Terry Funk, the legendary professional wrestler whose long career in the ring was defined by the “hardcore” style he helped pioneer, has died. He was 79.
A cause of death was not immediately shared by WWE, which announced Funk’s death on Wednesday.
“Revered by fans and peers across the globe for his tenacity, heart and longevity, Funk will be remembered as one of the toughest competitors to ever step inside the squared circle,” the promotion said in a statement. “From WWE to All Japan, from WCW to ECW, Funk proved he could go toe-to-toe with the best and pushed the limits of what was possible inside the squared circle.”
Funk’s friend and wrestling rival Mick Foley confirmed his passing. “I just talked to Terry’s daughter, Brandee, who gave me the awful news,” he tweeted. “He was my mentor, my idol, one of the closest friends. He was the greatest wrestler I ever saw.”
Terry Funk is gone. I just talked to Terry’s daughter, Brandee, who gave me the awful news. He was my mentor, my idol, one of the closest friends. He was the greatest wrestler I ever saw.
If you get the chance, look up a Terry Funk match or a Terry Funk promo, and give thanks… pic.twitter.com/WwdFLwXqZ0
— Mick Foley (@foleyispod) August 23, 2023
Funk wrestled for nearly a dozen different promotions over the course of his 50-year career, debuting with Western States Sports—then owned by his father, Dory Funk—in 1965. His early career was defined by his tag-team partnership with his brother, Dory Funk Jr. The pair rose through the ranks and became known as brawlers with colorful promos both in the U.S. and Japan.
But his singles career came into its own the following decade, when he captured the NWA World Heavyweight Championship after a 1975 match ended with his victory over Jack Brisco. He held the title for the next 14 months before losing it to “Handsome” Harley Race.
Funk and his brother were signed to WWE, then called the WWF, in 1985. His first run was brief, lasting roughly a year, but he would return to Vince McMahon’s promotion several times in subsequent decades. It was in the WWF’s so-called “Attitude Era” of the 1990s that Funk would later be able to popularize the “hardcore” death match style he favored in the ring, bloodying his opponents with barbed wire, chairs, and well-timed pile-drives through tables.
In My Entire Life, I’ve Never Met A Guy Who Worked Harder. Terry Funk Was A Great Wrestler, Entertainer, Unbelievably Fearless, And A Great Friend! Rest In Peace My Friend Terry Funk Knowing That No One Will Ever Replace You In The World Of Professional Wrestling! 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/EYMAKOzxnx
— Ric Flair® (@RicFlairNatrBoy) August 23, 2023
Before that, however, Funk famously feuded with Ric Flair for World Championship Wrestling, with their rivalry reaching its peak during a 1989 “I Quit” match, widely considered one of the greatest of its kind. It was after this face-off that Funk retired from wrestling—not the first time he’d done so, nor would it be the last. He inevitably returned to the sport in the mid-90s, enjoying an extended run with Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Funk returned to the WWF in 1997 for another run that culminated in the next year at Wrestlemania XIV, where alongside Foley he took on the tag-team duo known as the New Age Outlaws.
Funk and Foley, then performing as Chainsaw Charlie and Cactus Jack, respectively, won the championship after quite literally putting the Outlaws in a dumpster. (Their victory was short-lived; the next night, the outcome was reversed when the Outlaws revealed that Charlie and Jack had placed them in the “wrong” dumpster.)
“In My Entire Life, I’ve Never Met A Guy Who Worked Harder,” Flair tweeted on Wednesday. “Terry Funk Was A Great Wrestler, Entertainer, Unbelievably Fearless, And A Great Friend!”
Funk bounced around several other promotions in subsequent decades, enjoying a decade-long run on the indie wrestling circuit beginning in 2006. He was inducted into the WWE, WCW, NWA, and Hardcore Halls of Fame, and continued to make one-off appearances at WWE events.
He also made a name for himself with several silver screen credits, most notably appearing as a goateed bouncer in the 1989 Patrick Swayze vehicle Road House.
“WWE extends its condolences to Funk’s family, friends and fans,” the promotion said on Wednesday.