Gene Okerlund, a gentlemanly wrestling announcer who went by “Mean Gene” and specialized in interviewing the biggest, loudest and most obnoxious professional grapplers in the business, died Jan. 2 at a hospital in Sarasota, Fla. He was 76.
His death was confirmed by a daughter-in-law, Patricia Okerlund. The cause was not immediately known, but Mr. Okerlund had been hospitalized with kidney disease, his family said.
Short, bald, jowly and with a neatly trimmed mustache, Mr. Okerlund was a study in stark physical contrast to the athletes he interviewed. He became a stalwart of World Wrestling Entertainment as it became a global juggernaut in the 1980s under entrepreneur Vince McMahon.
Mr. Okerlund’s unflappable interviews set the stage for the character development of widely known personalities such as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Randy “Macho Man” Savage and the Ultimate Warrior.
“Well, let me tell you something, Mean Gene!” Hogan would bark into the microphone, regardless of the question, as Mr. Okerlund remained courteous. His nickname — reportedly bestowed by wrestler and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura — was a joking homage to his understated personality on camera.
Mr. Okerlund’s announcing days in wrestling began by happenstance, as American Wrestling Association (AWA) promoter Verne Gagne asked Mr. Okerlund, then working at a neighboring Minneapolis TV station, to fill in one night in 1971 for another broadcaster. “Call what you see,” Gagne told Mr. Okerlund, who said he knew nothing about wrestling at the time.
What became a part-time job quickly morphed into a lifetime career, and it reached its greatest prominence at WWE when ratings for the ring showdowns were soaring. Mr. Okerlund worked for media mogul Ted Turner’s rival World Championship Wrestling from 1993 to 2001, then came back to McMahon’s enterprise and hosted various programs for the company for years.
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