Ivan Gene Lebell, martial artist, actor, stuntman, professional wrestler, and real life tough guy passed away in his sleep on August 9, 2002, at the age of 89.
Gene Lebell began training in wrestling and judo before the age of ten. After earning his black belt, Mr. Lebell went to Japan to further his training. When he returned to the US, he competed in the Amateur Athletic Union National Judo Championships, winning the heavyweight title at the age of 22. In 1963, Mr. Lebell agreed to fight a boxer who claimed he could beat any martial artist. Gene Lebell choked him out in the fourth round. Using his martial arts training it was easy for Gene Lebell to transition into professional wrestling where he often was used as an enforcer during big matches.
Gene Lebell’s reputation as a martial artist brought him to the attention of Hollywood where he got work as both a stuntman and actor. With over 250 stunt credits and over 150 acting credits on his resume, odds are you’ve seen Gene Lebell on television or feature films.
Television appearances include: The Jack Benny Program; The Munsters; Gomer Pyle; The Man from UNCLE; Mission Impossible; The Green Hornet; Batman; The Wild, Wild West; Mannix; The Rockford Files; Kung Fu; Kojak; The Six Million Dollar Man; Starsky & Hutch; Knight Rider; The Fall Guy; Walker, Texas Ranger; Married with Children; The X FIles; More Wild, Wild West and The Shield.
Feature Films include: Blacula; Walking Tall; Earthquake; The Towering Inferno; The Killer Elite; Rocky; Every Which Way But Loose; The Jerk; Raging Bull; Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid; City Heat; Remo Williams; Rush Hour; Runaway Train; Rocky IV; Die Hard 2; Marked for Death; The Last Boy Scout; Waterworld; Strange Days and Spider-Man 2.
There’s a famous story that when Gene Lebell was working on a Steven Seagall film, the star said that due to his martial arts training, no one could choke him out. Mr. Lebell took exception to the statement. Seagall allowed Gene Lebell’s to place him in a chokehold to prove his point. Steven Seagall not only lost consciousness but also control of his bowels. While Steven Seagall denies this ever happened, there are others who claimed to have been there and seen it happen.
Gene LeBell was a man’s man, a 10th degree Black Belt; and appeared in some of my all-time favorite movies and television shows.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and fans.