Gene Okerlund, the legendary wrestling announcer and WWE Hall of Famer known to fans as “Mean” Gene, has died at the age of 76, the WWE announced Wednesday morning.
The WWE did not say how Okerlund died.
Okerlund was a 28-year-old disc jockey in Omaha, Neb., when he left radio for a job with the American Wrestling Association in 1970. From there, he honed his skills as an interviewer before joining the World Wrestling Federation in 1983.
Okerlund’s interviews with popular wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Randy “The Macho Man” Savage, and Jesse “The Body” Ventura became an important part of WWF broadcasts, as did his ringside commentary during matches. He also hosted several shows, and famously sang the National Anthem at the first WrestleMania in 1985.
He left the WWF to join World Championship Wrestling in 1993 before returning to the organization, since renamed WWE, to call the Gimmick Battle Royal at WrestleMania 17 alongside Bobby “The Brain” Heenan in 2001.
Okerland continued doing occasional work with WWE and last January made an appearance on Monday Night Raw, in which he interviewed AJ Styles during the show’s 25th anniversary special.
WWE executive vice president Paul Michael Levesque, better known by his wrestling name Triple H, called Okerlund the “voice and sound track to an entire era in our industry.”
Okerlund had dealt with health problems over the years. He had two kidney transplants, the most recent in 2004. His family told the Washington Post he had been hospitalized with kidney disease.
“I have a tremendous amount of gratitude to those who enjoyed my work,” Okerlund told Sports Illustrated in 2017. “It’s something we did together, because I must have given them something they liked, and we shared it, and everybody walked away a winner. That’s truly the way I look at my time with the business.”