Who was 'Judo' Gene LeBell? Martial artist, 89, was the inspiration behind Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth role

'The Godfather of Grappling' has worked in more than 1000 films and shows, he also contributed to contemporary forms of martial arts

Who was 'Judo' Gene LeBell? Martial artist, 89, was the inspiration behind Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth role
Gene LeBell, a legend in wrestling passed away at 89 (@Paul Lazenby/Twitter)
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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA- Famous wrestler, Martial artist Ivan Gene LeBell better known as Gene LeBell, passes away at 89. 'The Godfather of Grappling' evolved to be a popular figure in the martial arts world after he extended to various other forms of sports, including judo and mixed martial arts. However, at a later point, he went on to become one of Hollywood's favorite stuntmen.

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He was a winner of the heavyweight and overall Amateur Athletic Union National Judo Championships in 1954 and 1955. These achievements eventually transitioned him to be a professional wrestler. Later on, the United States Ju-Jitsu Federation (USJJF) promoted him to 9th Dan in jujitsu and taihojutsu in 2000. Brad Pitt's character in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood', Cliff Booth, was inspired by LeBell's life. 

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LeBell's Nicknames and Achievements

LeBell is lovingly called by the public "Judo" Gene LeBell, "the Godfather of Grappling," and also "the toughest man alive" for his contributions to sports. He was born in Los Angeles in 1932. He did his schooling in military school from the age of 6. LeBell was trained in catch wrestling under Ed "Strangler" Lewis from the age of 7. However, later on, he decided to take up Judo to be a trainer. Later on, he received his black belt in Judo and went on to train students in Japan at the Kodokan. 'The Godfather of Grappling' has also wrestled under a black mask as 'The Hangman', teaming up with Roy Staggs. 

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LeBell has acted in more than 1000 movies and eventually turned out to be Hollywood's favorite Stuntman (@Cricyborg/Twitter)
LeBell has acted in more than 1000 movies and eventually turned out to be Hollywood's favorite Stuntman (@Cricyborg/Twitter)

One of the reasons the Judo star rose to fame is when he starred along with James Cagney for “Blood on the Sun” in 1945 for a 20-minute skirmish, and the same garnered tremendous views from the public. From then, LeBell became a familiar figure to sports enthusiasts. One of the thrilling stunt scenes from the sitcom 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet' earned him a SAG card (Screen Actors Guild). Within a short span of time, he dominated auditions for the role of Mr Kryptonite in the 'Superman' TV series, which ran from 1952 to 1958. Lebell has also trained many prodigies including Chuck Norris, Gokor Chivichyan, Karo Parisyan, Neil Melanson, Robert Wall, Ed Parker, Manny Gamburyan, Ronda Rousey, Tony Halme, Roddy Pipe, and Benny Urquidez.

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"RIP to the World's Toughest Man"

Celebrities and fans took to social media to express their feelings about his death. Paul Lazenby, a famous powerlifting champion said, "My hero. My teacher. My inspiration. My unfailing reminder that I am ugly and nobody likes me. My friend. RIP to the world's toughest man, Judo Gene Lebell. I'm going to miss the hell out of you.".John Pollock tweeted, "The history of combat sports requires several chapters dedicated to "Judo" Gene LeBell. You could produce multiple documentaries on points in his life from the 1963 fight with Milo Savage, Ali vs. Inoki, the L.A. office, film/stunt work, and as a mentor to Ronda Rousey. RIP."

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"With the heaviest of hearts I say goodbye to one of my favorite men in the world. Judo Gene Lebell passed in his sleep, a warrior in every way to the very end. In 1963 Gene took on Milo Savage in a mixed fight. Gene choked him like he did me & everyone else. RIP Gene, I love ya" stated Big John McCarthy. Famous wrestler, Roy Nelson also said, "Tuesday Technique! RIP Judo Gene Lebell This one hurts. The first time I met him was at a fan expo, when I was kid. STARTED TO LEARN REAL WRESTLING Then as a mma judge at one of my fights. Rest in peace." Grand Slam champion Cris Cyborg tweeted, "Judo Gene Lebell impacted so many lives through his kind, caring, and loving soul. It is through those memories his legacy will become legendary and forever remembered. RIP and prayers to all who loved him."

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