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody. Funk was 40 and retirement seemed sensible.

It didn't last. He wrestled and retired and wrestled and retired and wrestled and retired so often it became almost comical.

Funk, whose death was announced this week at age 79, didn't quit for good until he'd wrestled for 52 years, his last time in the ring coming Sept. 22, 2017, when he teamed with famed The Rock N'Roll Express duo of Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton in a six-man tag team match to defeat Doug Gilbert, Jerry Lawler and Lawler's son Brian Christopher via disqualification.

The win gave Funk a measure of revenge after he'd lost his last USA Championship Wrestling match to Lawler two years earlier at age 71.

Tributes on social media poured in upon the news of Funk's death.

"In My Entire Life, I’ve Never Met A Guy Who Worked Harder," Rick Flair posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Terry Funk Was A Great Wrestler, Entertainer, Unbelievably Fearless, And A Great Friend! Rest In Peace My Friend."

Terry Funk was born in Hammond, Ind., in 1944, and grew up in Amarillo, Texas. His father, Dory, was a professional wrestler and promoter, and by the 1960s Funk was already dominating the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). He was an early proponent of hardcore wrestling — loosely defined as anything goes — and eventually he earned the nickname "The Hardcore Legend."

Funk wrestled everywhere: the American Wrestling Assn., World Wrestling Entertainment, World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling, U.S. Wrestling Assn., Ring of Honor and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in addition to the NWA.

He held the NWA World Heavyweight, the USWA Unified World Heavyweight and the ECW World Heavyweight championships. Funk is one of six wrestlers inducted into five hall of fames: WWE, NWA, WCW, Professional Westling and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

Funk impacted several different generations of the sport, wrestling as easily in a brawling style as a technical style. But he was most entertaining in a bloody, chaotic hardcore ring with chairs flying.

Funk was the primary focus of the documentary film "Beyond the Mat" and he appeared as a bouncer in the cult classic "Road House" with Patrick Swayze and in Sylvester Stallone films "Paradise Alley" and "Over the Top."

The WWE announced his death, saying in a statement: "Revered by fans and peers across the globe for his tenacity, heart and longevity, Funk will be remembered as one of the toughest competitors to ever step inside the squared circle. From WWE to All Japan, from WCW to ECW, Funk proved he could go toe-to-toe with the best and pushed the limits of what was possible inside the squared circle."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.