Immortal animation: The true story behind 'Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling'

Immortal animation: The true story behind 'Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling'

It was the days of The California Raisins, Teddy Ruxpin and New Coke. In 1985, Hulkamania was running wild in WWE, WrestleMania had been a smash success and Cyndi Lauper’s involvement in the so-called “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection” had brought sports-entertainment into the mainstream of the MTV generation. WWE was everywhere, including CBS, where Hulk Hogan and the gang were the stars of their own Saturday morning cartoon show.

Across two seasons and 26 episodes, “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” helped establish WWE as an indelible piece of 1980s pop culture.Week in and week out, The Hulkster — along with future WWE Hall of Famers like Andre the Giant, The Iron Sheik and “Mean” Gene Okerlund — found himself caught up in the type of wacky capers usually seen on cartoons like “Care Bears” and “The Real Ghostbusters.” And it was awesome.

But how did a posse of WWE Superstars become animated heroes and villains for a generation of kids raised on Frankenberry and Jolt Cola? spoke to the producers, actors and Superstars responsible to discover the amazing story behind one of wrestling’s most beloved relics.

The Players:

  • ANDY HEYWARD — Chairman and CEO of the ubiquitous DIC Entertainment, created "Inspector Gadget," among many others
  • BRAD GARRETT — television and film veteran widely known for his role as Ray's brother Robert in "Everybody Loves Raymond," voiced the eponymous Immortal One in "Rock 'n' Wrestling"
  • "MEAN" GENE OKERLUND — longtime wrestling broadcaster and collaborator of Hogan, inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006
  • JIMMY HART — The Mouth of the South, managed Hogan and many others, inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005

Visit a gallery of the cartoon | View unseen cartoon concept sketches

WWECLASSICS.COM: Gene, you were featured frequently on the show. How did you first hear about it?

GENE OKERLUND: I got in on the ground floor because Hulk Hogan  who, at the time, I spent many days in the studio with – was kind enough to share some of the details on the show. It was being produced by a man by the name of Andy Heyward. I think nothing but the world of Andy Heyward. I think he went on to do fairly well in the industry.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Mr. Heyward, how did “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” come to exist?

ANDY HEYWARD: It was 1983 or 1984. I was a big wrestling fan and went often to the various events. I thought the wrestlers were basically cartoon characters, they just happened to be live and real. All of those characters were so colorful. Not just Hulk  Iron Sheik, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Hillbilly Jim, The Fabulous Moolah, the list goes on. I contacted Vince and proposed the idea of turning this into a cartoon series around Hulk. They liked the idea and we went ahead.

WWECLASSICS.COM: What was more important in developing the show: Your knowledge as a wrestling fan or your background in cartoons?

HEYWARD: By all means, it was both. In addition, I was in constant dialogue with Vince [McMahon], who was the creative force behind everything going on. He had a lot of input and ideas on how these storyline arcs would unravel. And which characters would be the most colorful to emphasize.

WWECLASSICS.COM: How did you determine which WWE Superstars would be used in the cartoon?

HEYWARD: We wanted the ones that we thought had the most entertainment value in them. There was Big John Studd, there was Junkyard Dog. He was fantastic. We even had Captain Lou Albano.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Brad, how did you score the opportunity to be the voice of Hulk Hogan?

BRAD GARRETT: I auditioned for it. I started doing voiceovers in 1982. I was known for my deeper pipes and someone heard me doing a Hulk impression during an audition. There were some amazing new voiceover guys who were in it, like Pat Fraley [Hillbilly Jim] and Ron Feinberg [Andre the Giant]. These are the guys who became some of my voiceover mentors. [Uncle Phil] from “Fresh Prince,” James Avery, was Junkyard Dog. We recorded out in Burbank and it was a fun, fun, fun group.

Watch "Mean" Gene's wildest interviews

Immortal animation: The true story behind 'Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling'

WWECLASSICS.COM: Mr. Heyward, why was the decision made to use voice actors instead of having the WWE Superstars play themselves?

HEYWARD: It was just impossible with their very busy travel schedule. We couldn’t get them all in a studio at one time. They were always on the road somewhere. It just was not a practical option. I think, by and large, nobody ever complained about it.

WWECLASSICS.COM: On occasion, WWE performers did play themselves, like “Mean” Gene Okerlund.

