We are incredibly sad to report that our hero, dear friend and Stunts Unlimited brother passed away yesterday, August 9th, 2022 at the age of 89. He will be missed by all who knew and loved him, especially us.

“Judo” Gene LeBell the “Godfather of Grappling” was both a renowned ex-world champion in both wrestling/judo, and one of Hollywood’s busiest stuntmen. He was highly respected by many martial artists all over the world, and has been considered a ground breaker in many aspects of the art of grappling. (Gene LeBell Biography)

Born in Los Angeles in 1932, LeBell was shipped off to a military school at age 6 by his full-time working mom after his father died in a surfing accident. After his mother remarried, LeBell was raised near L.A.’s old Olympic Auditorium. The athletic youngster tested himself with such self-imposed challenges as scaling 60-foot-high lighting stanchions to replace spent bulbs. LeBell was also a judo and grappling prodigy. Instructed through brutal tutorials by professional wrestlers and old-school masters, he developed adult skills by 13. He sparred with James Cagney while shooting “Blood on the Sun” in 1945, allowing the famous actor to dominate the 20-minute skirmish — which garnered rave reviews. It was LeBell’s first movieland lesson: Always let the star win. (James C. Udel, Variety,  2018)

Aileen Eaton. Courtesy 18th & Grand
“Judo” Gene won the A.A.U. National Judo Championships (both heavyweight and overall) in 1954 and 1955

Gene started training in judo at a young age, and at the age of 20 in 1954, he won National AAU Heavyweight Judo Championship and the USA Overall Judo Championship title. He went on to win the both the Heavyweight and overall champion title 1955 as well. After an illustrious judo career, Gene tried his hand at professional wrestling, and actually won the heavyweight title in Amarillo, Texas. However, in his excitement Gene swung the title belt around his head, which accidentally hit one of the wrestling commissioners on the head, causing a nasty gash. The belt was immediately seized from the shocked Gene, which in later years would cause him to comment, “Well, at least I was the champ for 12 seconds and I retired as champion.” (Gene LeBell Biography)

Gene went on to fight numerous opponents over the years including practitioners from other fighting arts that scoffed at Gene’s prowess, however they learned the hard way that Gene’s superb grappling skills were the real deal. Gene has trained with numerous other world champion martial artists including Chuck NorrisBill Wallace, and Benny Urquidez. (Gene LeBell Biography)

Gene (right) appeared on “The Jack Benny Show” (with Jack playing the referee). On the left is “Count” Billy Varga

LeBell transitioned from amateur to AAU national judo champ in 1954 and catapulted to national attention — but as a pro wrestler, playing Hank the Hangman; he made a living by losing every match. (James C. Udel, Variety,  2018)

George Reeves, Noel Neill & Gene LeBell

A fight scene on the sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” earned LeBell his SAG card. He subsequently dominated auditions for the role of Mr. Kryptonite in the “Superman” TV series, which ran from 1952 to 1958; actor George Reeves, who played the Man of Steel, hired him on the spot after seeing his high-flying judo rolls and flips. The two became close friends, but the actor’s untimely death stymied LeBell’s chance for future speaking parts. Still, he continued to get regular stunt work on TV. (James C. Udel, Variety,  2018)

Courtesy of Gene LeBell

Ed Lewis. Lou Thesz. Sugar Ray Robinson. Karl Gotch. Billy Robinson. Muhammad Ali. Freddie Blassie. Bruce Lee. Chuck Norris. Roddy Piper. Ronda Rousey. Those are just some of the names that Gene LeBell has trained with, not to mention the countless other celebrities and luminaries he’s worked alongside during his decades-long careers as a pioneering mixed martial artist, a professional wrestler, and a stuntman.

