As a wrestling fan through high school and college, I came to know Okerlund in 1984, when he joined the WWF as the short, round and mustached announcer who threw out questions to wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage.
In addition to conducting interviews, Okerlund hosted shows and provided ringside commentary during his initial tenure with WWE. Okerlund also sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at “WrestleMania I.”
“WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer Gene Okerlund, the most recognizable interviewer in sports-entertainment history, has passed away,” the pro-wrestling promotion said in a statement on their site. “WWE extends its condolences to Okerlund’s family, friends and fans.”
“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!”
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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.
In the 1990s, Okerlund, like many other big-name stars from WWE, jumped to Ted Turner’s “World Championship Wrestling” promotion, serving in a similar capacity as he did while employed by WWE.
Shortly after the news of Okerlund’s passing, many in the WWE world offered their condolences:
Mean Gene I love you my brother HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) January 2, 2019
A voice and sound track to an entire era of our industry. 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. https://t.co/9ddj6372eE
— Triple H (@TripleH) January 2, 2019
So sad today to hear of the sudden passing of my dear friend @TheGeneOkerlund
I just saw Mean Gene in North Carolina at WrestleCade.
It’s so true that our tomorrow’s are never guaranteed.
Say hello to Jan, Mean Gene. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/PQ4ZZGmXnx
— Jim Ross (@JRsBBQ) January 2, 2019
Gene Okerlund was an incredibly rare talent. He made everything and everyone better. #ThankYouMeanGene for all the incredible memories. Our condolences to his family and loved ones. https://t.co/IxpjiLo9UN
— Stephanie McMahon (@StephMcMahon) January 2, 2019
Very seldom does an interviewer become just as popular, and at times even more popular than the superstars he/she interviews. Gene Okerlund was that person. Im saddened to hear of Gene’s passing. It was an honor to know you Gene! #RIPGene
— Kurt Angle (@RealKurtAngle) January 2, 2019
No cause of death was given.