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'Mean' Gene Okerlund, wrestling interviewer and icon, dies at 76

'Mean' Gene Okerlund, wrestling interviewer and icon, dies at 76
"Mean" Gene Okerlund, the longtime interviewer for World Wrestling Entertainment, died Wednesday. He was 76. (WWE)

In an era of neon and feathers, big hair and bigger mouths, Gene Okerlund held his own beside the loudest personalities that wrestling had to offer.

Standing in the shadow of towering, Spandex-clad men, the 5-foot-9 Okerlund, dressed in a neat suit and tie, would interrogate World Wrestling Entertainment’s biggest stars, including Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, in backstage interviews.

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Okerlund died Wednesday, the WWE announced in a statement on its website. He was 76.

“Mean Gene I love you my brother,” Hogan tweeted shortly after the news was reported.

According to the Washington Post, Okerlund died at a hospital in Sarasota, Fla. The cause of death is not known at this time, though Okerlund did have a history of kidney trouble.

Born in Robbinsdale, Minn., on Dec. 19, 1942, and raised in Sisseton, S.D., Okerlund spoke in a sonorous tone that offered a sharp contrast to the outrageous wrestlers by his side.

While in high school in 1959, he started a band named Gene Carroll and the Shades in an attempt to tap into the rock ’n’ roll craze taking the country by storm. The band found some success in the upper Midwest and was inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.

Okerlund soon moved beyond music, studying broadcast journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, going on to serve as a successful disc jockey, before transferring his talents to television.

In 1970, Okerlund began work at the American Wrestling Association, eventually landing the job of ring announcer and interviewer.

In 1984, he made the leap to the WWE and became a cable television mainstay, interviewing professional wrestling’s top talents. He also became host of several series, including “All-American Wrestling,” “Tuesday Night Titans,” “Wrestling Challenge” and “Prime Time Wrestling.”

Despite leaving WWE for World Championship Wrestling in 1993, Okerlund returned to the fold in 2001, where he worked for the rest of his career.

Several WWE stars expressed their grief over the announcer’s death Wednesday.

“A voice and soundtrack to an entire era of our industry,” WWE Executive Vice President Paul "Triple H" Levesque tweeted. “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.”

Okerlund was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006 and last appeared on WWE TV on Jan. 22, 2018, to interview A.J. Styles for the 25th anniversary of “Raw.”

Okerlund is survived by his wife of 54 years, Jeanne Okerlund; two sons, Todd Okerlund and Tor Okerlund; and three grandchildren.

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