LeBell’s Rolodex is not just one hall of fame roster, but multiple, as he’s played integral roles in the worlds of boxing, judo, wrestling, and Hollywood stunt-work. Present-day UFC fans probably best remember him from his time spent wielding a stopwatch in the corner of his protege, Ronda Rousey, while wrestling fans might know his name from when Daniel Bryan used to call his finisher the “LeBell Lock.” But despite that, the MMA pioneer isn’t a household name, which is a shame, because if you’re a fan of combat sports, he absolutely should be. ( Aubrey Sitterson, rondarousey.com, 2018)

Gene was an actor and stuntman in Hollywood productions for over fifty years with more than 150 acting credits and 250 stunt credits. Some of his vast television credits includeThe Jack Benny Program (1962), The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1965) The Green Hornet (1965), Mission: Impossible (1966), I Spy (1965), The Wild Wild West (1965), Bonanza (1968), Kung Fu (1972), Beretta (1975), Starsky and Hutch (1975), Fantasy Island (1979), The Greatest American Hero (1981), Married with Children (1987), Baywatch (1989), The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992), Walker Texas Ranger (1993), That 70’s Show (1998), The X-Files (2000), The Shield (2002),  Reno 911 (2003), 24 (2010) and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Gene’s feature film appearances include Blue Hawaii (1965), Planet of the Apes (1968), Raging Bull (1980), Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985), Bad Guys (1986), Hard to Kill (1990), Die Hard 2 (1990), Patriot Games (1992), Ed Wood (1994), L.A. Confidential (1997) Batman & Robin (1997), Rush Hour (1998), The Man on the Moon (1999) Men in Black II (2002), Spiderman 2 (2004), Starsky & Hutch (2004)


Over his career, LeBell was bludgeoned, shot, run over, karate-chopped (he became friends with Bruce Lee) and drowned for $2,000 per week — earning more than most lawyers during those days. People called him the Toughest Man Alive. It was the long-running “Lassie” series that first tested LeBell’s mettle. Confused by William Beaudine’s direction, LeBell ended up being chomped by a 700-pound bear named Victor. “‘What are you doing?’ LeBell remembers the helmer lamenting. ‘We can’t have blood!’” Gaffer tape stanched the bleeding, and LeBell managed six more takes. (James C. Udel, Variety,  2018)

The remarkable Judo Gene LeBell was still teaching grappling and doing stunts well into his 80’s. He was also a Nevada and California Athletic Commission judge, including judging UFC 74 (Randy Couture vs. Gabriel Gonzaga) and his website judogene.com is visited by martial arts and film fans all over the globe.(Gene LeBell Biography)

Gene is survived by his wife Midge, his children Monica and David; stepchildren Danny and Stacey; and grandchildren Daniel, Tyler and Nicholas.



The Hollywood Reporter: Gene LeBell, Famed Stuntman and “Godfather of Grappling,” Dies at 89

Deadline: Gene LeBell Dies: Stuntman, Actor And Wrestling Legend Who Fought Bruce Lee & Chuck Norris Onscreen Was 89

The Ringer: Gene LeBell Did It All

MMA Fighting: ‘Toughest man I know’: Pros react to pioneer ‘Judo’ Gene LeBell’s death

The  Huffington Post: Gene LeBell, Famed Stuntman, Martial Artist And Bruce Lee’s Teacher Dies At 89


Stunts Unlimited Member Gene LeBell was presented with the Taurus Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday, May 13th, 2017 for his outstanding contribution to the world of action feature films. Gene LeBell began his martial arts training at the age of 13 and went on to become the “Godfather of Grappling” and is considered by many to be the father of MMA. He has fought, trained and performed with a dizzying array of some of the most prolific athletes and actors in the world. As a stuntman, Gene has worked on more than 1000 film and television projects during a career that has spanned over 50 years. Few will live a life as extraordinary as Gene LeBell has.

Colleagues, friends and fans (in most cases they qualify as all three) have contributed their congratulations to the living legend that is Judo Gene LeBell.

We love him! He deserves this award. – Ronnie and Mary Rondell

Congratulations Uncle Gene! There is no one alive on this planet that deserves this Life Time Achievement Award more than you. Few people know the amount of time, energy, dedication, innovation , and pure love you have graced us with in your illustrious career! Wear this Award well my friend. Love ya, Buddy Joe Hooker

Hal Needham (left) is doubling Richard Long in the “Big Valley” episode, “A Day of Terror” (1966), while martial arts and stunt legend, Gene LeBell (right), is doubling Ken Swofford.

