Terry Funk, a Hall of Fame professional wrestler whose hard-line fighting style inspired decades of bloody brawls and entertaining matches, has died in a hospital near Phoenix. He was 79 years old.
His death was announced Wednesday by World wrestling entertainmentthe company for which his career skyrocketed in the 1980s. The announcement did not cite a cause.
Funk’s wrestling career, which began in the mid-1960s and spanned four decades, took him across the country and the world, from performing to sold-out crowds in WWE to entertaining fans of the growing Japanese market with All Japan Pro Wrestling. He quickly became known as a fierce fighter who wielded improvised weapons against his opponents: chairs and ladders, barbed wire and bats, trash cans and fire.
In a sport built on successful athletes who play exaggerated or outright made-up versions of themselvesthe extreme quality of Funk’s matches made him one of the most famous wrestlers of his generation.
Many of his landmark films show him bloodied, his long wet hair slicked back and his face bleeding from some sort of punch, kick or chair. He lacked the chiseled, six-pack build typically expected of a professional wrestler. But his frame was wide, his wrestling against opponents was precise, and he displayed a barbaric creativity inside the ring that earned him the respect of his peers.
Ric Flair, a retired professional wrestler known for his flashy outfits and extravagant lifestyle, said Wednesday on X, the old Twitter platform, that he had “never met a harder working guy” than Funk. Mick Foley, who also wrestled Funk, said on facebook that he was “the greatest wrestler” he had ever worked with.
Terrence Funk was born on June 30, 1944, in Hammond, Indiana, according to the book “Pro Wrestling FAQs: Everything You Need to Know About the World’s Most Entertaining Show” (2015), by Brian Solomon. His father, Dory Funk Sr., was also a wrestler.
After Dory Sr. completed his service in the South Pacific during World War II, the family moved to Texas, where the elder Funk became a well-known wrestler and promoter.
It was in Texas that Terry Funk’s familiarity with the sport deepened, as did his love for the sport. He debuted in his father’s wrestling company in 1965.
By 1985, he had joined the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). At WrestleMania 2 the following year, he and his brother Dory Funk Jr. defeated Tito Santana and Junkyard Dog in a tag team match.
In 1989, Funk joined league rivals World Championship Wrestling, where he would have one of the most acclaimed matches of his career against Ric Flair.
The 20-minute contest was an “I quit” match, in which the two men brawled and fought until one of them surrendered. The match, now considered a classic, was a showcase of brutal realism that drew fans to professional wrestling, in which the winner of a match is determined in advance.
There were chest slaps from Flair, head butts from Funk, throws out of the ring, fights along the sidelines, hair tugging and repeated shouts from both wrestlers: “Do you want to quit? ?”
Eventually, when Flair rolled Funk into a figure four leg lock, Funk, his face contorted in pain, spoke the words that rang the match bell: “I quit.” »
In 2000, when he was in his 50s, Funk returned to World Championship Wrestling, winning the United States Championship and WCW Hardcore Title belts. His last WWE match was in 2006.
In 2009, Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr. were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Funk also brought his menacing image to Hollywood. In 1989, he played a bouncer in the film “Road House”, starring Patrick Swayze. He previously played the intimidating character Frankie the Thumper in “Paradise Alley,” a 1978 wrestling drama starring Sylvester Stallone.
Funk married Vicki Weaver in 1964. She died in 2019. He is survived by his brother; his two daughters, Stacy Clenney and Brandee Dungan; and three grandchildren.
In Mr. Funk’s autobiography, “Terry Funk: more than hardcore(2005), he wrote of his fond memories of listening to his father talk about wrestling and how his “eyes sparkled with pride when talking about the badass of the profession and the lunatics”.
“When I grew up I was blessed to live the life of a wrestler, a life that gave me stories to tell, just like the ones I heard as a kid,” said he wrote. “Pirates, millionaires, kings and adventurers have nothing against me! I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone.
Alex Traub contributed reporting.