Gene Okerlund, one of the most recognizable figures in professional wrestling during the 1980s and ’90s, has died at age 76, WWE announced on Wednesday morning.
Okerlund, whose most famous role came as a backstage interviewer, rose to prominence with the AWA before eventually joining WWE in 1984. During his time with the company, his vignettes with stars such as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Randy “Macho Man” Savage helped promote matches on WWE programming.
Okerlund’s iconic nickname, “Mean” Gene, was given to him by Jesse “The Body” Ventura, according to WWE’s obituary.
In addition to conducting interviews, Okerlund hosted shows and provided ringside commentary during his initial tenure with WWE. Okerlund also sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at “WrestleMania I.”
In the 1990s, Okerlund, like many other big-name stars from WWE, jumped to Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling promotion, serving in a similar capacity as he did while employed by WWE.
After returning to WWE in 2001, Okerlund appeared on various programs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Hogan in 2006.
While Okerlund appeared in the ring as a wrestler sporadically during his career, his role was just as important as many of the professional wrestlers he interviewed during his segments. Okerlund’s ability to play it straight with the likes of Savage, Hogan and other stars such as the Iron Sheik, helped sell their characters as “faces” or “heels” for the crowd.
Thanks to the rise of the internet and the WWE Network, Okerlund’s iconic moments have remained relevant and a part of pop culture, decades later.
While a cause of death has yet to be released, Okerlund battled kidney issues during his adult life, eventually needing to undergo two transplants, one in 1995 and another in 2004.
News of Okerlund’s death sparked an outpouring of condolences and memories on social media Wednesday morning.
Mean Gene I love you my brother HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) January 2, 2019
A voice and sound track to an entire era of our industry. He was the star of some of @WWE’s most memorable segments. “Mean Gene” was beloved by all who got to work with him. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time. https://t.co/9ddj6372eE
— Triple H (@TripleH) January 2, 2019
HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE NEWS! One of the best voices in wrestling. Great wit. Great all around work! This one is rough. Rest In Peace "Mean" Gene Okerlund. You were a classic!https://t.co/0CZSrFCap6
— Brian Heffron aka The Blue Meanie (@BlueMeanieBWO) January 2, 2019
So sad today to hear of the sudden passing of my dear friend @TheGeneOkerlund
I just saw Mean Gene in North Carolina at WrestleCade.
It’s so true that our tomorrow’s are never guaranteed.
Say hello to Jan, Mean Gene. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/PQ4ZZGmXnx
— Jim Ross (@JRsBBQ) January 2, 2019
Mean Gene was the voice of millions of childhoods. Mine certainly. An honor to meet him. Condolences to his family. pic.twitter.com/krsMtbeNIl
— Florida Man (@WWEBigE) January 2, 2019
Just heard Mean Gene Okerlund has passed away. As an interviewer, pitch man, announcer, or host, he was untouchable. Simply the best. Total professional with quick wit, sarcasm, humor, and that golden voice.
Condolences to his friends and family.
— Steve Austin (@steveaustinBSR) January 2, 2019
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