Entertainment

Famed referee Dave Hebner dies

Famed referee Dave Hebner, who was a part of one of the most-watched wrestling angles in history, has died from an undisclosed illness. He was 73.

His illness was revealed on May 28 by former race car driver Hermie Sadler, who has had numerous moments involved in pro wrestling. In the past, it had been revealed that Hebner had Parkinson’s disease.

His passing was confirmed by his nephew, Brian Hebner, also a referee:

Dave Hebner and his twin brother, Earl, were born on May 17, 1949, and grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area. Dave began refereeing in the late 1970s around the area. He was a fan of the likes of George Becker, Johnny Weaver, Ole and Gene Anderson, Antonino Rocca, and began by helping to set the ring up.

By the early 1980s, he’d been hired by the WWF, and was front and center for some of the promotion’s iconic moments, including as the third man in the ring for Randy Savage versus Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III and Randy Savage versus Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania V. Hebner talked about the Savage-Steamboat match in a 2009 interview with SlamWrestling.net (Dave Hebner recounts the 1-2-3 on Wrestlemania III). “That was the best match of the Wrestlemanias,” Hebner said. “We had about 22 false finishes in that match. We went over it, over and over. Randy and Ricky, I have to tell you, they gave it all they got. They are professionals. They know what they’re doing and are both great athletes and just give you everything, so you have to know your spot, know your timing.”

On February 5, 1988, in an NBC special called WWF The Main Event, Dave Hebner was the referee for a WWF World Heavyweight title bout between Hulk Hogan and André the Giant. André defeated Hogan with the help of Earl Hebner, and André’s manager, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase revealed that Dave Hebner had been locked in a closet. Dave arrived in the ring, and Hogan saw double. It was a major referee swerve that catapulted both into the top level of referee lore.

The Hebners.

Knee replacement surgery forced Dave Hebner to retire from in-ring action, but he worked as a WWE road agent behind the scenes until being released in July 2005.

In a lengthy 2009 interview with SlamWrestling.net’s Kenai Andrews (Nothing but the truth from Dave Hebner), Hebner addressed his WWE dismissal, and noted “I had depression over the last five years just thinking about what I lost and how they let me go for nothing.”

He was later a part of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, where Dave’s nephew, Brian Hebner, worked for years too as a referee.

Dave Hebner was a part of a failed class action lawsuit filed against WWE compiled by attorney Konstantine Kyros, and the suit alleged that performers incurred “long term neurological injuries.”

In the 2009 interview, Hebner praised his wife Rebecca, who he met as a teenager, and married on September 20, 1968. “We’ve been married for 40 years. We got married, she was 17 and I was 19. I stole her out the cradle,” he chuckled. “My wife has stood behind me 100% ever since I’ve been in the business. There’s no wife that can be any better than my wife.” They had two daughters, Christina and Becky.

Dave Hebner died around noon on June 17, 2022, at his home in Mechanicsville, Virginia.

TOP PIC: Dave Hebner. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea, www.mikemastrandrea.com

HEBNER STORIES

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story erroneously noted his death as July 17, 2022.

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