“Bobby Heenan taught me, be the first one up and the last one to go to bed.”
“If you were to hang the chef for making a great taco, you will have hung an innocent man.”
“Hillbilly, I don’t want to spend the weekend shoveling horseshit.”
In 2012, I had the great privilege to work on the (so far) only season of WWE Legends’ House. I pride myself on being cool around celebrities but when I had to interview Mean Gene Okerlund for soundbites, I was genuinely star struck. I stumbled over my words, couldn’t ask questions clearly, ugh, it was awful. But Mean Gene being a 40 year pro thought nothing of and easily carried me through the interview. I was beating myself up and I learned in that moment to never again be star struck – he was a colleague, a coworker, not a celebrity.
It’s a wild thing to work closely with someone who was such an ingrained part of your childhood. But Gene Okerlund could not have been nicer, more cordial and above all – more professional. He was an industry pro who was game to do anything to make the show everything it could be.
Gene was also always complimentary to folks, making sure people were smiling and laughing. One time in an elevator at a casino, it was just me & Gene. A grandmother and her young grandson came on. Gene could be have been quiet, kept to himself but instead lit up and told jokes to the young boy. He then says to the grandmother “Anything goes wrong at this place, you send them to me.” No cameras looking. No one looking. Just Gene wanting to make people – everyday people – feel good.
My girlfriend at the time visited us on set. Gene was very taken with her and would ask the other wrestlers if they met her. “Hey, Hacksaw, did you get a look at the armpiece on this kid? Stunning!” he would bellow across the dinner table. Yes, that’s an antiquated saying but Gene was from another era and the intention was of the highest calibre.
Gene paid me two enormous compliments. It’s legend in the business that Gene like an after dinner cocktail. He didn’t say no to a before dinner cocktail either or one during. Several days he’d say to me “Timmy, when are we drinking?” I pride myself as one who never drinks on set or during. But after hours, the second to last day of shooting, myself, another crew member got to enjoy a nightcap with Mean Gene Okerlund & Pat Patterson who shared with us some of the best stories of their time in the business.
The second one came a few weeks into the shoot. I kept my experience on the small indie scene in the early 2000s to myself. I wanted to the wrestlers to know me as a TV Producer with a wrestling knowledge. When I opened up to Gene that I did in fact go to pro wrestling school in Rhode Island and reffed some indie matches, he beamed. “You should have gotten in the business! You’d have done great!” I don’t regret my decision to concentrate more on TV & movies than wrestling especially as I’ve been involved with producing wrestling from 2011 – 2018. So in a roundabout way, I did get in the business. To have the endorsement of someone with the success of Mean Gene Okerlund give me his own personal stamp of approval, well – that’s one award no one will ever be able to steal off of my shelf.
I never asked Gene for an autograph or to record a voicemail message as some other folks had. He had become a friend and that seemed wrong. When I got home from the shoot, I was delighted and flattered to see an email from Gene thanking me for all my hard work and the hope that we would work together one day. And it wasn’t lip service. A LinkedIn request soon followed. Unfortunately, we didn’t work together again but during the time with Lucha Underground, I got the chance to reconnect with Gene at a convention in Chicago. He lit up seeing me and was ever bit the gentleman his sterling reputation suggests.
Safe travels to my dear, long-time close personal friend, Mean Gene Okerlund who leaves us at 76 years young…