The world of professional wrestling has offered up some of the most unique athletes and personalities of any form of entertainment, and it's hard to imagine someone who made a bigger impact in the industry in the 1970s and beyond than George "The Animal" Steele, a superstar whose career spanned huge industry shifts. Unfortunately, the final bell has rung for Steele, who passed away Thursday night at the age of 79.
With a real name of William James Myers, George "The Animal" Steele had been suffering from a life-threatening illness. Promoter Eric Simms shared on social media yesterday that he had spoke with Steele's wife Pat, who stated the former wrestling champ was staying in a hospice just yesterday. An exact cause of death was not disclosed by the WWE's official statement.
Born in Detroit on April 16, 1937, then-William James Myers was destined for a career showing off his athleticism, with football as his initial path of choice, and he eventually started coaching both football and amateur wrestling for a Michigan high school. (His coaching achievements are even hall-of-fame worthy in the state.) But it was in the late 1960s when he settled into his more well-known role as a wrestler, initially working with fellow legend Bruno Sammartino and making the memorable name change from Myers to Steele. Sammartino was the link that brought The Animal to the WWF (as it was then known), where the two started a famed rivalry.
The crazed and somewhat feral personality that fans immediately connect with George "The Animal" Steele wasn't even how the wrestler first intended to be viewed by audiences. One of the more well-spoken performers in pro wrestling, Steel had both a bachelor's degree in science and a Masters from Central Michigan University, but his ferocious gimmick was reportedly formed after he was advised his wordier approach was too elegant. And that's how we got the mono-syllabic, turnbuckle-destroying, hairy-backed, hammerlock-utilizing madman that won over millions of fans for years. With his green tongue often sticking out, Steele flipped from villainous heel to beloved babyface in the 1980s, kicking of a new era of fandom. And during all of it, he fought the best in the business, including Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and many more. And his size and strength were such that he was further immortalized through a Seinfeld joke about Jerry's date with "man hands."
After being diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 1988, George "The Animal" Steele basically retired from physically wrestling, although he did make appearances in managerial roles for a time afterward, and reappeared for both WWF and WCW events in his post-retirement years, with his last appearance coming during a 2010 episode of Monday Night Raw.
Outside of the ring, George Steele was perhaps best known for his excellent appearance in Tim Burton's acclaimed 1994 biopic Ed Wood. In the film, Steele played the wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson, someone that Steele had been mistaken for several times during his life.
We here at CinemaBlend send our thoughts and condolences to the family and friends of George "The Animal" Steele in their time of mourning. The squared circle will never see another one quite like him.
Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.
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