Gene Okerlund, one of the most recognizable figures in professional wrestling during the 1980s and ’90s, has passed away at age 76, WWE announced on Wednesday morning.
Okerlund, whose most famous role came as a backstage interviewer after joining WWF in 1984. During his time with the wrestling entertainment company, his segments with stars such as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Randy “Macho Man” Savage and countless others, helped promote the biggest matches for the WWF (Now known as WWE).
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 the very first “WrestleMania.”
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.
At the height of WWF in the 80s, Okerlund even had an action figure on the toy shelves. Children knew him just as they knew the other wrestling legends of the era.
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. Okerlund’s ability to play it straight with the likes of Savage, Hogan and other stars such as the Iron Sheik, helped promote their characters to super stardom.
Thanks to the rise of the internet and the WWE Network, Okerlund’s iconic moments have remained relevant and a part of pop culture, even 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 including an emotional tweet by the wrestler he was forever linked with, hulk Hogan.
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
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