RIP legendary wrestler and stuntman Gene LeBell

Gene LeBell

LeB genehe is dead. A legend among Hollywood martial artists and stuntmentheBell is said to have worked on no less than 1,000 productions during his long stunt career, putting the skills learned in his life as a practitioner of both to good use. catch wrestling and judo. Among other things, LeBell’s time working with Bruce Lee on the set of The green hornet in the 1960s served as partial inspiration for Brad Pitt’s character Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino Once upon a time… in Hollywood. (Although the duo’s relationship was much warmer in real life than depicted in Tarantino’s film.) By DeadlineLeBell was 89 years old.

LeBell’s life was colorful, with many details taken from his own authorized autobiography, The godfather of grapplingwhich he wrote with biographers Bob Calhoun, George Foon and Noelle Kim and published in 2005. (LeBell is also listed as author or co-author of a number of other books, primarily martial arts manuals.) Born to a wrestling promoter “Red Head” Aileen Eaton in the 1930s, LeBell got into wrestling early, eventually expanding his repertoire to include judo, and traveled to Japan to study at the famous Kodokan judo institute. Back to Sstates, he fought in the amateur judo leagues for a while before getting back into the family wrestling business. With his brother Mike LeBell, he struggled for several years, before moving on to the promotional side of the sport, hosting a promotion in Los Angeles for several years.

Meanwhile, LeBell began to make inroads into Hollywood. His first credited role was as “hood” on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1961; his other on-camera roles would usually come with nondescript, rogue-adjacent characters names-though he’s also carved out a niche for himself as a go-to referee for TV shows and movies looking for a bit of verisimilitude when portraying wrestling matches. On the stunt side, he worked a lot from the 1960s until the turn of the millennium; if a TV show needed someone to drop or punch at some point in the second half of the 20th centuryhallthere is a good chance that Gene LeBell passed at least once in his set.

Gene LeBell talks about Bruce Lee

On the way, his the list of big names collaborators, students and opponents also became packaged as his resume; in addition to Lee, LeBell has also worked with everyone from Chuck Norris to protege Ronda Rousey, plus John Wayne, Elvis Presley, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and many others . He was also, to quote Deadlinethe subject of a possibly apocryphal story about a conflict between him and Steven Seagal on the set of the film for justice this “doesn’t end well for Seagal” – which is a nice way of saying that LeBell (who, with a wrestler‘s ingrained instinct for a good story, never seems to have explicitly denied this, although Seagal certainly had) supposedly put the actor in a pretty brutal chokehold that he led him to, uh, “doesn’t end well” his pants.

And while that’s not the entire legacy of Gene LeBelle – who seems to have been well-loved in TV and film, and who proudly bore nicknames like “the toughest man alive” – ​​it is part of what made him such a mythical and colorful figure in Hollywood history. (And hThis is where we should probably, briefly, get into the other great resemblance between him and Hollywoodit is Cliff Cabin: LeBell was tried for murder in 1979, for the death of a private detective Robert Duke room. Hhe was acquitted of murder in the case, but convicted of complicity, the latter charge being ultimately overturned on appeal. Looking at his credits from then on, he doesn’t seem to have interrupted his care as many as one would expect.)

LeBell reportedly died on Tuesday. He was remembered today by a number of his longtime aides, including Rousey, Norrisand more.

Robert J. King