A distinctive voice, a great hype man and a bona fide legend, longtime interviewer “Mean” Gene Okerlund died Wednesday in Sarasota, according to World Wrestling Entertainment.
The WWE Hall of Famer was 76.
A storied career spanning five decades, Okerlund worked for every major promotion, beginning in 1970 with the AWA. That promotion saw some time on ESPN in its later days, but his career really blossomed when the territories succumbed to the super powers, WWF and WCW, and he was seen nationally and internationally via these cable TV programming juggernauts.
With that exposure, Okerlund worked with every top name in the business, including Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Hearing Hogan answer Okerlund’s tremendous intros with “Let me tell you something, Mean Gene,” and Flair proclaiming, “Meeeeean Gene,” the profession stood in good hands.
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Okerlund fit so nicely in this role, eliciting the best of these larger than life personas. His interviews in WWF (now WWE) with the Macho Man ... just what can be said ... classic. Oklerlund not only had chemistry with the Macho Man, but his prowess resonated with each wrestler, and he knew how to take control.
Whether for comedic or dramatic effect or both, Okerlund served as the perfect pitchman, helping draw you into an angle, a storyline, while steering and putting over talent. His somewhat over-the-top reactions and quick wit added to the entertaining banter, and talent felt very comfortable by his side, under his watch.
Pro wrestling/sports entertainment is a scripted show for television, but, like any good sitcom or drama or action movie or soap opera, you become invested in the plot, and the work of Okerlund — his intros, his questions, his back-n-forth with talent, his help on live broadcasts if someone had a brain freeze or veered off topic or if something happened off camera — is one important reason why fans became invested in the AWA, WCW, WWF, reacting to the actions and those words of their heroes and villains.
Thank you “Mean” Gene. RIP.