‘Simply the best’: Hulk Hogan, The Rock pay tribute to ‘the voice of wrestling’
Eugene 'Mean Gene' Okerlund, whose deadpan interviews of pro wrestling superstars made him a ringside fixture in his own right, has died aged 76.
- 'Mean Gene' became renowned for his deadpan interviews
- Iconic announcer remembered as a "wrestling legend on the microphone"
- He got his break when regular interviewer couldn't make taping of a show
World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) announced Okerlund's death on its website.
Okerlund started as an interviewer in the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association (AWA), before moving to WWE — then the World Wrestling Federation — in 1984.
He became a familiar face for generations of wrestling fans, chronicling the exploits of larger-than-life characters like 'Macho Man' Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan, among others.
Besides being the company's lead locker room interviewer, he also provided ringside commentary, and with his call-card natty attire and moustache, became affectionally known as 'Mean Gene' Okerlund.
"As an interviewer, pitch man, announcer or host, he was untouchable," tweeted former professional wrestler 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin.
"Simply the best. Total professional with quick wit, sarcasm, humour, and that golden voice."
Hulk Hogan took to social media to share a photo of "his favourite drink": a martini.
"The best partner I ever had. We never rehearsed or did anything scripted from a writer," he wrote.
"Gene would ask me 'hey big man what do u want to do?' I would always answer 'just follow you brother' and it worked."
Actor and former wrestler Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson mourned the loss of a "wrestling legend on the microphone".
"What an iconic career and extremely distinct voice of the squared circle during distinct eras of the smart/cool sounding 'neutral' wrestling commentator," he said.
"RIP legend, strength to your Okerlund ohana and thanks for the awesome memories."
A native of Sisseton, South Dakota, Okerlund hosted several shows, including All-American Wrestling, Tuesday Night Titans, and Prime Time Wrestling.
He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006.
The iconic announcer could also sing and performed the national anthem at the first WrestleMania in 1985.
"He really was the ultimate, the consummate entertainer," his son, Tor Okerlund said.
In a 2015 interview with the Star Tribune, Okerlund credited late pro-wrestling pioneer Verne Gagne for his start.
Okerlund worked in sales at the television station where Gagne's AWA was based and had experience in radio.
Gagne approached Okerlund in the hallway when the regular interviewer could not make a taping in the early 1970s, Okerlund recalled.
"I said, 'Verne, I know zero about wrestling'. He said, 'Do you have a suit and tie? That's all you need'," he said.
"There were a few bucks involved, so I dived in."
Funeral arrangements are pending.