Tributes Pour in for Late Martial Arts Legend Gene LeBell

·4 min read
Photo credit: Brian To - Getty Images
Photo credit: Brian To - Getty Images

Pioneering martial artist, stuntman and author Gene LeBell passed away at the age of 89 this week, prompting many fans of his work in the worlds of MMA and movies to share their tributes to him on social media.

As a professional wrestler, referee and 9th Dan in jiujitsu, "Judo Gene" helped to popularize the art of grappling in combat sports, to the point that he also became known as the "Godfather of Grappling." A friend and contemporary of Bruce Lee, he was also an accomplished stunt performer and actor, working on over 1,000 different films and TV shows including Raging Bull, The Bionic Woman, Green Hornet, Rush Hour, and several of Elvis Presley's movie ventures. Quentin Tarantino has even credited him as the partial inspiration behind Cliff Booth, Brad Pitt's character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, alongside stuntman Hal Needham.

One especially popular anecdote about LeBell, which may or may not be apocryphal, refers to an alleged incident between him and action film star Steven Seagal on the set of 1991's Out for Justice. Seagal reportedly claimed that his aikido training meant he was immune to being choked unconscious, an assertion which LeBell is then said to have dared Seagal to prove. What followed was an altercation in which LeBell not only succeeded in choking him into unconsciousness, but also caused him to void his bowels.

Many on Twitter have taken the sad news of LeBell's death as an opportunity to once again resurface this story, while also making note of his numerous other contributions to his field and lasting legacy in sport and entertainment.

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