Terry Funk, the Hall of Fame professional wrestler whose fierce fighting style inspired decades of bloody brawls and entertaining matches, has died at a hospital near Phoenix. He was 79 years old.
His death was announced on Wednesday World Wrestling Entertainment, the company where his career exploded in the 1980s. The announcement did not give a reason.
Funk’s wrestling career, which began in the mid-1960s and lasted four decades, has taken him all over the country and the world, from playing to sold-out WWE fans to entertaining fans in the growing Japanese market with All Japan Pro Wrestling. He soon became known as a fierce wrestler who used improvised weapons against his opponents: chairs, ladders, barbed wire, bats, trash cans, and fire.
In a sport built on performing athletes playing exaggerated or invented versions of themselves, the unparalleled quality of Funk’s matches made him one of the most celebrated wrestlers of his generation.
Many of his signature clips show him in a bloody mess, his long, wet hair slicked back, his face bleeding from some kind of punch, kick, or chair shot. He did not have the chiseled six-pack normally expected of a professional wrestler. But his frame was broad, his grappling precise, and his savage creativity in the ring earned him the respect of his peers.
Ric Flair, a retired professional wrestler known for his flashy clothes and extravagant lifestyle, said on Wednesday On X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, he said he had “never met someone who works harder” than Funk. Mick Foley, who also wrestled with Funk, he 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. book “Pro Wrestling FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Most Funniest Show in the World” (2015), by Brian Solomon. His father, Dory Funk Sr., was also a wrestler.
After Dory Sr. finished his tour of duty 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 knowledge of the sport deepened, as did his love for it. He debuted with his father’s wrestling company in 1965.
By 1985, he had made it to the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). At WrestleMania II the following year, he and his brother Dory Funk Jr. defeated Tito Santana and Junkyard Dog in a tag team match.
In 1989, Funk moved to rival league World Championship Wrestling, where he would have one of the most high-profile matches of his career against Ric Flair.
The 20-minute contest was an “I quit” match, with the two men brawling and fighting until one man gave up. The match, now considered a classic, was a display of brutal realism that drew fans to professional wrestling, where the winner of the match is decided in advance.
There were slaps to the chest from Flair, headlocks from Funk, tossing out of the ring, brawling along the sidelines, hair pulling, and repeated screams from both wrestlers of “Do you want to quit?”
Finally, when Flair slashed Funk in a four-leg lock, Funk, writhing in pain, said the words that made the match bell ring: “I quit.”
In 2000, when he was in his mid-50s, Funk returned to World Championship Wrestling, winning the United States Championship and the WCW Hardcore Title belts. His last match in WWE was in 2006.
In 2009, Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr. were both inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Funk also took his serious image to Hollywood. And in 1989, he played the role of a bouncer in the movie “Road House”, which starred Patrick Swayze. He had earlier played the fearsome character Frankie the Struggler in Paradise Alley, a 1978 wrestling drama starring Sylvester Stallone.
Funk married Vicki Weaver in 1964. She passed away in 2019. He is survived by his brother. his daughters, Stacey Cleeney and Brandi Dungan; and three grandchildren.
In Mr. Funk’s autobiography, “Terry Funk: More than just hardcore(2005), he wrote of fond memories of listening to his father talk about wrestling and how his “eyes sparkled with pride when they talked about the tough and the crazy”.
“When I was growing up, I was fortunate enough to live the life of a gladiator, a life that gave me stories to tell, just like the ones I heard as a boy,” he wrote. “Pirates, millionaires, kings, and adventurers have nothing on me! I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone.”
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