George “The Animal” Steele will be missed.
If you grew up in the 1980s, you’ll remember his character on Saturday morning wrestling: the hairy back, the green tongue, the bald head. And who could forget his fondness for eating turnbuckles? He was a one-of-a kind “character,” in the truest sense of the word.
I had a chance to speak with Mr. Steele several times when I was working for a Pro Wrestling magazine. He was the opposite of his character. In real life, he had a Master’s Degree, was a devout Christian, and was a loving husband and father. He was far from the marauding beast he played on television.
George (whose real name was Jim Myers) started in Professional Wrestling back in the early 70s. It was a way to supplement his meager income as a high school teacher. He quickly moved up the ranks, eventually becoming a fixture of the business. He wrestled all the top stars: Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, etc. He rose in popularity to the point where, eventually, Hollywood came knocking. George had a significant part in the movie Ed Wood, where he played an actor in one of Wood’s films.
George created his character on the road, adapting it to the cheers and boos of the crowd. In that way, his character was different than today’s wrestling performers – many of whom have gimmicks created for them by the WWE production department. George’s gimmick was unique, and it was the byproduct of his brilliant mind for effective performance art. He was equivalent to a great circus performer from a forgotten era.
George Steele was a fantastic entertainer. But more importantly, he was a virtuous and honorable man.
RIP…George “The Animal” Steele.