Eugene Arthur Okerlund, known professionally in the wrestling world as "Mean" Gene Okerlund, has died at 76 years old. WWE released a statement saying, "WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer Gene Okerlund, the most recognizable interviewer in sports-entertainment history, has passed away at age 76." As of yet, no cause of death has been revealed, though, according to TMZ, Okerlund faced several health issues throughout his life including two kidney transplants in 1995 and 2004.
Okerlund became famous within the wrestling world thanks to his distinct voice and colorful interviews at the height of WWF's golden era in the Eighties. After getting his start in the American Wrestling Association in the Seventies as a ring announcer, he made the switch to WWF in 1984 where he became head interviewer. His on-air interviews helped flesh out living cartoons characters like Hulk Hogan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage, with Okerlund acting as a straight man to whatever insanity they brought to the screen, unafraid of standing up to the larger-than-life wrestlers and even challenging them. He stayed extremely dedicated to his own character, rarely breaking even if someone was spilling candy all over him and screaming.
The few times Okerlund did break character became weaved into the fabric of wrestling legend. At 1989's Summerslam, a prop sign fell behind him and he quickly turns around to look, yelling, "Fuck it!" and trying to find out who didn't attach the sign correctly. In 1992, he took part in one of the most legendary Ric Flair interviews, starting it by demanding someone behind the camera put out a cigarette. In the Nineties, Okerlund wound up in the Ted Turner–produced World Championship Wrestling, but eventually returned to WWE as on-air talent, making occasional appearances as an interviewer or part of a comedy segment.
He is mourned by many of his pro-wresting peers, including longtime subject Hulk Hogan, who tweeted out, "Mean Gene I love you my brother HH" as news of Okerlund's death spread. Metal musicians and fans, such as Shadows Fall vocalist Brian Fair, also paid their respects. "RIP Mean Gene Okerlund," Fair posted. "When Shadows Fall went to the WWE studios to record our version of the Rob Van Damme theme song Gene was there doing some voice overs. He was incredibly kind and welcoming to us. Gene was a huge part of my childhood and it made my day. A true legend."