My dear friend Gene. You’re not only a legend to me but a great, great friend. We’ve worked together for over (50) years and it’s been (50) years of pure delight. I love you Gene and I am very proud of your accomplishments in our business. You’ve not only accomplished a great name in our industry but many,many brothers and sister stunt people that admire and love you very much.   Congrats my friend and God Bless. – Mickey Gilbert

I’ll never forget working with Gene in Minneapolis for David Ellis. I was driving a weenie mobile and Gene was driving a truck and they wanted a near miss, so we did the take and they said we weren’t close enough – we showed em the paint scraped off the sides of the cars and they said, ‘Okay, I guess you’re right.’ I get his patches every year, got em all right here. Love you brother – congratulations! – J.N. Roberts

Nobody in the world more respected!! So well deserved!! Congratulations Gene – Eric Norris

Gene LeBell is my hero and always has been. He is, and always has been, a perfect example of what a professional stuntman should be and continues to teach and hand down his vast knowledge to all young and old who want to learn. The pictures above are from the TV show Fall Guy and I told Gene I didn’t want to hit him on the bike and he said “I don’t want you to hit me either…you may hurt yourself.” Congratulations Gene, you earned this award and no one in this world is taking it away from the “Toughest man Alive.” – Jack Gill

Congrats from Uncle Z! – Dick Ziker

Gene, I appreciate the things you’ve accomplished in life, and acknowledge your generosity to  those you have helped to achieve theirs. To quote C.S. Lewis, Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” Seems like yesterday, life’s crazy like that, huh? Love ya, Bax – Craig Baxley, Sr.

Gene LeBell: Bruce Lee in the UFC, Ronda Rousey, if anybody can beat her, Judo in MMA, Jimmy Kimmel

Congratulations Gene………………..it’s about time!!! When I first came to town in 1987, I remember trying to get my hands on one those Stunt Rate breakdown cards you used to make.  You were a better reference than SAG! You have been a legend for over 60 years and I’m honored each month that I get to see you!!!! A brief google of you name brings up pages and pages of awesome stories about what you’ve really accomplished in so many fields. Congratulations my brother!!! – Craig Hosking

Congratulations Gene you are a legend! Proud to be your friend! – Norman Howell

Congratulations Gene LeBell an incredible Honor an so well deserved. I am so glad I was there Live to see it ! Love and Respect –  John C Meier

Gene, I first met you at the Olympic Auditorium many years ago, i can’t believe how fast time has past, As a Great stuntman, Actor, Olympian and Teacher being Prolific to this Business you have planted many many seeds in Future Stunt men and stunt women, because of your thoughtful and kind hart this business will be Blessed with talent worthy of calling you Teacher and Friend, Your Long Lost, Brother From Another Mother, and Friend, Love You, Henry Kingi

Uncle Gene…I can remember taking your class when I was a young stunt grunt. You used to practice on your son David and I used to say to him … “I want to try that too, to be choked out by your dad”.  David would look at me glassy eyed and say … “No you don’t”! Well deserved my friend, and sensei! OSU! Heffay Cadiente

Ed O’Neil and Gene LeBell, Married with Children

Big congrats Uncle Gene!  You deserve every bit of it! Proud to know you, much love ❤️ – Brent Fletcher

Very proud to have been your student for so many years…  There is no one prettier than you Sensai… You are truly a legend and I can not think of anyone more deserving for this award!!! Congratulations very well deserved! – Mike Smith

Congratulations on this most deserving award for a really great guy.  If I could get my arms around you I would hug you.  All the best! – Alan Oliney

Hey Gene, Thanks for being a four-star mentor to so many and thanks for being Gene Lebell. – Rick Seaman

Well Geno, they said it couldn’t be done but… you’ve done it again. Congratulations, Connie PConrad Palmisano

Congratulations Uncle Gene for receiving the lifetime award. You have definitely earned it for all your contributions to the industry. – Jimmy Halty

Congratulations Gene. An incredible life being rightfully recognized. Long overdue! – Steve Boyum

Absolutely couldn’t go to a better candidate.  A true legend with a legacy of amazing stunt history.  Congratulations Gene LeBell!  – Andy Gill

Congratulations Gene !!! Well deserved !!! Thank you for all you have done for those of us blessed to learn from you. Even more appreciated by those of us choked out by you !!! Love ya !!! – Scott Wilder

Thank you Sensei for paving the way for martial artists in this biz! If I have seen further it has been by standing on the shoulders of giants like you!! Osu… – J.J. Perry

