Know Your Role: Gene LeBell
“Judo” Gene LeBell was born on October 9th, 1932. He has made an impact in the worlds of professional wrestling, martial arts and in Hollywood.
In the world of professional wrestling, he wrestled and along with his brother Mike ran the National Wrestling Alliance’s Los Angeles territory from the late 60’s to the early 80’s.
Without question, LeBell being located in Los Angeles led to his countless roles in movies and television as both an actor and a stunt man. I can’t imagine if the LeBells ran the Portland territory, we’d be talking about Gene on this site today.
I started watching wrestling in the mid-80’s after LeBell’s professional wrestling hey day, but being a student of the game I knew of him and I also began noticing that he’d often play the referee when TV shows would have a wrestling or boxing related episode. He was the “go to guy” to play a referee and did so in shows like The Fall Guy, The Incredible Hulk, Hardcastle & McCormick and Baywatch to name a few.
And when he wasn’t playing the man calling it right down the middle, he played an assortment of thugs, security guards, brawlers, construction workers, bikers and hoods.
In Eye of the Tiger he plays Red. We get to see him showing off his manly ways by arm wrestling with one of his fellow soldiers, all with a deadly scorpion near by. I don’t doubt Gene would have won, but we’ll never know since Gary Busey and his armored pick up truck spoiled the finish.
In Death Wish IV: The Crackdown he tries, unsuccessfully to stop Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) at the fish cannery.
In Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins… he is hired by Patrick Kilpatrick’s character Stone, to take out Remo (Fred Ward) at the Statue of Liberty. SPOILER. He doesn’t kill Remo and actually ends up sinking in some freshly poured concrete.
He was a taxi driver in Rush Hour with Jackie Chan, he was shooting at Powers Boothe in Rapid Fire and he played the bulldozer man in the Jean-Claude Van Damme film, Nowhere to Run.
Can you imagine getting to work on movies with Gary Busey, Fred Ward, Charles Bronson, Jackie Chan AND Jean-Claude Van Damme? And that was just as an actor, his work as a stuntman is even more impressive. Robocop 2, Patriot Games, Die Hard 2, Money Train and U.S. Marshals are only a handful of Gene LeBell’s stunt credits.
Action heroes wouldn’t be heroes if they didn’t have guys like Gene LeBell to beat up. And everyone knows a referee is the most thankless job in sports, but time and time again Gene did them both.
Not only do we want to thank Gene LeBell, we want to salute “The Godfather of Grappling” for all his contributions to action entertainment!