Mean Gene Okerland: R.I.P.

By  | January 6, 2019 | Filed under: News

On January 2, 2019, the Sport of Professional Wrestling lost a legend.  Mean Gene Okerland passed away on that date.  Mean Gene was known for his interviews and commentary that led him to be respected by his peers in the business.  He was loved by many as well as being looked up to.  He was the face of the WWE and WCW in the 80’s and 2000.

I wanted some quotes from people that knew Mean Gene.  So I called Frankie “The Thumper” Lancaster, “Golden Boy” Joe Cazana, Mr. Olympia Jerry Stubbs, The American Giant David Brezner, and “White Lightning” Tim Horner for them to give their views of Mean Gene.  These quotes are throughout the article.

According to Mr. Olympia Jerry Stubbs, “Gene was a nice guy.  He really helped the new comers that were just breaking into the business. He will be missed.”

Mr. Olympia Jerry Stubbs

 

I started watching Professional Wrestling in the mid 80s.  I remember watching the Wrestlers but the Announcers and Commentators also made the matches. Interviews were important to prepare us for the matches that were coming to your town.  I started out watching the greats (Announcers/Interviewers) such as Gordon Solie, Charlie Platt, David Crockett and Tony Schiavone.    However, I can remember watching WWF programming in the 80s when Hulk Hogan came out to talk to Mean Gene Okerland.  I will can close my eyes and hear “Well, Mean Gene………Brother” from Hogan.

Frankie “The Thumper” Lancaster related the following to me; “Gene was the man.  He knew the business from front to back.  He was always joking around.”

 

Frankie “The Thumper” Lancaster

In the 80’s, Gene was the face of the WWF (World Wrestling Federation at the time).  He conducted interviews with the many performers of the business.  Mean Gene was known for interjecting humor into the interviews.  While he could be humorous, he took his job and the business of Professional Wrestling serious.

I spoke with “Golden Boy” Joe Cazana about Mean Gene; Joe related the following to me:

“Gene was a great person.  I met him in Louisville, Kentucky the first time in 1988.He treated me the same respect that he would have treated a big name talent.”

 

To recap Mean Gene’s legacy in the Sport of Professional Wrestling, I looked at Wikipedia.  Wikipedia had the follow on its website:

    Eugene Arthur Okerlund (December 19, 1942 – January 2, 2019), better known by his ring name “Mean” Gene Okerlund, was an American professional wrestling interviewer, announcer and wrestler. He was best known for his work in the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling. Gene was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006 by Hulk Hogan. He was eventually signed to a lifetime contract with WWE and worked for promotional programs, mostly WWE Network programming and, occasionally, the TV series.

Professional career

Early career

    After studying broadcast journalism, Okerlund landed a job as a disc jockey at KOIL, a popular radio station in Omaha, Nebraska. Okerlund would later move to Minneapolis working for a local television station working in the front office

American Wrestling Association (1970–1984)

    Okerlund left the radio industry for a position at the American Wrestling Association (AWA) in 1970, where he occasionally filled in for ailing ring announcer and interviewer Marty O’Neill, eventually becoming O’Neill’s permanent replacement by the end of the decade.

World Wrestling Federation (1984–1993)

    He would stay with the AWA until the end of 1983, when he was one of many AWA personnel to join the expanding World Wrestling Federation (WWF). He would stay with the WWF for nine years as their top interviewer, and was host of such WWF shows as All-American Wrestling and Tuesday Night Titans.

    In 1984, Okerlund and Hulk Hogan faced Mr. Fuji and George Steele in Minneapolis. He was supposed to stay on the apron and let Hogan fight, but when Hogan gave him a high five, the referee mistook it for a tag. Okerlund had to go in, but before his opponent touched him, he quickly got out of the way and tagged Hogan back in. The result: Okerlund pinned Mr. Fuji for the victory.

    On March 31, 1985 Okerlund became the first person to sing the National Anthem at WrestleMania doing so at WrestleMania I.

    On November 12, 1985, Okerlund, along with Hulk Hogan, Bobby Heenan, Ricky Steamboat, Davey Boy Smith, Corporal Kirchner, Dynamite Kid and Big John Studd, appeared on The A-Team.

   Okerlund was also part of one of the most infamous bloopers in pro wrestling history at WWF SummerSlam 1989. Okerlund was set to interview WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion “Ravishing” Rick Rude and Rude’s manager Bobby Heenan prior to Rude’s title defense against The Ultimate Warrior when the SummerSlam backdrop fell backwards. The shot of the SummerSlam backdrop falling can be seen in the video induction of Mean Gene at the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006. Okerlund then turned around and said, “F@#k it,” along with some other words with no audio. The cameras then cut away to a live shot of the crowd, with play-by-play announcer Tony Schiavone and color commentator Jesse Ventura attempting to restore order. After a short while, Okerlund’s interview with Rude and Heenan went as planned. According to a shoot interview with Okerlund, conducted by RF Video, the SummerSlam 1989 blooper was actually taped beforehand. Okerlund explained that the wrong tape was aired during the live broadcast. Meanwhile, a frantic Vince McMahon was on a headset instructing Jesse Ventura to cover for Okerlund. Ventura instead made fun of Okerlund’s on-air gaffe and jokingly regarded Okerlund as a “troublemaker.”

