So I was writing a piece about my newest New Years 2019 cosplay today when I got a heartbreaking Breaking News indicator on my phone that “Mean” Gene Okerlund passed away. So I decided to switch gears and write this remembrance of Gene instead.
Details of his passing were pretty sparse at this writing, but I knew he had been sick for a while and it was said that he had two kidney transplants recently.
I recently met Mean Gene on November 9th, 2018 at a local comic shop in Northern New Jersey. He was unable to stand for pictures due to “pulling his back that morning”, but I noticed that one of his hands was really swollen. I had hoped it was all part of something temporary. But looking back knowing he passed away today, I guess it was all part of something else. But enough of that – I’d rather talk about the good times.
“Mean” Gene was a laughable nickname for Gene Okerlund. He was one of the friendliest people ever – you could tell it by his WWF/WWE interviews. Anybody who has ever met him will agree that he was the opposite of mean. Funny thing is that he got that name from Jesse “the Body” Ventura, and I was cosplaying as former Minnesota Governor Ventura when I met him.
My wife, Jackie and I have been fans of WWF wrestling since the 70s and 80s. Like me, her brother watched wrestling all the time when he was a kid, so she watched a lot of it with him. And when I came into her life in 1984, we would watch it together. Mean Gene was all over the WWF back then and Mean Gene was her favorite character. For still unknown reasons, she nicknamed Mean Gene “Briefcase” – and the name just stuck.
Flash forward many years, and my friend Sean Wolfe mentioned that Mean Gene would be appearing at a comic shop in Ramsey, NJ called Gotham Underground. And my wife and I decided to go. But it was a heavily raining Friday night, and traffic was horrible. We had debated skipping the event due to rain, but I had learned my lesson last time with Roddy Piper back in 2015.
I REALLY wanted to meet Roddy Piper at a convention in New York City in March 2015, but the NJ Transit bus we were taking was over an hour late, and we decided to go out to eat instead. We could catch him at his next appearance right??? Well Roddy Piper died a few months after that and we never got to meet him. So I vowed to never miss out on an opportunity to meet one of my childhood heroes.
Which was why we decided to brave the weather and Friday rush hour traffic. And we were glad we did. The rain scared off a lot of other people so the comic shop wasn’t crowded that night – and we had a bunch of time to talk to Gene about his career, about other wrestlers, and about his wonderful appearance on WWF Legends House. (Try to watch if you can – its a great series if you have ANY interest in 80s wrestling)
If you’ve been reading my page, you know I’m a cosplayer. That being said, my wife Jackie and I have Jesse “the Body” Ventura and Adrian Adonis costumes as part of our 80s wrestling legends cosplay group. So we decided to wear them to meet Gene.
We were a little worried as wrestlers aren’t really a cosplay-friendly environment, but I had done it at a Jesse Ventura book signing event (See my book Anatomy of a Cosplayer for that story) and it went over really well. So we brought it to meet Mean Gene
We need not have worried – Gene loved it. He took pictures for his personal social media and had a great time getting into character. It was a dream come true to have Gene Okerlund yell “Holy Balls” on tape at my Jesse Ventura. (see video below)…. It was a great night and I was so glad we went. I would have been miserable had we not gone and never got another chance to meet him.
Mean Gene was the voice of a huge part of my childhood, but he also was so nice to us that night. We will miss him tremendously.