HEYWARD: Oh, “Mean” Gene, he’s fantastic. He is such a spectacular talent. I don’t have enough words to say how great he was. He had that constant, very serious deadpan look. And always had the tuxedo that gave such credibility, it was spectacular.

OKERLUND: It took me two or three days a week. It would require me flying from New York to LA. All of those vignettes were done in LA.

JIMMY HART: I was lucky enough to be part of the live action segments. They had the cartoon part and also they had little cut-ins with different things that we’d be part of – different managers and different wrestlers. One of them I remember doing with Terry Funk, where he was showing me how to take a rope and lasso cattle and horses and the phone kept ringing and it ended with a little joke. We did a lot of these simple things that people could relate to. They were kind of corny, but the fans liked it.

Visit Jimmy Hart's WWE Hall of Fame profile

OKERLUND: They were actually little five-minute segments we would put in between the animation. We used [a production facility] out in Culver City. I remember going out there with The Junkyard Dog, Andre, Roddy Piper, Jimmy Hart, Lou Albano and Fabulous Moolah. All of the characters, at one time or another, would hook up out there and do these vignettes. Which, by the way, may have been formatted and written, but were really old school, fly by the seats of our pants and see what happens.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Mr. Heyward, why were live action segments included as a part of the show?

HEYWARD: I think they just gave a dimension of reality, connecting the cartoon to the stars.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Brad, were you a wrestling fan before you started doing the show?

GARRETT: When I grew up, my grandfather was a huge wrestling fan. When I was like eight or nine, I would visit him and we’d watch John Tolos, who was his hero, Porkchop Cash and Pampero Firpo. My grandfather turned me on to wrestling.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Have you ever met the man you voiced, Hulk Hogan?

GARRETT: No, I didn’t. I’ve never met him. I always wanted to. He really wasn’t involved in the production as far the recording, or writing or any of that.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Have you ever heard what he thought of your portrayal of him?

GARRETT: No idea. Hopefully it was okay, because I’m still alive.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Gene, you played yourself in some episodes, but also were voiced by two actors. Have you ever met them?

OKERLUND: Lewis Arquette was the father of [former WCW Champion] David Arquette. I was introduced to Lewis Arquette years later on the movie set of “Ready to Rumble.” He passed along to me that he did indeed do my voice on some of the episodes of “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.” Neil Ross also did my voice and I met him through a gentleman from WWE by the name of Nelson Swegler.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Gene, how involved was Hogan himself in the production?

OKERLUND: I don’t think he had a lot of involvement. That was something that was put together by the company, people like Vince, and Hulk’s attorney. They put it together and he was still running a full schedule on the road. I can’t see him being as involved in it even as I was.

WWECLASSICS.COM: You would record your parts separately from the cast?

OKERLUND: That’s correct.

Immortal animation: The true story behind 'Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling'

GARRETT: There was never a visitor [from WWE]. It was its own thing. I think [DIC] just paid them a big licensing fee to do it. [WWE] was so jammed doing their world tours and their other TV shows.

HART: Back then, it was so hard to get Hulk, because they had him going seven days a week. That’s how we kept the company going.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Do you have an idea of what Hogan thought of the show?

HART: Hulk loved the cartoon. Even at the beach bar that he has down here in Tampa, called Hogan’s Beach, we’ve got some of the cartoon up on the walls here. To this day, Hulk realizes that if it hadn’t been for the cartoon show along with the wrestling, he probably wouldn’t have sold the merchandise that he was able to sell.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Brad, did you record with the full cast or do your part as Hulk separately?

GARRETT: We did it with the full cast. When you do film animation, like when I do a Pixar film, everyone’s recorded separately. That’s the way it is for 99% of all feature animation. Television animation is done as a group. There’s a lot more detail in feature animation. Scheduling is a lot tougher. They’re constantly tweaking it. TV animation has got to be in the can in a week, so you get everybody together. It was a very funny group and it was a lot of fun. I was 24 at the time. I learned a lot because I was new to voiceover. The sessions ran anywhere between three to five hours to record your 22 minutes.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Is there something to be said for both you and James Avery participating in “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” and then hitting it big in sitcoms – you in “Everybody Loves Raymond” and James Avery in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?”

