Gene Okerlund, the iconic voice of a generation of professional wrestling fans and a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, died on Wednesday, according to World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.
Okerlund’s son, Tor Okerlund, told The Associated Press that his father passed away at a hospital in Sarasota, Florida, near his home in Osprey, Florida. Tor Okerlund said his father, who had undergone three kidney transplants, fell a few weeks ago "and it just kind of went from bad to worse."
Gene Okerlund, who was 76 came into public consciousness in the 1980s and his more serious style early on leant a measure of gravitas to a form of entertainment best known for its bombastic characters.
Dubbed “Mean Gene” by wrestler Jesse Ventura, the announcer was actually better known for his gregarious, kindly nature, and his passing was met with a slew of tributes from wrestling stars past and present. Being interviewed by Okerlund ringside often was considered a rite of passage for up-and-coming wrestling stars.
"Very seldom does an interviewer become just as popular, and at times even more popular than the superstars he/she interviews,” tweeted wrestler Kurt Angle . “Gene Okerlund was that person. I’m saddened to hear of Gene’s passing. It was an honor to know you Gene!”
Added wrestler "Stone Cold” Steve Austin , “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.”
Okerlund began his career with the American Wrestling Association in 1970, moved on to the World Wrestling Federation (now the WWE) in 1984 and eventually landed with World Champion Wrestling before returning to the WWF.
Along the way, he conducted ringside interviews with decades of professional wrestling stars. He interviewed the many legendary wrestlers of the '80s and '90s, including Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage. He even had a small stint inside the ring with the WCW, wrestling twice. He hosted several shows, conducting both interviews and commentary.
Okerlund, a native of Sisseton, South Dakota, was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006.
His son, Todd Okerlund, played four games with the Islanders in the 1987-88 season and represented the United States in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. Gene Okerlund married his wife, Jeannie, in 1964.
His last stint with the WWE occurred in January of last year, when he appeared in the 25th anniversary episode of RAW.
“A voice and sound track to an entire era of our industry,” Triple H, a WWE executive vice president, wrote on Twitter. “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.”
WWE color commentator Jerry Lawler tweeted that he would “always remember Gene with a smile on his face and a drink in his hand and always wanting to help. His was ‘The Voice’ of WWE.”