A Tribute to “Mean” ‘By God!’ Gene Okerlund
One does not have to be a pro wrestling fan to appreciate the loss. If you were alive and kicking in the 1980s, Gene was a pop-culture icon unlike any other.
He was the voice of a generation. He was also 5'9", dwarfed by the wrestlers he interviewed, bald and slightly pudgy, all of which he utilized to great comedic effect in the early days of the world-conquering WWF (today, WWE). In other words, he had an appearance made for radio, and yet he became one of the 1980’s biggest television stars.
According to Wikipedia: After studying broadcast journalism, Okerlund landed a job as a disc jockey at KOIL, a popular radio station in Omaha, Nebraska. Okerlund later moved to Minneapolis to work for a local television station in the front office, leaving the radio industry for a position at the American Wrestling Association (AWA) in 1970. There, 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. He entered the then-WWF (World Wrestling Federation) in late-1983.
For a more comprehensive look at Gene’s life and career, see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Okerlund
He passed on January 2, 2019, at the age of 76.
A Trove of Memories
As you might expect, pro wrestling was never a beacon of political correctness, not until Vince McMahon’s empire went public in 1999 anyway. Gene, as you will see, was a willing participant in the sometimes questionable goings-on … which curiously per today’s PC standards has not dimmed his reputation as a beloved entertainment figure.
You rarely saw him without a smile, and clearly he loved his role.
Gene’s genius was in allowing the wrestlers to freely speak during their televised interviews. This was the era just prior to the WWF interviews being fully scripted (for awhile). Gene would antagonize the performers, or “egg them on,” and react to their responses. His facial expressions and comebacks were priceless.
Some of the content that follows is not PG-rated. Regardless, I strived to pick an assortment of clips that would best represent Gene as a man, and a character.
"Mean" Gene's weirdest interviews
From voodoo priests to donut-eating beach bums, WWE Hall of Famer "Mean" Gene Okerlund has put up with some interesting…
And then, the Tributes.
Gene Okerlund’s death was met with a worldwide outpouring of love and remembrance usually reserved for A-list celebrities and other high-achieving public figures. It was clear he had attained a rare, cherished status among wrestling fans and non-fans alike. He earned his celebrity in the 80s, and as he aged he was considered an elder statesmen for many in his business.
Perhaps most of all, for many of us who came of age during his peak period, Gene was the de facto narrator of our lives. His voice was unmistakable, and always comforting.
Mean Gene, not everyone receives a full-page New York Times obituary. It was well-deserved.
You were one of a kind.