If you watched professional wrestling at any point in the 1980s or 1990s, then you know the face — and you really know the distinctive voice — of “Mene” Gene Okerlund, who spent decades as the go-to interviewer and announcer for the AWA, WWE (back when it was the WWF), and WCW. Sadly, the WWE has announced that Okerlund passed away early in the New Year. He was 76 years old.

Here’s WWE superstar (and the company’s executive vice president) Triple H commenting on Okerlund’s passing:

I think that’s very well put. For anyone who loved wrestling in that era, Okerlund is one of those sights and sounds that immediately comes to mind when you think about it. There are few things that make me more nostalgic for my childhood than the sight of Gene Okerlund in a blue blazer holding a microphone.

He held the microphone for many of his era’s biggest stars, guiding them through interviews and promos. Two of the most iconic lines in the history of wrestling (or maybe totally clichéd lines when all was said and done, because they were repeated on television hundreds of times) was Hulk Hogan howling “Well let me tell you something Mene Gene!” to begin a rant about his latest opponent and Ric Flair yelling Okerlund’s name with one of his signature “Wooo!”s to start a speech on WCW Monday Nitro.

I recognize Flair is the one doing most of the talking (okay, most of the screaming) in those clips, but don’t discount Okerlund’s contribution to the overall package. Watch this famous promo, for example, between Okerlund and the late, great “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Imagine having to keep a straight face while this enormous man in a bandana and giant sunglasses kept pulling dairy creamers out of thin air while yelling at the top of his lungs about being the “cream of the crop” of professional wrestling. Okerlund’s presence and poise in this sort of environment was a big part of what gave these interviews the sheen and credibility of legitimate sporting contents, even when they were about, say, the Ultimate Warrior rambling about the end of the road that’s a one-way street straight to WrestleMania VII. It’s an impossible task. Okerlund made it look incredibly easy.

I grew up watching wrestling in the ’80s, and I will admit that as a child I took Okerlund completely for granted. Looking back at his work now, it’s clear just how good he was at what he did, particularly in these interviews. He never stepped on the talent or stole their spotlight, but if you were paying attention, he could always be counted on to bring subtle humor — a glimpse at the camera here, a raised eyebrow there — that let you know he was fully aware of what was going on, and having as much fun making it as you were watching it. Watch his little looks down the barrel of the lens as Savage carries on. They’re so small but so perfect.

Okerlund hasn’t been a regular interviewer on WWE television for a long time, but he remains the gold standard for this role; in the years since his semiretirement, no one has come close to doing it half as well as he did. His deep, precise voice — honed in his early days working as a radio disc jockey — brought gravitas to the often outlandish world of sports entertainment. That said, Okerlund also wasn’t so full of himself that he couldn’t have a little fun at his own expense, like this tour de force performance in a training montage opposite Hulk Hogan:

Rest in peace, Gene Okerlund. By all accounts, yours was one of the least appropriate nicknames ever.

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