Gene Okerlund, the legendary WWE and WCW broadcaster and announcer, has died at the age of 76. The cause of death has not been revealed. The WWE announced Okerlund’s sad passing in a statement on January 2. Okerlund was a native of Sisseton, South Dakota, and a graduate of the University of Nebraska. He is survived by his wife, Jeanne Okerlund, and their two children. Okerlund turned 76 on December 19.
Okerlund was given the moniker, “Mean Gene,” by Jesse Ventura as an inside joke within wrestling. The joke was that Okerlund was considered one of the nicest men in the business. His work was formally recognized by the WWE in 2006 when he was inducted in the company’s Hall of Fame.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Okerlund First Began Working With the WWE in 1984
In their statement, the WWE said, “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.” Okerlund began his wrestling career with the American Wrestling Association in the 1970s before he moved to the WWE in 1984. Famously, Okerlund sang the National Anthem at the first Wrestlemania in Madison Square Garden in 1985. Later that same year, Okerlund contributed his rendition of “Tutti Frutti” on WWE’s “The Wrestling Album.”
He remained with Vince McMahon’s promotion until 1993 when, like many stars of the time, he went to work in Atlanta for World Championship Wrestling. Okerlund remained with that company until their demise in 2001. After which, Okerlund returned to work for the WWE. Okerlund made his first reappearance at Wrestlemania 17 when he did the announcing on the “Gimmick Battle Royal.”
2. Okerlund Had 2 Kidney Transplants, the Last in 2004
Okerlund had two kidney transplants during his life. The first in 1995 and the second in 2004. The second kidney was provided by his wife. During a 2005 interview with Slam!, Okerlund described the 2004 incident as being a “major health scare.” Okerlund added, “I’ve been asked ‘when are you going to retire?’ And my answer back is that I have no intentions of retiring. I want to do it like Gorilla Monsoon and take it straight to the end. I hope for health reasons that I’m able to do that. Other than the fact that I’ve recently run out Viagra.” In 2014, it was reported that Okerlund was struggling with issues relating to his kidneys.
3. Okerlund’s Son Was a Professional Hockey Player Who Competed in the 1988 Olympics
Okerlund’s son is hockey player Todd Okerlund. Playing on the right-wing, Todd was a star at the University of Minnesota before entering the NHL draft in 1982. Todd was drafted by the New York Islanders 168th overall. Sadly, a severe knee injury meant the Todd never fulfilled his potential and he ended up only playing four games for the Islanders. Todd also spent a season playing with the Springfield Falcons in the American Hockey League. In 1988, Todd Okerlund represented the United States at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
A 2012 feature on Todd Okerlund in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune referred to him as the founder of Classicwrestling.com. During that interview, Todd Okerlund said that he wouldn’t mind seeing his son become a wrestler.
4. So Many of Okerlund’s Interviews Became Viral Hits in the Age of YouTube
One of Okerlund’s most infamous moments came at WWE’s Summerslam in 1989 when he yelled, “F*** it,” after a sign fell on the set. Okerlund was in the process of interviewing “Ravishing” Rick Rude when he uttered the expletive. WWE owner Vince McMahon prompted Okerlund’s outburst by saying, “Nice move!” off camera. Okerlund later said of the interview, “We pre-taped that particular thing… Some tape guy went 10-12 seconds into the tape and said, “This is the cut.” Then all hell broke loose.” Okerlund said he was worried about being fired after the clip was accidentally released but nothing came of it.
In another interview with Dave “The Redneck” Schultz during Okerlund’s AWA days, the interviewer cannot contain his laughter as Schultz ranted about being unable to find women in San Francisco.
5. Okerlund Is Being Mourned by Some of Wrestling’s Biggest Names
As news of Okerlund’s passing spread, some of the wrestling’s biggest names have taken to Twitter to mourn the legendary broadcaster. Here are some of the most poignant tributes: