"Mean" Gene Okerlund, the iconic WWE backstage interviewer who played a role in some of the biggest moments in pro wrestling history, died Wednesday, his family announced. He was 76.
Okerlund's son, Tor Okerlund, told The Associated Press that his father died early Wednesday at a hospital in Sarasota, Florida, near his home in Osprey, Florida, with his wife, Jeanne, by his side. Tor Okerlund said his father, who had received three kidney transplants, fell a few weeks ago "and it just kind of went from bad to worse.''
Okerlund stood next to Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Andre the Giant, the Ultimate Warrior and many others from the mid- to late-1980s and teed up the stars of that era to deliver some of their most memorable promos. In the mid-1990s, Okerlund moved to rival WCW and stood in the ring as garbage rained down upon Hogan as he formed the nWo.
"A voice and soundtrack to an entire era of our industry. He was the star of some of WWE's most memorable segments," WWE executive vice president Paul "Triple H" Levesque said on Twitter on Wednesday. "'Mean Gene' was beloved by all who got to work with him. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."
Wrestling stars, including Hogan, remembered Okerlund with posts on social media.
Okerlund returned to the WWE fold upon the closing of WCW in a variety of roles and appearances, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, by Hogan.
Okerlund's last WWE appearance came on Jan. 22, 2018, when he appeared on the 25th anniversary of "Monday Night Raw" and interviewed then-WWE champion AJ Styles.
He started as an interviewer in the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association before moving to the WWE in 1984, where his duties included hosting "All-American Wrestling" and "Tuesday Night Titans" as well as serving as the lead locker room interviewer.
Jesse Ventura, who wrestled as "The Body" before he was elected governor in Minnesota, dubbed Okerlund with his "Mean Gene" nickname
Ventura told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Wednesday that in an interview he "laughingly called him 'the Mean Gene Hot Air Machine,' and the 'Mean Gene' stuck.''
Ventura called Okerlund "the best at what he did, the best straight man interviewer in wrestling history.''
In a 2015 interview with the Star Tribune, Okerlund credited the late pro wrestling pioneer Verne Gagne for his start.
Okerlund worked in sales at the television station where Gagne's AWA was based and had experience in radio. Gagne approached Okerlund in the hallway when the regular interviewer could not make a taping in the early 1970s, Okerlund recalled.
"I said, 'Verne, I know zero about wrestling.' He said, 'Do you have a suit and tie? That's all you need.' There were a few bucks involved, so I dived in,'' Okerlund said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.