Wrestling legend George “The Animal” Steele has passed away at the age of 79. His passing was confirmed this morning by the WWE, the wrestling company where he spent the most famous years of his career. The cause of his death has not been announced.
Steele, who’s real name was William James Myers, was born April 16, 1937. Despite early aspirations at playing pro football, injuries sustained in college curtailed his career, leading him to try his hand at pro wrestling. Like most wrestlers of his era, Steele made his living playing in small venues across the United States, until he eventually found himself a major player in the rise of the WWE (then known as the WWF, or World Wrestling Federation) throughout the 1980s.
Though not a statuesque superhero of a man, Steele’s distinctive look and ring gimmick (a mostly mute, animalistic behemoth with a penchant for tearing apart turnbuckles with his teeth) both terrified and delighted audiences , but it wasn’t until he found himself involved in a feud with fellow WWE Hall of Famer “Macho Man” Randy Savage over the affections of Miss Elizabeth that he became a household name. Steele retired from the ring in 1988 due an ongoing battle with Crohn’s disease, and worked as a road agent for WWE until his release in 1990. Steele would return to the WWE for brief appearances here and there over the years, but he never became a full-time wrestler again.
Following his retirement, Steele made a play at Hollywood, and quickly found himself cast in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood.” He played the part of Swedish-wrestler/actor Tor Johnson, a person he was actually mistaken for on numerous occasions earlier in his career.