Okerlund got his first taste of the professional wrestling industry as part of the American Wrestling Association, where he worked as a substitute ring announcer for Marty O’Neill. By the end of the decade, he had taken on the position full time and had interviewed the likes of Bobby Heenan, Hulk Hogan, and Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who also gave him his own wrestling nickname: “Mean Gene.”
In 1983, he left the AWA for the World Wrestling Federation — later renamed the WWE — and worked behind the scenes as a locker-room interviewer, in addition to providing ringside commentary and hosting several shows such as “All American Wrestling,” “Tuesday Night Titans,” “Wrestling Challenge,” and “Prime Time Wrestling.” He also lent his voice to some of the more musical aspects of the industry, performing the National Anthem at the first WrestleMania in 1985 and singing “Tutti Frutti” on WWE’s “The Wrestling Album.”
In addition, Okerlund occasionally entered the ring himself, teaming up with Hogan in 1984 to defeat Mr. Fuji and George “The Animal” Steele. He wouldn’t return to the ring until 2012, when he beat Alberto Del Rio and Daniel Bryan on a “Blast From the Past” edition of “SmackDown.”
In 1993, Okerlund transitioned once again to World Championship Wrestling before returning to the WWE in 2001, where he announced the “Gimmick Battle Royal” with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan on “WrestleMania X-Seven.” Soon after, he went on to host the behind-the-scenes original program “WWE Confidential” for its entire run.
Following a longtime career with the WWE, Okerlund was eventually inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006 by Hogan and a host of other wrestling figures, who took time on Wednesday to remember the veteran announcer.
Hogan tweeted, “Mean Gene I love you my brother.”
Mean Gene I love you my brother HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) January 2, 2019
Jerry “The King” Lawler also paid tribute on Twitter, writing, “So sad to hear of the passing of our friend, Mean Gene Okerlund. I’ll 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 RIP Gene.”
So sad to hear of the passing of our friend, Mean Gene Okerlund.
I'll 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 RIP Gene. pic.twitter.com/tgS1Yy3VpA
— Jerry Lawler (@JerryLawler) January 2, 2019
See more reactions below:
RIP “Mean” Gene. Thanks for the memories and being a Gentleman.
God Bless. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/AJn3HsY7Am
— Bully Ray (@bullyray5150) January 2, 2019
Just heard Mean Gene Okerlund has passed away. 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.
Condolences to his friends and family.
— Steve Austin (@steveaustinBSR) January 2, 2019
This one stings. RIP “Mean” Gene Okerlund. As a young fan, he was the only backstage interviewer that mattered. He is the man with the golden voice who is SO synonymous with the culture of pro wrestling. I’m fortunate to have met and shared a beverage with him. Godspeed sir 😢
— Frankie Kazarian (@FrankieKazarian) January 2, 2019
Teared up to the news this morning on the passing of my dear friend and legend Gene Okerlund. He was one of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever met and so supportive of me.
You will be so missed 🙏🏽 my condolences to your family.
— 𝓩𝖊𝖑𝖎𝖓𝖆 𝓥𝖊𝖌𝖆 (@Zelina_VegaWWE) January 2, 2019