GARRETT: No, one really has nothing to do with the other. It’s a whole different community with voiceover work. James Avery is a very good actor. He was classically trained, but he always recorded without shoes. We used to make fun of each other all the time. He had a great sense of humor. He was the first guy from that cast to really explode, but he was already doing film and TV back then.

HEYWARD: That’s happened in many cartoons we’ve done. We gave Arsenio Hall his first role. He played one of our Ghostbusters. One of our writers in one of our first cartoons, “Heathcliff,” was a young guy we found by the name of Chuck Lorre. He is one of the hottest writers and producers in television. He does everything from “Two and a Half Men” to “The Big Bang Theory.”

WWECLASSICS.COM: Brad, what was the environment like when recording “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling?”

GARRETT: Stu Rosen was the director and he was really one of the best animation directors. He was very original in his directing. He was very actor friendly, he let you take risks. Obviously, you have to stick pretty much to the script, because the writers are there and that’s what they want. But if you came up with something or threw something in that worked, he wasn’t afraid of it.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Did you record the voice first or was the animation done first?

GARRETT: A lot of people think you do the voice after the animation’s done, that they draw it and you match the lips. You do that if you have to, but the animators draw off of your performance. Everything emanates from the performance. I was watching a lot of really great guys how to do ensemble voice work. There’s a real give and take in a group. This whole show was about the group of wrestlers. So we all fed off one another.

Immortal animation: The true story behind 'Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling'

HART: What I thought was really great about the whole show was that Vince really had the whole kids market nailed down. He saw what the future was and that was taking those wrestling fans in, getting them hooked on the cartoon, letting them watch our show and then making them fans for the next 30 years. Everything that Vince did back then was so well put together.

WWECLASSICS.COM: What was it like working with Mr. McMahon?

HEYWARD: Amazing. He’s extraordinarily creative. He’s always got great ideas and he will never cease to surprise you and do the unexpected. The one thing about Vince is, he never did anything by formula. He’d get an idea and it didn’t matter how crazy it might sound, he’d lead you in a completely opposite direction than what you were expecting. And each and every one of these characters came out of his mind.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Rumors over the years have suggested that The Fabulous Moolah was not originally supposed to be on the show and the female villain was to be Mad Maxine instead. Is there any truth to that?

HEYWARD: No, I don’t recall any of that.

OKERLUND: I’d hate to verify that without knowing the details, but I would say that Moolah would have the potential to politic her way into a position. To tell you the truth, she was a part of the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection” with Wendi Richter, Cyndi Lauper and that whole MTV gang. All of a sudden, this cartoon became big exposure for the then-Superstars of WWE. I would say anybody worth their salt would go for the payday and certainly would love to have the exposure of that cartoon show.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Mr. Heyward, some critics say the show was unable to be current with wrestlers’ roles as heroes or villains on WWE programming. Was it hard to keep pace?

HEYWARD: We tried to make the stories independent of how the evolution of the characters was taking place on the live programming. It was a fun time. The stories were lighthearted in their own way. The villains were dark villains. It was all black and white so you know who to root for. I think the stories were good entertainment. They were well-written stories.

WWECLASSICS.COM: Brad, I imagine you’re often recognized for your work on “Raymond,” but does anybody ever approach you and mention that you were the voice of Hulk Hogan?

GARRETT: Quite a few. Animation buffs are animation buffs. When I go to the premiere of a show or something like that, they’ll have you sign something. Once in a while a Hulk photo will show up and it blows my mind. In those days, we never got animation cells or pictures, no one knew what those were 30 years ago. But people know it. For me, without sounding corny, it was one of my first big voiceover gigs. A lot of people remember “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.” I did “Transformers” right around the time I did Hulk Hogan and nobody knew what it was.

WWECLASSICS.COM: What do you think it is about the show that left such a lasting impression?

GARRETT: Wrestling fans are incredibly loyal and they love the history of WWE. You look at it now, it’s kind of kitschy. It’s old school animation. It pales greatly to anything they’re doing now, but it has that old vibe. And some of the biggest names in wrestling at the time were in that show.

OKERLUND: It’s a piece of Americana now. It’s a part of the wrestling culture, because it was the first of its kind. It plays well even today.

HEYWARD: I have a lot of people today who are now in their 30s that tell me they watched that show when they were kids and remember all of it with great fondness. That’s really all we can ask for.

WWE Shows Latest Results

View all Shows