GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- Minnesota wrestling legend Verne Gagne passed away Monday at age 89.
Longtime AWA and WWE personality Gene Okerlund confirmed the news via his Twitter page saying, "Sad to hear my longtime friend Verne Gagne has passed today. To me, there was never anybody quite like him. May you rest in peace."
Gagne attended Robbinsdale High School, then wrestled and played football at the University of Minnesota. He won two NCAA wrestling titles. He played in the NFL for the Chicago Bears until owner George Halas refused to let him pursue a professional wrestling career in the off-season.
In 1949, he decided to pursue professional wrestling in Texas, and won his first championship in 1950. Many would follow. In 1960 he formed the American Wrestling Association (AWA) which videotaped its matches in the KARE 11 main studio. Gagne ran the organization while wrestling and winning a handful of world championships. Some of his biggest rivals were Mad Dog Vachon, Reggie "The Crusher" Liskowski, Nick Bockwinkel, Ray Stevens, and Larry "The Axe" Henning.
Henning, who also wrestled at Robbinsdale High School, reacted to Gagne's death late Monday. "It's certainly a shock when you hear someone close to you and have known for so long, has passed – he was a great wrestler and great friend."
In April 2006, Gagne was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by his son, Greg Gagne.
His family shared that Gagne was suffering from dementia and later placed him in a special care facility. In January of 2009 Gagne became involved in a highly publicized incident that ended in the death of a fellow resident. Hennepin County prosecutors declined to file charges in the case, as investigators felt that Gagne lacked the mental capacity necessary to have intentionally injured the man.