Legendary wrestler Verne Gagne, who was known for promoting and operating the American Wrestling Association out of Minnesota for decades, died Monday at the age of 89, reports note.
The Robbinsdale, Minnesota, native's professional career spanned four decades and he was "an instrumental figure in the expansion of sports-entertainment in the early 1980s," according to his WWE bio.
Gagne, a three-sport athlete at Robbinsdale High School, was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion and four-time Big Ten wrestling champion at the University of Minnesota, WWE notes. He was also an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team in 1948, the Star Tribune says.
While at the U of M, he also played football and had a brief stint in the NFL after being drafted by the Chicago Bears, KARE 11 says.
Gagne turned to professional wrestling in 1949, and during his time in the ring he became a 10-time AWA Heavyweight Champion, Wrestling Inc. says. He was later inducted into the WWE, WCW and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Wrestling announcer Gene Okerlund spoke with the Star Tribune about Gagne, saying:
“He was a pioneer in modern day era wrestling. He was the 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.”
His signature moves were the Gagne sleeper hold and the dropkick, WWE notes.
Gagne had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, MinnPost reported in 2009. News of his death spread quickly around the wrestling community, with many people taking to social media to share their condolences.