George Steele dead at 79
By Joe Gibel
Hall of Fame wrestler, George “The Animal” Steele has died at age 79.
Steele, best remembered for portraying a green-tongued, baldheaded wild man in the ring, has died Feb. 16 from kidney failure. Steele was known for eating the corner of the ring by shredding turnbuckles (a device for adjusting the tension or length of ropes or cables) in the ring and throwing the pieces at his opponents.
His greatest success was towards the end of his career when he joined WWE during the 1980s in the days of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage.
“He was a huge personality, one of the 1980s biggest characters, despite the lack of a push or singles title,” said Jamie Greer, wrestling writer for web page Last Word On Sports. “He was memorable and showed that being an entertainer was more important than being a champion.”
Steele was born in Detroit in 1937 as Jim Myers. He played football at Michigan State, but his career was cut short due to knee problems.
After graduating he became a teacher, amateur wrestling coach and football coach at Madison High School in Madison Heights. There he would eventually become a member of the Michigan Coaches Hall of Fame.
For years, Steele played a menacing villain in the ring known for vicious brawls with many other wrestlers of the time.
In 1985 he became a lovable simple-minded character who tried his best to mean well. This change in the animal character appealed to the WWE’s child friendly audience of the time. He appeared at three Wrestlemanias, had a feud with “Macho Man” Randy Savage and had his likeness used for many WWE products.
Steel retired from full time action in 1988 after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He then served as a road agent for WWE for several years.
In 1994 Steele portrayed wrestler Tor Johnson in Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood alongside Johnny Depp.
In 1995, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and made appearances for various wrestling organizations including Windsor’s Border City Wrestling in 2000.
“We had him here years ago out at Windsor Raceway,” said Jeffrey Scott, vice president of operations for BCW. “Whenever he was in Detroit, he loved coming to Windsor. He was a genuinely nice guy.”
Steele leaves behind his wife Pat and their children, Dennis, Randy, and Felicia.