Late on Monday, the world of wrestling mourned the death of one of its greatest figures: Verne Gagne. The iconic babyface, who died in Minnesota at age 89, began his pro career in 1950 and wrestled into the 1980s, also working as a major promoter and helping to shape the careers of some of sports entertainment’s biggest stars.
— WWE (@WWE) April 28, 2015
Gagne, a Minnesota native, was an all-American wrestler for the Gophers in college before becoming a star in the National Wrestling Alliance during the “golden age” of television. Gagne joined the American Wrestling Association in 1960, instantly becoming its biggest attraction before eventually buying and promoting the outfit.
“He was a pioneer in modern day era wrestling,” legendary wrestling announcer Gene Okerlund told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “He was one of the first guys who became a television star. He was one of the first good-looking young guys. And I mean he was a real baby face. The gals loved him, the guys respected him because he was also one of the tough-nosed guys.”
Gagne won the AWA heavyweight title 10 times between 1960 and 1981, and he is one of a select few to have been inducted into four major wrestling halls of fame (WWE, WCW, Pro Wrestling and Wrestling Observer). From WWE.com:
During the AWA’s existence, it was the breeding ground for several other future WWE Superstars, including Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Pat Patterson, The Legion of Doom, Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty, Curt Hennig, Scott Hall and fellow 2006 Hall of Fame Inductees “Mean” Gene Okerlund and “Sensational” Sherri. Jerry “The King” Lawler, Larry Zbyszko, Sgt. Slaughter and numerous other legends also wrestled in Gagne’s AWA, and Verne’s son Greg also had a lengthy and successful career there as well. In addition, Gagne had a hand in training several future Superstars, including Ric Flair, Ken Patera, Bob Backlund and Ricky Steamboat.
R.I.P Verne Gagne man one of the greatest wrestling promoters and wrestlers of all-time. https://t.co/fENhL97b1A
— Joshua Lopez (@JoshLopezCSR) April 28, 2015
Sad to hear my longtime friend Verne Gagne has passed today. To me their was never anybody quite like him. May you rest in peace. GO
— Gene Okerlund (@TheGeneOkerlund) April 28, 2015
This is a list of people that Verne Gagne trained or help train. Remarkable. pic.twitter.com/OLNMSWmnoD
— Danny Scott (@dajosc11) April 28, 2015
Verne Gagne passed away. Everyone watching RAW right now, remember, is some way, WWE wouldn't be around today if not for him
— Jack Jorgensen (@JackJorgensen14) April 28, 2015
VERNE GAGNE MY FIRST COACH BOSS AND FRIEND IN THE AMERICA GOD BLESS HIM FOREVER
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) April 28, 2015
Saw on Twitter & confirmed by @TheGeneOkerlund that the great Verne Gagne passed away today. Condolences to Verne's family & friends. RIP
— Jim Ross (@JRsBBQ) April 28, 2015
Wrestling's truly seminal, foundational figures make up a very small club. Verne Gagne, from NCAA to AWA, is absolutely in it. RIP
— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) April 28, 2015
On a plane and just heard the news about Verne Gagne. This one hits close and hurts. My thoughts, prayers and gratitude are with his family.
— Eric Bischoff (@EBischoff) April 28, 2015
Sad to hear of the passing of Verne Gagne.He was always very nice and complimentary to me when I met him in the '90's in WCW with son Greg.
— William Regal (@RealKingRegal) April 28, 2015
— TNA WRESTLING (@IMPACTWRESTLING) April 28, 2015
Verne Gagne was one of the greatest of all time. A wrestler's wrestler. A great promoter. Top 5 Greatest Athletes from MN of all time IMO.
— Sean Waltman (@TheRealXPac) April 28, 2015
— Triple H (@TripleH) April 28, 2015
Incredible legend passes away. RIP Verne Gagne.
— John Layfield (@JCLayfield) April 28, 2015