“Mean” Gene Okerlund dead at 76, wrestling industry remembers pro wrestling’s most recognized interviewer as “down to earth,” “iconic,” and “a true professional”

By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor

Gene Okerlund

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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.

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.”

Drake Maverick shared a story on Twitter today remembering Okerlund ribbing him about people talking about him in the WWE headquarters.

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.”

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