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One of the most recognizable interviewers in pro wrestling, Gene Okerlund, died today at age 76. Okerlund got his start in pro wrestling in the AWA and spent the longest stretch of his career in that promotion (1970-1984), which was one of the Big 3 pro wrestling brands from the 1960s through the late 1980s. He did ring announcing and other announcing work for the AWA in the 1970s, eventually replacing longtime lead interviewer Marty O’Neal.
Most famously, he developed a chemistry with Hulk Hogan and played off of him better than any interviewer did thereafter. They both moved to the WWF in 1984 when Vince McMahon outbid AWA promoter Verne Gagne for most off his top personalities. He even wrestled a tag team match with Hulk Hogan on a WWF event in Bloomington, Minn. at the Met Sports Center in 1984, facing George “The Animal” Steele and his manager Mr. Fuji.
He jumped to WCW in 1993 when the Ted Turner-owned company was trying to break its image as a Southern-based regional company that happened to be on national television. Like many who left WWE, he eventually returned with a limited role and infrequent appearances from 2001 through this year. In fact, he worked with Seth Rollins just last month.
Super bummed about Mean Gene. Literally JUST sat down last week to do an interview about his legacy. He was the most iconic backstage interviewer in wrestling history in my opinion. #RIPMeanGene
— Seth Rollins (@WWERollinspri) January 3, 2019
In the Monday Nitro era, Okerlund is remembered for his “sleazy 900 number plugs” where he’d tease big news about wrestler’s deaths or other tantalizing stories, only to have a weak “payoff” after many minutes of less urgent topics when fans were being billed more than a dollar per minute in the mean time.
When Okerlund left the AWA, Ken Resnick replaced him as the main interviewer. Resnick would later also jump to the WWF. Resnick wrote on Facebook today: “So sad to learn that Gene Okerlund has passed away. Worked with and learned from him in both the WWF and AWA. So many of the legends I had the privilege and honor to work beside are gone… RIP Mean Gene.”
Former WWE writer Brian Gewirtz said on Twitter that Okerlund was “in real life … one of the most down to earth, funniest and nicest people you will ever meet.”
Very cool when one of your childhood idols who was the absolute best at what he did, in real life was one of the most down to earth, funniest and nicest people you will ever meet. #RIPMeanGene #Legend pic.twitter.com/MQtWTXC5fV
— Brian Gewirtz (@bfg728) January 2, 2019
Drake Maverick shared a story on Twitter today remembering Okerlund ribbing him about people talking about him in the WWE headquarters.
I remember the first time I met Gene.
Gene: “Spud – I was walking around the offices of Titan Towers in Stamford CT. Do you know who was talking about you?”
Me: “OMG – Who Gene?”
Gene: “Absolutely f’n NOBODY!”
God bless you sir #RIPMeanGene
— Drake Maverick (@WWEMaverick) January 2, 2019
Pro wrestler and wrestling trainer Tom Prichard wrote on Twitter that he was “always a class act and fun to hang out with” and touted his “distinctive voice and personality.”
I talked to Mean Gene a couple months ago in Rome GA… Always a class act and fun to hang out with. Larger than life, distinctive voice and personality, one of a kind. You will be missed… #RIPMeanGene
— Tom Prichard (@drtomprichard) January 2, 2019
I’m sad today! I only worked with “Mean” Gene professionally once but I spent a lot of time personally with him. What a gentleman and a professional. The voice of a couple of “Eras” and definitely of a generation! God Speed and #RIPMeanGene
— Brian G. James (@WWERoadDogg) January 2, 2019
I’ve seen “the voice of a generation” and “synonymous with pro wrestling” in many accounts regarding the passing of Mean Gene Okerlund. Both absolutely true. Rest In Peace Mean Gene. Sorely missed, and never to be duplicated.#RIPMeanGene
— Christopher Daniels (@facdaniels) January 2, 2019