Terry Funk, Hard-Core Hall of Fame Wrestler, Dies at 79 – The New York Times

Terry Funk, the Hall of Fame professional wrestler whose hard-core fighting style inspired decades of bloody brawls and entertaining matches, has died in a hospital near Phoenix. He was 79.

His death was announced on Wednesday by World Wrestling Entertainment, the company for which his career exploded in the 1980s. The announcement did not cite a cause.

Funk’s wrestling career, which began in the mid-1960s and lasted four decades, took him around the country and the world, from playing in front of sold-out WWE crowds to entertaining fans in the growing Japanese market with All Japan Pro Wrestling. He quickly became known as a fierce wrestler who wielded improvised weapons against his opponents: chairs and ladders, barbed wire and bats, trash cans and fire.

In a sport built on performer-athletes who play exaggerated or downright invented versions of themselves, the extreme quality of Funk’s matches made him one of the most celebrated wrestlers of his generation.

Many of his highlight reels show him a bloodied mess, his long wet hair slicked back and his face bleeding from some kind of punch, kick or chair shot. He did not have the chiseled six-pack build typically expected of a professional wrestler. But his frame was wide, his grappling of opponents was precise, and he displayed a barbaric creativity inside the ring that earned him the respect of his peers.

Terry Funk in 1976.Credit…NWA

Ric Flair, a retired professional wrestler known for his flashy outfits and extravagant lifestyle, said on Wednesday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he had “never met a guy who worked harder” than Funk. Mick Foley, who also wrestled Funk, said on Facebook that he was “the greatest wrestler” he ever worked with.

Terrence Funk was born on June 30, 1944, in Hammond, Ind., according to the book “Pro Wrestling FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Most Entertaining Spectacle” (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 relocated 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 of it. He made his debut for his father’s wrestling company in 1965.

By 1985, he had reached the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). At WrestleMania 2 the next year, he and his brother, Dory Funk Jr., defeated Tito Santana and the Junkyard Dog in a tag-team match.

In 1989, Funk moved to the rival league World Championship Wrestling, for which 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 both men would scuffle and fight until one man surrendered. The match, now regarded as a classic, was a showcase for the brutal realism that drew fans to pro wrestling, in which the winner of a match is determined in advance.

There were chest slaps from Flair, headlocks by Funk, tosses out of the ring, wrangling along the sidelines, hair yanks and repeated shrieks from both wrestlers: “Want to quit?”

Finally, when Flair wound Funk into a figure-four leg lock, Funk, his face contorted in pain, said the words that prompted the match bell to ring: “I quit.”

In 2000, when he was in his mid-50s, Funk returned to World Championship Wrestling, winning the United States Championship and WCW Hardcore Title belts. His final WWE match was in 2006.

In 2009, both Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr. were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Funk also took his menacing image to Hollywood. In 1989, he played a bouncer in the film “Road House,” which starred Patrick Swayze. He had earlier 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 Just Hardcore” (2005), he wrote about his fond memories of listening to his father talk about wrestling and about how his “eyes would sparkle with pride when they talked about the tough guys in the profession and the crazy ones.”

“When I grew up, I was fortunate enough to live the wrestler’s life, a life that gave me stories to tell, just like the ones I had heard as a boy,” he wrote. “Pirates, millionaires, kings and adventurers have nothing on me! I would trade my life with no one.”

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