Gene, I’ll never forget the time on set, when you let me “try” and choke you out.  After, my arms were trembling with strain, you told me to stop and smiled at me, and said kid, “don’t quit your day job”.  I”ll never forget that moment,  congratulations brother.  We are all so proud of you, you’re a legend. – Jimmy Roberts

Gene you’ve always told me I’m the best but your THE GREATEST… Love ya, Manny Perry

I owe everything to Gene. He taught me how to fight, taught me how to ride. He believed in me which made me believe in myself. He will always be my Stunt Senei. – Erik Stabenau

Congratulations Gene. A long overdue, but well deserved award. – Gregg Smrz

So well deserved! Congratulations brother Gene!!!  Love, Greg & Barbie Barnett

You’ve been my hero my entire career. Congratulations Uncle Gene! It’s about time. You are a true living legend. All my love and respect – Pat Romano

Ya ya Uncle Gene , to one of the Gilberts’ favorite people …. thank you so much for all the encouragement over all these decades …. You always got the cool moves to Choke em Out ….. stay healthy my friend ….. Love, Troy Gilbert

 “4 for Texas” (1963) starring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. To Gene’s right are stuntmen Charles Picerni, Hal Needham, and Paul Stader

Unreal. Way to go Uncle Gene!!! – Lance Gilbert

Gene , you are surely deserving of this achievement even though your humility won’t allow you to agree with us. Never ever have I known a man so talented, having so much wisdom and experience, so giving of his knowledge and skills and yet being so humble. I have always been inspired by this quality in you Uncle Gene and I cherish the memories of the many great experiences we have had together. I was always jealous that you could ride a wheelie so much better than me. I love ya man. – Tim Gilbert

This tribute is well deserved. It goes to a great man of strength, integrity and honor. Thank you Gene for your friendship over the decades. I’ll be there to shake your hand tomorrow. Congratulations! – Tanner Gill

Congrats Uncle Gene!! It’s about time!! You are a true living legend!  All my love and respect – Matt Taylor

Aloha Uncle Gene, Mahalo for sharing your secret “Hawaiian Hug” mahalo for all your knowledge & advice that you’ve given. Congratulations & we all love you.  Aloha, Brian Keaulana

Congratulations Gene! You have given so much to our community and film business! To this day you are still teaching and sharing your wealth of knowledge with the next generation! I’m honored to know you! I’ll toast you from Texas! Cheers! – Mike Massa

Congratulations Gene!! Awesome – Steve Picerni

I have grown up idolizing many of the SU members over the years…Gene’s massive career and list of credits is insane. It couldn’t go to a better man. Congrats to the amazing living legend – John Stoneham, Jr.

Congratulations Gene, you know I love you, and I’m so very very proud of you. – Gary Davis

So awesome!!! Stoked I get to make it this year. – Freddy Bouceigues

No one deserves this more then you uncle Gene. I feel honored to say I’ve never been choked out by the legend Gene LaBell…I consider you a true friend. Love ya Gene.  – Logan Holladay

Congratulations to Uncle Gene for a lifetime of stunts and terrorizing the stunt people; either riding dirt bikes or putting them to ‘sleep’. You always tried to get me to go dirt biking with you but I never gave in. One thing I learned was never never mess with Gene LeBell. He is the greatest!! With love and affection, Sandy Gimpel

Congrats on your big nite!! Ya big goofball!!! With respect, Missy O’Malley-Reynolds

Uncle Gene, Thanks for never burning our house down. It’s an honor to be your student and friend. We couldn’t prouder. Big hug and a kiss! – Little Mo and Lou

Uncle Gene has been a trusted mentor, ardent Sensei and dear friend to me and countless other stunt people throughout the years. Whether through his chokes or his jokes, Gene LeBell has been an inspiration for more people than he will ever realize. – Mary Karcz

Hi Gene, I’d just like to Congratulate you on your receiving the Taurus Lifetime Achievement Award. I’m proud to be a friend of yours for over 50 years.  The fun motorcycle rides we used to go on out at the “Pig Farm” and at your mountain house. Those were great times !! And Thank You for all those Decals and Patches you sent Charlotte and I each Christmas. Best to You Gene !! – Chuck & Charlotte Waters

Elvis Presley with Judo and Wrestling Legend Gene LeBell

Special man and amazing human being, so deserving of this recognition. Blessed if you know him, crazy fun guy. I have ridden on the back of his bike for one of his marathon wheelies….Pine Mtn Club so much fun. – Sandra Brumfield Avo

