Beloved WWE announcer and Hall of Fame member "Mean" Gene Okerlund, created some wonderful memories for wrestling fans through his near five decades in the grappling world.
WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer Gene Okerlund, the most recognizable interviewer in sports-entertainment history, has passed away at age 76. https://t.co/DyPiEiVLoV
— WWE (@WWE) January 2, 2019
Born in 1942, Okerlund began his broadcast career in radio in Omaha, Nebraska, eventually moving on to television with a front office position for a Minneapolis TV station. He found his calling in life when the American Wrestling Association (AWA) hired him as a ring announcer and interviewer in 1970 – filling in for Marty O'Neill occasionally before officially taking over the position by the end of the decade.
Okerlund remained with the AWA until 1984, when he joined the now-expanding World Wrestling Federation (WWF), where he became their primary interviewer during their "rock n' roll wrestling" era. He played the straight man to the wrestlers' colorful personas, providing platforms to and playing off the likes of Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, and Andre the Giant.
With his WWE contract not renewed, Okerlund was part of the the mass exodus of '80s talent that went to World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1993 – where he picked up where he left off. Okerlund performed the same duties as primary interviewer until 1996, when Mike Tenay took over the role. Okerlund saw his duties scaled back to only the occasional interview. He attempted a return to the WWF in 1997, but the company declined.
Not a trained wrestler, Okerlund did still participate in a handful of matches for WWF and WCW. Suffice it to say, they were far from "wrestling clinics" and no one would ever accuse Okerlund of being ""The Man of 1,000 Holds." Aside from interviewing, he also filmed "news segments" providing recaps of previous shows/matches, and previewed upcoming pay-per-views (PPV) during his time with both the WWF and WCW.
In 2001, Okerlund returned to the WWF (changed to WWE in 2002) to serve as a commentator for the "Gimmick Battle Royal" during Wrestlemania X-Seven alongside Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. Though they never worked with each other regularly on commentary, the back-and-forth banter between the two was one of the highlights of the PPV, more than most of the matches. With much of the banter ad-libbed, the match took me back to the days when "The Brain" and "Gorilla" Monsoon played off each other so well during their run together – reminiscent of vaudeville performances.
Though Okerlund didn't return to his role as primary interviewer, WWE provided him other opportunities like WWE Confidential, a behind-the-scenes look at incidents and personalities with past and present superstars discussing the topic out of character. He also hosted a number of specials through the company's extensive wrestling library that spans several past companies, and the occasional anniversary/special appearance on WWE Raw.
Hogan – Okerlund's four-decade-old friend from their days in the AWA, WWF/WWE, and WCW – inducted him into the WWE's Hall of Fame in 2006. He would return the favor in 2014 by inducting Mr. T into the company's celebrity wing: in 1985, Mr. T tagged with Hogan in WWE's first WrestleMania against "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.
Here's a special bonus: Okerlund was paired with one-time broadcasting partner/wrestler/part-time politician Jesse "The Body" Ventura in the 1990 comedy Repossessed, providing play-by-play wrestling commentary in the "match" between Nancy (Linda Blair) and Father Mayii (Leslie Nielsen).
Take a minute and cut a promo on your favorite "Mean" Gene memory below…