     Okerlund also made another unscripted gaffe when on live TV near the end of the 1992 Royal Rumble PPV he, while doing his interview, famously turned towards someone off-camera and said “Put that cigarette out!”, then went right on with his announcement.

Mean Gene with Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior

World Championship Wrestling (1993–2001)

    Okerlund appeared at SummerSlam 1993 and made his final WWF appearance on the September 18, 1993 edition of Superstars. He then left the WWF entirely when his contract expired. He stated in an RF shoot interview, that although he probably could’ve re-negotiated a new contract, he was never actually offered one, thus opting to become an interviewer for World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He claimed at the time of his hiring with WCW that he had not been on speaking terms with McMahon for the past few years he was working in the WWF.

    He debuted on the November 6, 1993 edition of WCW Saturday Night. Three years later, his contract expired with WCW and he was off television for two months in the fall of 1996. His final appearance was at WCW Fall Brawl on September 15, 1996.

    Okerlund had reached out to the WWF once again to be re-hired, but he was immediately rejected. Mike Tenay took over Special Interviews and the Pay Per View Reports. Okerlund signed a new contract with WCW and returned on the November 11, 1996 edition of WCW Monday Nitro. After that, he was with WCW until it was sold on March 26, 2001 to the WWF.

    Okerlund wrestled twice in WCW. The first was in mid-2000 when he and Buff Bagwell faced Chris Kanyon and fellow announcer Mark Madden, with Bagwell and Okerlund winning. However, Madden wanted Okerlund back in the ring the next week in a one on one match-up. The two did wrestle again and Okerlund won the match with the assistance of Pamela Paulshock.

Mean Gene with Bobby Henan, Ric Flair & Curt Henning

 

Return to the WWF/WWE (2001–2019)

    Shortly before WWF’s purchase of WCW in 2001, Okerlund rejoined his old promotion (renamed WWE in 2002). His first assignment back with WWF was the Gimmick Battle Royal during WrestleMania X-Seven on April 1, 2001, along with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. He would go on to host WWE Confidential in 2002, which lasted for two years.

    Gene also hosted WWE Madison Square Garden Classics, a weekly series, airing on the MSG Network, featuring classic WWE matches that took place at Madison Square Garden from the last four decades. He’s also the host for the WWE Classics On Demand Hall of Fame section, which takes a look at a different WWE Hall of Famer each month.

    Okerlund was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 1, 2006 by Hulk Hogan.   During his acceptance speech, he quoted a Bob Knight speech and requested to be buried face down upon his death so his critics can “Kiss my ass”.

    In June 2008, Okerlund began hosting WWE Vintage Collection, a program which showcases archive footage from the extensive WWE video library.

    On April 4, 2009, the night before WrestleMania XXV, Okerlund inducted longtime WWE ring announcer Howard Finkel into the WWE Hall of Fame.

     Okerlund conducted the interviews on the three-hour “Old School” episode of Raw on November 15, 2010, where he interviewed John Cena, Randy Orton, members of The Nexus and Mae Young in similar fashion as to how interviews were done in the 1980s. Okerlund also appeared in a few Old School merchandising segments, promoting WWE’s new Old School merchandise line.

 

Mean Gene with Brett Hart & Lex Lugar

  Okerlund made an appearance at WrestleMania XXVII in a segment with The Rock and Pee-wee Herman.

     On April 10, 2012, during the WWE Smackdown: Blast from the Past, Okerlund teamed with World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus, in a winning effort, against the team of Daniel Bryan and Alberto Del Rio. On the December 17, 2012 edition of WWE Raw, Gene Okerlund appeared alongside Jim Ross and Ricky The Dragon Steamboat to announce the winner of the Slammy Award for Match of the Year.

Mean Gene with Brett Hart & Lex Lugar

     On March 4, 2013, Okerlund appeared at the second Old School Raw for Mae Young’s 90th birthday party which was interrupted later by CM Punk.

     On January 7, 2014, Okerlund made an appearance at the third Old School Raw, in which he made references to the premium rate “wrestling hotlines” of the 1980s and 1990s. Okerlund inducted Mr. T into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 6, 2014. From April to June 2014, Okerlund was a regular cast member on the WWE Network original reality show Legends’ House.

     In November 2016, Okerlund became the narrator for the WWE Network original animated series WWE Story Time.

    On January 22, 2018, Okerlund made his last appearance on WWE TV, appearing on the 25th anniversary episode of Raw to interview AJ Styles.

