Legendary professional wrestling ringside interviewer “Mean” Gene Okerlund is dead, World Wrestling Entertainment announced Wednesday. He was 76.
Okerlund was a familiar face and voice for generations of wrestling fanatics, chronicling the exploits of larger-than-life figures including Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage over his nearly half-century career.
“Mean Gene was the voice of millions of childhoods. Mine certainly,” tweeted current ring warrior Ettore “Big E” Ewen. “An honour to meet him.”
Okerlund got his start as an announcer and interviewer for the American Wrestling
Association in 1970, taking rapt viewers inside the minds of the sport’s stars, among them Hogan, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and fellow Minnesota native Jesse “The Body” Ventura, according to WWE.
It was Ventura who bestowed upon Okerlund a moniker of his own: “Mean Gene.”
In 1984, Okerlund made the jump to the WWE, endearing himself to a national audience as host and commentator on shows including “Tuesday Night Titans” and “Prime Time Wrestling.”
At the inaugural WrestleMania in 1985, it was the versatile Okerlund who belted out the National Anthem.
“As an interviewer, pitch man, announcer, or host, he was untouchable. Simply the best,” tweeted “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. “Total professional with quick wit, sarcasm, humour, and that golden voice.”
Okerlund was on the move again in 1993, joining World Championship Wrestling as lead interviewer, but in 2001 returned to WWE, where he inked a lifetime contract.
He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, by longtime subject Hogan.
“Mean Gene,” tweeted Hogan on Wednesday, “I love you my brother.”
A cause of death was not released, but Okerlund has suffered serious health setbacks, including kidney transplants in 1995 and 2004, according to reports.