The Tragic Death Of Celebrity Stunt Legend Gene LeBell

Legendary stunt worker and mixed martial artist Gene LeBell died on August 9. The news was confirmed by actor and former MMA fighter Bas Rutten on Facebook. "The great Gene Lebell, toughest man I know, has passed away and left us at the age of 89," Rutten wrote, retelling several epic stories involving the deceased stunt icon. LeBell famously worked with Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Ronda Rousey, and more. Nicknamed the "Godfather of Grappling," the martial artist also fought the likes of Elvis Presly and John Wayne on film, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Rousey had a close bond with LeBell. He had known the former UFC champion "since she was a kid," as he told Kung-Fu Kingdom in 2018. When news of LeBell's death was announced, Rousey posted a photo him planting a kiss on her cheek to her Instagram, and added the caption "Legend" with a heart emoji. WWE icon Triple H also paid his respects on social media. "Gene LeBell remained a towering figure in the history and expansion of mixed martial arts and sports entertainment," he tweeted.

LeBell's expansive resume included stunt work on "The Green Hornet" television series, "Rocky IV," "Rapid Fire," and "Rush Hour," yet he remained relatively unscathed. "I've never had any injury in my stunt career that would've stopped me from going to work the next day," he told Kung-Fu Kingdom. Perhaps more impressive than his onscreen work were the rumors that followed LeBell about Bruce Lee and Steven Seagal.

Did Gene LeBell choke out Steven Seagal?

Gene LeBell actually inspired Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth character in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time In Hollywood," who fought with a fictional Bruce Lee in the film. According to LeBell, he was brought onto "The Green Hornet" to keep Lee in check, and the stunt performer put the series lead in a headlock. "[Lee] started making all those noises that he became famous for ... but he didn't try to counter me," LeBell wrote in his book "The Godfather of Grappling" (via The Hollywood Reporter). Afterwards, the pair became pals and often trained together, and LeBell later expressed his admiration for Lee. "He was the best martial artist of his time. Bruce and I had a bond with the martial arts," he told Black Belt magazine in 2015.

Another infamous Hollywood story about LeBell involved a rumored offscreen tussle with Steven Seagal on the set of the 1991 film "Out For Justice." The fabled story was that LeBell choked out Seagal after the movie star claimed he was immune to chokeholds, per MMA Underground. Decades later, in 2012, LeBell confirmed he had indeed choked out Seagal. "Well, if a guy soils himself, you can't criticize him, because if they just had a nice big dinner an hour before, you might have a tendency to do that," the stunt performer said on "The MMA Hour" (via Uproxx).

It should be noted that Seagal vehemently denied the claims. The actor said on "The MMA Hour" (via MMA Underground), "Gene LeBell is a pathological liar."