Verne Gagne, professional wrestling legend, dies at 89

Pro wrestling legend Verne Gagne died on Monday at the age of 89 in Minnesota. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

He was drafted by the NFL’s Chicago Bears in 1947, but owner George Halas said he didnt want his players to pursue wrestling in the offseason and Gagne didn’t join the team, staying at Minnesota to win his final two NCAA titles.

He did join the Green Bay Packers in 1949, but was released after three preseason games and decided to focus on pro wrestling. The decision launched a career that spanned decades.

He debuted as a pro with the National Wrestling Allianca in 1950, but eventually left in 1960 to form the American Wrestling Association, where he served as the owner and top attraction through the 1960s and ’70s.

Gagne’s AWA was the proving ground for many future wrestling superstars, including Hulk Hogan, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Pat Patterson, The Legion of Doom Hawk and Animal, Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty, "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig, Scott Hall and "Mean" Gene Okerlund.

On April 1, 2006, Verne Gagne was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Tributes were paid on Twitter: