“Mean Gene” Okerlund was perhaps the best backstage interviewer in professional wrestling. Beloved by fans for his radio hockey voice and wit, he did numerous interviews with many major stars including Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior. These interviews provided some of the most memorable moments in wrestling history.
However, it was in wcw that he did something that could be called a low blow in terms of wrestling, using a paid calling service that provided insider information about the company.
Wrestling hotlines used to be all the rage in the ’90s
In the mid 90’s wrestling hotlines were all the rage as the internet was not what it is now. Fans could call the paid phone number and get all the gossip from the world of wrestling, as well as participate in wrestling contests and even listen to the wrestlers’ interviews. WWE, WCW, and even ECW had a paid hotline number that charged by the minute.
On average, a call would last about five minutes. For these promotions, it was an easy source of decent income and soon manipulation practices such as extending call times with intros and music were used to make you hold the call longer. WCW even had a daily hotline to “Mean Gene” Okerlund, Mike Tenay, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and other backstage personalities, one for each day of the week. After calling the number, a long intro would play, and then the person would be asked to make a selection by pressing a number that would redirect them to the area of interest.
For example, if they chose option 2 for rumors, Mean Gene’s voice would say something vague like “I can’t go into detail, but a particular blond wrestler who has a high-priced jewel as his nickname got into a fight at locker room with a team member whose brother wears a wrestling helmet and barks.” It was all done with a lot of fun and the fans loved the madness until Okerlund started manipulating the fans for monetary gain.
How “Mean Gene” Okerlund became a harassing call scammer
Mean Gene had the WCW Saturday Night TV platform to redirect his fans towards the WCW hotline. He used every underhanded trick in the book to increase traffic on the hotline, often taunting callers with misleading information and even outright lies. He would name top stars like Bret Hart, Roddy Piper, and Ultimate Warrior when they never made the call.
He once asked fans to call and find out why Ric Flair was in the northeast part of the country. It was the area of Connecticut where WWE is located, therefore he was hinting that Flair would meet with Vince McMahon to leave WCW for WWE. However, when fans called, they amusingly discovered that Flair was in that area meeting with an executive from Gold’s Gym, much to his disappointment, and after waiting a good 5 minutes at $1.49 per minute.
Mene Gene’s cruelest act crossed the line of deception
These cheap antics were a regular part of his act where he would say something he never said, but he finally crossed the line on February 5, 1995. He asked fans to call and find out which 45-year-old former heavyweight champion had died. . ! He had hinted at the death of former champion Ric Flair. Flair had been absent from television since the Clash of Champions pay-per-view, and was hinting that fans should call and find out if The Nature Boy had really died. The gullible wrestlers really took the bait and started calling, and it was the biggest payday in WCW Hotline history. 8,000 to 12,000 people called instead of the usual 800. They ended up making $50,000 – $75,000 in income that weekend instead of the $5,000 they normally made.
The champion who actually passed away was AWA’s Jerry Blackwell, who Okerland had even worked with in the past. Unsurprisingly, the callers again waited almost 5 minutes to get this misleading disclosure. Mean Gene just half apologized for the next week.
The reason the star interviewer was pulling this phone scam was because of his supposed revenue sharing. According to rumors, Gene Okerlund was getting 75% of the total revenue generated from these calls. However, WCW did not get away with this huge misstep. The New York Daily Post picked up this story and viciously criticized the company’s owner, Ted Turner, in an article titled “Turner Phone Scam: Better Dead for Ted.” The result was that the company ran squeaky clean. The Internet age dawned upon us and these hotlines became obsolete. As for Okerlund, he went back to work for WWE after Vince McMahon bought out WCW.
Hilarious neglect aside, the legendary interviewer was better than anyone at the job and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by Hulk Hogan himself in 2006.