Wrestling icon Verne Gagne dead at 89

Verne Gagne
Former pro wrestler Verne Gagne, wearing his United States Heavyweight Championship belt in a 1953 photo.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Professional wrestling icon and Minnesota native Verne Gagne died Monday, according to friends and industry officials.

Gagne, 89, had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for a number of years.

Gagne was a popular wrestler in the 1950s and led the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association for three decades. Gagne had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, WCW Hall of Fame and Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.

News of his death sparked reaction from friends and wrestling fans online. Former AWA announcer Gene Okerlund posted news of Gagne's death in a Twitter post on Monday evening, saying he was a unique figure. Wrestlers in the AWA included Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura and Gagne's son Greg Gagne.

The wrestler known as The Iron Sheik called Gagne his first coach, boss and friend in America. World Wrestling Entertainment, the descendant of the World Wrestling Federation that helped lead to the demise of the AWA, also commemorated Gagne in an online post on Monday.

In 2009, Gagne assaulted and broke the hip of a 97-year-old man at a retirement home in Bloomington, Minn., which led to the man's death. He wasn't charged in the incident due to his advanced dementia. Recent media reports said that Gagne had since been living with his daughter Beth's family.

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