“Longfellow couldn’t have said it better”. Even in death, Gene Okerlund remains the definitive stick man in pro wrestling history. Following his death, WWE released a statement that reads: “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.”
There’s really no debate on this subject. Everyone who has followed since, from Sean Mooney and Todd Pettengill to Tom Phillips and Renee Young, has carried a little bit of Gene’s remarkable professionalism and rapport with talent in their own performances. It was for the best, because nobody could top Okerlund.
Sad news filtered out on Wednesday afternoon that ‘Mean’ Gene had passed away peacefully in his Sarasota, Florida home. He was 76 years young, and still making appearances for WWE as recently as Raw’s 25th anniversary bash last January. Then, all too soon (as it often is with such things), he was gone.
Tributes have poured in from all corners, and rightly so. Okerlund touched a lot of people with his trademark voice and subtle gusto. This article is a tribute in itself. It aims to give a sneak peek into the man’s life and career to those who might not be lucky enough to recall it from childhood, and it should stir dewy-eyed fondness in those who do.
Rest in peace, sir, and thanks for the memories…
5. Okerlund Barely Spoke To Vince McMahon Pre-WCW
Confession time: this entry is largely there so that sweet-as-all-hell pic of ‘Mean’ Gene in a toga from WrestleMania IX can be used. Don’t worry, the actual meat of it is pretty interesting too.
Gene finished up with the WWF in September 1993 and set off to join WCW full-time. Before going, he did work SummerSlam and continued hyping house shows and other pay-per-views on Monday Night Raw. Everything seemed on auto-pilot though, likely because Vince McMahon had full trust in his abilities.
Shortly after joining WCW, Okerlund would reveal in interviews that he had barely uttered a word to Vince during the final few months of his WWF deal. There was no real tension there, just a silent agreement the his time had come to an end in the promotion. Vince didn’t offer a contract extension, and Gene didn’t ask for one.
Come his final night in the company, Okerlund offered a hug to his soon-to-be ex-boss and thanked him for a “hell of a run”. McMahon, despite losing such a talent to his competitor, was all smiles too.
4. Gene Went Unbeaten In Four Matches Across WWE & WCW
Gene Okerlund is best-remembered for running the WWF’s promo department (“Well let me tell you something, Mean Gene”), shilling WCW’s premium hotline (“1-900-909-9900”) or making cameo appearances as a legend following his WWE return. He’s definitely not best-known for lacing up a pair of boots and working a match.
He did that four times, and he never lost once.
A quick check of the wrestling match archives reveals that Gene worked twice for WWE and twice for WCW during his broadcasting career without losing. More impressively, there was a gap of 27 years between his first and final bouts. The first happened in 1984 (a tag match with Hulk Hogan vs. George Steele and Mr. Fuji), and the last was another tag in 2012 (with Sheamus opposite Alberto Del Rio and Daniel Bryan).
Elsewhere, Okerlund teamed with Buff Bagwell against Mark Madden and Kanyon before working a Street Fight against Madden on two episodes of Thunder in 2000.
3. He Played A Part In Pitching Confidential
When he wasn’t becoming the only man to beat Mark sh*tting Madden and Daniel Bryan in one career, Gene was finding new ways to keep his long-running career going.
In 2002, he was in constant contact with WWE production guru Kevin Dunne about possibly launching a new show. Dunne fancied doing something fresh and original, and Gene had just the ticket. He and Kev bumped heads enough that they collectively came up with what would be known as Confidential, and Okerlund had his next gig.
During his RF interview, Gene admitted that it was Dunne’s name but claimed he helped craft the core concept. To him, this was a natural progression from doing those WCW Hotline skits, and it’d allow him to push forwards rather than nod towards the past in throwaway nostalgia gigs.
Confidential ended up being a success, and Okerlund was proud of episodes looking at the death of Miss. Elizabeth, as well as those focused on Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels.
2. Gene’s Second Kidney Transplant Came From His Wife
2006 marked a big moment for Gene.
By being inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame by Hulk Hogan the night before WrestleMania 22, he etched his name in the history books. Had his wife not stepped up and sacrificed for her husband however, there’s a chance the emotional occasion might not have occurred.
Two years earlier in 2004, Okerlund underwent his second kidney transplant in just shy of a decade. His first in 1995 had come near the peak of his WCW run, but it was the follow-up operation that was the most memorable for more than one reason. Firstly, he was much older, and the op was therefore riskier. Secondly, his aforementioned wife Jeanne was the donor.
Gene never made much of a secret about his fondness for alcohol. He was a heavy drinker for years, and that love of the liquor led to several health complications. God bless Jeanne for stepping up when it mattered most to literally breath new live into her man.
1. Gene Had Been Working On A Book Manuscript For Years
Keep in mind that the RF Video shoot interview that’s been referenced several times throughout this article took place at some point between 2006-2007. During the chat, Okerlund said he’d been working on releasing a book for a good few years, and he even had approximately “1,200 pages” all set.
The only problem was that he didn’t want to release his autobiography until he was “totally out of the business”. That day, extraordinarily, would never come. Gene never got to release the story of his career simply because he rarely stopped working long enough to finish it.
Now he’s gone, perhaps somebody will step in, rescue that manuscript and do his work justice. 1,200 pages (or therein thereabouts) is a ton of material to work with.
Okerlund did also add that he’d be “stepping on a lot of toes” with some of the stories he wanted to include in the book, so there’s sure to be some tasty stuff in there. If nothing else, his family deserve the proceeds such a read would glean.
WWE Hall of Famer “Mean” Gene Okerlund passes away
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.
“Mean Gene,” as he was named by fellow Minnesotan, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, first came to prominence as an interviewer in the American Wrestling Association.
In 1984, Okerlund made the move to WWE where he became as recognizable as the Superstars he asked the tough questions to, including “Macho Man” Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior and, perhaps Okerlund’s greatest guest, Hulk Hogan. Countless Hulkster interviews included the indelible phrase, “Well you know something ‘Mean’ Gene!”
As the respected and reliable man behind the microphone in WWE, Okerlund branched out from interviewing and provided ringside commentary and hosted several shows, including All-American Wrestling, Tuesday Night Titans, Wrestling Challenge and Prime Time Wrestling.
Announcing wasn’t all that Okerlund could do with a microphone, as he performed the National Anthem at the first WrestleMania in 1985. Later that year, Okerlund would sing “Tutti Frutti” on WWE’s The Wrestling Album.
In 1993, Okerlund joined WCW where he continued to interview many of the legends he had worked with in the AWA and WWE, as well as WCW stalwarts like Sting, Diamond Dallas Page, Goldberg and others.
Okerlund returned to WWE in 2001 to call the Gimmick Battle Royal at WrestleMania 17 along with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and continued to appear on WWE television programming, including as a cast member on WWE Network’s Legends’ House.
Wrestling News Plus extends its condolences to Okerlund’s family, friends and fans.
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