On Wednesday we were heartbroken to find out that legendary AWA, WWF, and WCW announcer ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund had passed away at the age of 76. Gene felt like one of those guys who might just prove modern science wrong and live forever, because why in the world would we keep moving on without Mean Gene? It just doesn’t make any sense. He should just be here.
The wrestling world has spent the past day sharing their various memories and tributes, so instead of just putting a few videos at the end of an obituary, we wanted to take a deep look back at some of Gene’s best promos and interviews from his four decades of work. This only scratches the surface of Gene’s influence and presence, so make sure to let us know what we missed, what we might not have seen, and what we should.
Might as well start at the top …
Literally Anything He Did With The Macho Man
If there’s one thing Mean Gene Okerlund did anyone before or after him, it’s remain cool in the face of the most ridiculous people in human history. It’s a simple tenet of comedy; if your partner is absurd, you’ve got to play it straight. You don’t always have to do that, but you do when your partner is MACHO MAN RANDY SAVAGE IN THE 1980s absurd.
The best Gene/Savage promo is easily the legendary “cream of the crop” promo, in which Savage appears to be working to actively break Gene by constantly comparing himself to the world’s smallest little cup of creamer. This promo would break anyone else in the world, but Gene’s in there treating it like serious journalism. Yes, Randy, you crazy person, you are just like that little bitty creamer.
Another great Gene and Savage moment of prop comedy is the “nothing but garbage” promo from Prime Time Wrestling in 1985. IT HAPPENED SO FAST YOU CAN’T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT. Savage uses another unusually small prop: this time a waste paper basket with a “crying towel” in it, which Gene sells like a champ. Gene even sells the sound of the can hitting the floor like it’s a big deal, and not a tiny rectangle of weightless plastic. That’s one of the best things about Gene’s interview style, and what sets him apart from everyone on WWE television for the past 30 years: he’s actively engaged in the promo, listening to what his interviewee is saying, and reacting like a person who knows what’s going on and who these people are might. No “how do you feel going into tonight’s match,” followed by a blank stare.
What is it with Gene and little props?
His Dinners With Andre
Between the AWA and the mid-80s WWF, Mean Gene Okerlund got a lot of face time — sometimes literally — with the Eighth Wonder of the World Andre the Giant. Instead of just saying “wow look at the size of him” and letting that be it (or even worse, speaking in corporate buzzwords), Gene just talked to Andre like he was a human being. Before the days of HBO documentaries, Gene Okerlund understood that Andre was special just by proxy of his existence, and didn’t need pomp and circumstance and special effects to make him stand out.
Plus, you’ve probably seen this GIF a lot in the last couple of days:
There’s even a Dark Souls version.
More Of The Strangest People Who Have Ever Lived
Speaking of Okerlund’s natural ability to wrangle pro wrestling’s most insane characters, please enjoy him discussing the differences between Scotland and Poland, making a string of subtle dick jokes, and discussing “all over” hair loss with an in-his-prime Rowdy Roddy Piper. In the segments where Gene cut loose, he felt less like a straight-man and more like an old friend.
Gene was able to withstand the full power of Macho Man Randy Savage’s 1980s creativity rage and Rowdy Roddy Piper’s belligerent racist Robin Williams act, but even he couldn’t keep from laughing at the Iron Sheik’s, “Intelligent Jew, like yourself.” The hand to the brow says it all.
And no discussion of Gene with absurd human beings is complete without Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura asking him to check out his lateral deltoid. HA HA, HEY JESSE! HIT EM WITH THAT SIDE CHEST POSE!
Hogan, Warrior, And Flair
Gene had a special, but very different, relationship with all three. Here’s a taste.
Let them tell you something, Gene.
In WCW, Gene was a little older and a little more subdued … at least at first. Pro wrestling was headed into the “attitude era” of the nWo, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the like, and the role of a straight-laced serious wrestling journalist was getting smaller. It shouldn’t have, but it did. Gene didn’t let that stop him, though, as he remained easily the key voice in the success of WCW Monday Nitro and their weekend shows. Plus, he’d occasionally get to do interviews like this one with Meng:
And then of course there was the late era WCW “tired of this shit” Gene. He was the best.
Even His Mistakes Were Good
Gene’s most legendary blooper happened at Survivor Series 1989 during an (attempted) interview with Rick Rude. As the story goes, they pre-taped these interviews, but accidentally played the wrong take. The call is legendary: “Gentlemen, as you know … the Ultimate Warrior … fuck it!”
Following closely behind has got to be his weird non sequitur during Ric Flair’s unforgettable “with a TEAR in my eye” victory speech at the 1992 Royal Rumble, in which he reminds you there is no smoking in Gene Okerlund’s dojo.
Two of the best Mean Gene breaking moments have to be his reaction to Wendy Richter saying she’s “not about to lay down on my back and let someone cover me,” and Dave Schultz looking for a WAMANN in the AWA, but #1 forever is him trying to figure out what the hell Paul Orndorff is saying about turtles. Combining everything we’ve talked about, might be the perfect Gene interview.
The best thing about Gene is that he never stopped being Gene. Here he is interviewing AJ Styles on Raw in January of 2018. He’s just Mean Gene Okerlund forever, and he left behind such a thick and varied body of work that he’ll remain head and shoulders above his peers and competition until pro wrestling stops being a thing. We’ll miss you, Mean Gene, but we’ll never, ever forget you.
It’s only fitting to leave with a song.