Legendary wrestling announcer 'Mean' Gene Okerlund, a master of his craft, dies at 76
Okerlund was best known for his tremendous backstage interviews with WWE and WCW over more than 30 years
"Mean" Gene Okerlund, an iconic interviewer, announcer and personality during the two biggest boom periods in professional wrestling history, has died at 76.
WWE confirmed the news Wednesday, calling Okerlund "the most recognizable interviewer in sports-entertainment history" after an on-air career that began as a radio disc jockey before Okerlund first joined the AWA in 1970.
Okerlund's three-plus decade career in wrestling saw him become a key figure for Vince McMahon as McMahon took his then-WWF promotion national in the mid-1980s thanks in large part to the launch of WrestleMania. Okerlund rejoined former AWA stars like Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan upon signing with WWF in 1984 and played just as key of a role with rival WCW throughout the "Monday Night Wars" after joining Hogan there in 1993.
A 2006 inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame, Okerlund returned to the company in 2001 and remained an ambassador and occasional WWE Network host until his death.
Okerlund's real-life persona was the antithesis of his "Mean" nickname, which was given to him by Ventura in the AWA. Okerlund's quick wit and professional voice has served as the fabric of modern pro wrestling history, particularly his work alongside Hogan, whose beloved opening line -- "Well, let me tell you something 'Mean' Gene ..." -- helped the two share an inseparable link akin to Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell in boxing.
Despite Okerlund's reputation for humor, both on and off camera, it was the integrity of his on-screen character, which often saw him question and confront heels during interviews, that played just as big of a role in his success. It's a trait he showcased in likely his most famous in-ring interview at the WCW pay-per-view "Bash at the Beach" in 1996 when he confronted Hogan about joining the New World Order as the Daytona Beach, Florida, crowd pelted them with trash.
Okerlund, who sang the national anthem before the start of WrestleMania I in 1985 at New York's Madison Square Garden, hosted many integral WWF shows in the 1980s, including "All-American Wrestling," "Prime Time Wrestling," "Wrestling Challenge" and "Tuesday Night Titans." He also sang a cover of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" on WWF's 1985 "The Wrestling Album."
A native of Sisseton, South Dakota, Okerlund studied broadcast journalism at the University of Nebraska and lived his later years in Sarasota, Florida. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Jeanne, and two children, including his son Todd, a former NHL player and 1988 U.S. Olympian.
Okerlund reprised his wrestling interviewer role in a 2018 Mountain Dew kickstart commercial opposite actor and comedian Kevin Hart, who impersonated the late Randy Savage. Last January, he made his final WWE television appearance during a backstage interview of AJ Styles on the 25th anniversary episode of Raw.
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