Other media

    Okerlund was one of the professional wrestling legends on the WWE Network’s show “Legends House”.

   Okerlund appeared as a “Celebrity Prognosticator” on ESPN Radio’s The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on November 27, 2013.

    In 2018, Okerlund appeared in a Mountain Dew Kickstart commercial featuring Kevin Hart who during the commercial semi-impersonated Randy Savage.

Personal life

     Forming a band in his high school days, “Gene Carroll & The Shades” were based out of Sisseton, South Dakota, recording a single in 1959 “Red Devil / Do You Remember” (M&L 1001). A second single was released in 1962 “Is It Ever Gonna Happen / Holly” (Wausau C-1100) as “Gene Carroll”. They played parties throughout the Midwest and the Dakotas, and in 2009 were inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association’s Hall of Fame.

    In his AWA days, Okerlund was given the nickname “Mean Gene” by Jesse “The Body” Ventura – an irony, considering that throughout the years many wrestlers and promotion staff considered Okerlund the friendliest person in the game. Okerlund was close friends with Hulk Hogan, The Iron Sheik and the late Bobby Heenan. Okerlund served as best man at the Iron Sheik’s wedding.

     His name has been associated with fast food concept, Mean Gene’s Burgers, the brainchild of food-distributor Orion Food Systems (headed by two of Okerlund’s nephews), which appeared on college campuses including Duke University and West Virginia University, as well as Mean Gene’s Pizza, a chain of pizzerias located within bowling alleys. Mean Genes’s Burgers locations are also located at select overseas US Navy base eatery locations (e.g. United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka). These are owned by Hot Stuff Foods, which was headed by two of his nephews. Early in 2006, Okerlund and Hot Stuff split. Okerlund and one of the nephews were planning to start their own food company on the brands, but Hot Stuff sued, claiming they had “Mean Gene” trademarked. Okerlund lost, with the judge saying that Okerlund can’t use the name “Mean Gene” for his new food company. Okerlund succeeded in canceling the trademark registrations held by Orion, but remained enjoined from competing with Orion for the remainder of his life.

   Okerlund had been married to his wife Jeanne since March 27, 1964 and had two grown children. Gene’s son Todd starred on the University of Minnesota ice hockey team from 1983 to 1987. Todd played on the 1988United States Olympics team that competed in Calgary. He played four games with the NHL’s New York Islanders. A chronic knee injury ultimately forced his early retirement.

    Okerlund (who was a heavy drinker for the majority of his adult life) had two kidney transplants, his first in 1995 and his second in 2004, one of which he received from his wife.

   Okerlund was a resident of Osprey, Florida.

    Okerlund died on the morning of January 2, 2019, at the age of 76 in a Sarasota, Florida hospital. This was later confirmed on WWE social media and its official website later that day.   It was revealed by his son, Todd Okerlund, that he had received three kidney transplants and had suffered a fall in the weeks leading up to his death.

Awards and accomplishments

  • New England Wrestling
    • Hall of Fame (2015)
  • Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
    • Class of 2016
  • World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment
    • WWE Hall of Fame(Class of 2006)
    • Slammy Award(2 times)
      • Best Commentator (1986)
      • Best Head (1987)with Bam Bam Bigelow
    • Wrestling Observer Newsletter
      • Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic(1995) 900 hotline advertisements promo
      • Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame(Class of 2016)

Mean Gene induction into WWE Hall of Fame

Speaking with the American Giant David Brezner, David, told me about meeting Gene while working an angle against the N.W.O.  He stated:   “Gene was a funny guy.  He was very pleasant to work with. He was very kind to others, not just in the business but to the fans also.  People in the business really looked up to him.”

The American Giant David Brezner

 

Finally, I spoke with “White Lightning Tim Horner who worked with Mean Gene in the WWE and WCW.  Horner gave the following quote about Mean Gene:

“I just saw him a couple of months ago.  He was an amazing guy.  He was known for his interviews but he an outstanding knowledge of the business.  He spoke to everyone he saw.  What made an impression on me was he treated you the same as everyone, whether it was Hulk Hogan or Tim Horner.  He will be missed.”

White Lightning Tim Horner

 

In closing, the sport of Professional Wrestling has lost one of the greats.  He touched the lives of many people.

Rest In Peace Mean Gene, you will be missed by all.

 

    Bobby Inman is retired from Law Enforcement after 21 years of Service.  He is a Consultant for Southern Heritage Gun & Pawn in Tuscumbia.   He has articles published in Law & Order Magazine, Police Marksman Magazine, Guns& Weapons for Law Enforcement Magazine as well as several published ebooks on Amazon, Kobo Writing, as well as Nook (Barnes & Noble).  He is owner of Poopiedog, an Animal Rescue Dachshund, who is his constant companion.   He is a Senior Investigative Reporter for the Quad Cities Daily.  Bobby is the Photographer for Continental Championship Wrestling. 

 

 

 

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