Gene is as it has been said amongst the “fight” world..is the Toughest Man. As well…back in the day..i drove out to ride motos with Gene & some friends at his area in Frazier Park. I had a 2-stroke so i had to unload at an area specified…the 4-strokes rode the streets to the mountains and riding area….As i was driving my bike in my pick-up….Gene passed me standing on the seat of his XR doin a wheelie…Gene is an Amazing man….Open arms.. to a choke-out! Humbled to be 1 of many. – Christian Fletcher

Congratulations Gene! It has been an honor to work with you ,and see how much you have done, over the years. I tried to get your son some work but he’s always at the beach. Hey Gene… which way to the Beach? – Joseph Davis

Gene LeBell, Inside Kung Fu (May, 1979)

Gene is truly a genuine Good person and a great friend. He is there to help you any time any where. God bless. – Anil Rai

Congratulations Mr. LeBell!!! You are an inspiration!! – Sammy Horowitz

Congratulations Gene, it’s about time you were acknowledged for your amazing contribution to the stunt world. You truly are a one-off, a living legend. – Michael Nesbitt

Congratulations, judo Gene LeBell – Tony Epperson

Congratulations! Still working on the “Pro Wrestling Finishing Holds” book techniques to this day! – Chris Pellitteri

Mr. Gene LeBell ; Thank you for your kindness and wisdom over the years. Well done sir! – Michael Hilow

Congratulations to the prettiest man in Hollywood, and the reason the phrase “Bad Ass” was created.. No one is more deserving than my buddy, and everyone’s Uncle.. Uncle Gene! – Nick Plantico

Congrats Gene!! It always put a smile on my face when you would call the SAMP office. Your positivity and generosity knows no limit. This is very much deserved. – Savanah Dawn Lilley

The one and only “Uncle Gene!” A industry standard, and great human being! – Ross Clay

Gene is the most unselfish and most giving person I know. He is loved by so many and admired by countless others. – Michael Hughes

Thank you for being such an influence and inspiration to MANY! – Brandon Recor

Congratulations!!! Well deserved my hat is off to you sir!!! – David Burton

Congrats Gene LeBell great job well done – Grover Gay

Congrats Gene LeBell! Well deserved. – Bob Debbie Hennessey

Congrats Gene. So happy for you. Well deserved.- Bonnie Happy

Congratulations Gene!!! – Kevin Sorensen

Well deserved. Congratulations Gene. – Will Bowman

Well deserved! Thank you, Mr. LeBell! – Ian Avabe

Gene LeBell, Rush Hour (1998)

Congratulations – Raynald La Rocholle

Congrats Big “G” – Mel Scott

You Rock a Master of all well deserved – Si PJ Hooper Kelly

Congratulations! – Sean Foon

Congratulations Gene. It’s great having such a role model to look up to. May we all continue to learn from you and strive to reach the heights you’ve reached. Mahalo – Christopher Chabriel

About time! – John Oneill

Congratulations MEAN GENE!!! – Allen Lopa

Congratulations! – Alexander Mandra

Congratulations! – Rob Hayter

Congrats to a legend!! Judo Gene!!! – Craig Frosty Silva

Much love – Jwaundace “JC” Candece

CONGRATULATIONS!!!! – John Nikitin

Congratulations! – Damien Puckler

Congratulations Gene! – Kofi Elam

Gene LeBell… What can anybody tell you about Gene LeBell? Working with Gene on many television and films, I learned how to take judo and marital art punches and kicks and fly through the air, crazing through various objects to the ground . It hurt. Gene taught my three son’s how to take every day life in the training under Gene. They all grew up to be great young men, James is a newspaper writer for various companies, David is a Federal Police Officer and Matthew is an accountant and they all, always talk about the days they train under Gene. So, congratulation Gene LeBell from the Winburn families for receiving the Taurus Lifetime Achievement Award. The award couldn’t be given to a better or greater person, that trained many motion pictures stuntmen in and out of the motion picture Industry. God Bless you Gene and your lovely wife and thanks you for all the things you taught me. – Jim Winburn

Long time coming Papa Gene. I love you. Congrats – Rick Avery

Congratulations Uncle Gene!!Thanks for the memories!! Best –Hugh Aodh O’Brien