WWE Hall of Famer George “The Animal” Steele (Jim Myers) has died at age 79.
WWE announced Friday, Feb. 17 the death of Steele, who was living in Cocoa Beach, Fla. The Detroit native had tweeted and blogged in recent months about his declining health. He dealt with the digestive disorder Crohn’s disease for several years.
Sporting a bald head, hairy back and flapping green tongue, Steele was famous for his signature move of sinking his teeth into the turnbuckle pads around the ring and throwing the stuffing at wrestlers, referees and fans. He moved oddly around the ring, confusing opponents. His finisher The Flying Hammerlock. Basically, he would lift his opponents off the mat from behind with a hammerlocked arm.
Steele had memorable feuds with WWF champ Bruno Sammartino and Randy “Macho Man’ Savage with Miss Elizabeth. Steele was involved in the classic WrestleMania 3 match between Savage and Ricky The Dragon Steamboat, circa 1987 before 90,000 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit/Pontiac. Steele was in Steamboat’s corner during the epic battle, which is one of the best matches in the history of pro wrestling/sports entertainment. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant main evented that Mania, but the Savage/Steamboat encounter is also a top highlight from that very successful pay-per-view spectacular.
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A ruthless villain in the ring, this incredibly strong wild animal -- with a very limited vocabulary -- became beloved by fans in his later wrestling years. He was managed by some of the greats, including Capt. Lou Albano.
Steele, a mainstream celebrity, also appeared in commercials and movies. He played the role of Swedish wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp in 1994.
At a Boston Red Sox game in 2012, he pretended to take a bite from the baseball before throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.
Steele was once a Detroit-area high school teacher and football coach who received a master’s degree from Central Michigan. He kept his pro wrestling endeavors separate and private from his coaching/teaching. When WWF exploded with WrestleManias, opposing high school football teams learned the pro wrestling identity of Coach Jim Myers. The secret was out, and the fans of opposing teams heckled him with signs and animal yells/noises at games.