George “The Animal” Steele
RIP George “The Animal” Steele
One of my favorite wrestlers of all time! He yelled out “hey” and “you” and and bit open the turnbuckle but in his “other” life was a high school teacher!
William James “Jim” Myers (April 16, 1937 – February 17, 2017), better known by his ring name George “The Animal” Steele, was an American professional wrestler, school teacher, author and actor. Steele’s career lasted from 1967 until 1988, though he made occasional wrestling appearances into the 1990s and 2000s.
Myers was born in Detroit on April 16th, 1937, and was raised in Madison Heights, Michigan. During high school, he found success in track, baseball, basketball and football. In 1956, Myers entered Michigan State University as a football player for the Michigan State Spartans, but his career as a football player was immediately cut short as a result of knee problems. In 1961, he was with the Grand Rapids Shamrocks (UFL) 1st place Western Division.
After gaining a bachelor of science degree from Michigan State University and a master’s degree from Central Michigan University, Myers became a teacher, amateur wrestling coach, and football coach at Madison High School in Madison Heights, Michigan. There he would eventually become a member of the Michigan Coaches Hall of Fame.
Professional wrestling career
Looking to supplement his income, he got into the world of Detroit-area professional wrestling, but in order to protect his privacy, he wrestled using a mask and the name The Student. Gary Hart served as The Student’s manager and had to explain to the announcers why his client could not apply any legitimate holds or maneuvers instead relying on only his undisciplined brute strength. Myers was soon scouted by World Wide Wrestling Federation champion Bruno Sammartino and began working in Pittsburgh in 1967 on the popular Studio Wrestling TV show broadcast on WIIC-TV (later WPXI-TV) Channel 11. Sammartino had liked the character Myer’s developed of a wild man with incredible strength. However, he had him drop the mask, as well as title of The Student. Looking to hide his real name, Myers opted for the alias “George Steele”. According to Michigan High School Hall of Fame Coach George Steele of Warren, he and Myers were coaching against each other in a high school JV match-up while both were early into their careers. At halftime, Myers approached Steele and told him about his venture into wrestling and that he was looking for a name. Myers allegedly asked Steele if he could use his name, that he liked it a lot and the future Hall of Fame coach told him no problem. Steele states in an interview available on YouTube that he was in Pittsburgh when he was looking for a stage name. Someone suggested Jim Steele since he was in the “Steel City”. He didn’t like the first name Jim and he suggested George which is what he eventually went with.
Working well with Sammartino, he was invited for a full run in the WWF. He told WWF TV commentator Ray Morgan that he was the nephew of Ray Steele (kayfabe) and had an extensive amateur background. He sold the story by using an array of armlocks on opponents, weakening them for his finisher, the Flying Hammerlock (Steele would lift his opponents off the mat by a hammerlocked arm). He also revealed his teaching background to interviewers that made his in-ring Neanderthal image all the more incongruous. He wrestled Sammartino to an hour-long draw at Madison Square Garden but lost the rematch. In Boston, being set up to face Sammartino for a long series in that city, he got one of the few clean wins over Victor Rivera, a top babyface, with the flying hammerlock submission, at a huge Fenway Park outdoor show. He was then relegated to a feud with Chief Jay Strongbow, and lost to Edouard Carpentier at the Garden before taking a brief hiatus to reinvent his wildman character.
Steele became a true crazy heel, acting like a wild man in the ring, tearing up the turnbuckle with his teeth and using the stuffing as a weapon as well as sticking out his green tongue (an effect accomplished by eating green Clorets breath mints). The Animal had a stooped posture and a hairless head, but a thick mat of fur on his back; wrestling broadcasters often speculated that The Animal was indeed “the missing link.” At best, The Animal could occasionally manage to utter a word or two during interviews with one of them usually being “Duh-da-dahh” or “YOU! YOU go!”.
As Steele recalled in a later shoot interview, his infamous “Duh-dahh” interview style happened by accident. Throughout his career, Steele prided himself on being able to cut eloquent and effective promos, and ranked his mic skills with the best in the business. At a WWF TV taping in the early 1980s, he was cutting one of these promos when Vince McMahon cut him off, and reminded Steele that his gimmick was the “Animal”, and for an animal he was “making too much sense”. Incensed, Steele did a second take of nothing but garbled and incoherent syllables (“Duhh-dahh”). Steele did this deliberately and out of pure frustration, thinking that McMahon would acquiesce and allow Steele to cut his normal, eloquent promos. Much to Steele’s shock, McMahon replied, “That’s exactly what I want!”, and this would remain Steele’s interview style for the rest of his WWF run. Steele started to fully cultivate his gimmick of a menacing imbecile.
Steele eventually became one of the more popular and recognizable wrestlers during most of the 1980s professional wrestling boom. He turned face during the first episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event when his partners in a six-man match, Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik, abandoned him to their opponents, Ricky Steamboat and the U.S. Express (Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda), leading to Steele being taken under the wing of the Express’ manager, Capt. Lou Albano, who consoled him following the loss. His most famous feud was in 1986 against “Macho Man” Randy Savage, after Steele developed a crush on Savage’s valet, Miss Elizabeth. The feud was meant to last only a couple of months (and end with Steele being disappointed), but it proved so popular with fans that it continued well into 1987. In 1988, Steele began carrying a stuffed animal named “Mine” to the ring. He participated in the Wrestlemania IV Battle Royal, but was outside of the ring the whole time. According to Steele, he suffered a knee injury at a house show prior to the event, which was the reason he didn’t get in the ring. Late in 1988, Steele retired after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Steele then became a road agent for the WWF until he was released in October 1990 due to budget cuts. Soon after, however, Steele was re-hired by the WWF and continued to work as an agent until the late 1990s. Though he left the WWF without any WWF championships behind him, Steele grew to become one of the most recognised and popular figures in WWF history, and was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 1995.
In 1998, during the WWF’s “Attitude Era”, George Steele returned as part of The Oddities. Then on January 10, 2000, George Steele appeared on an episode of WCW Monday Nitro as one of three legends Jeff Jarrett had to face that night. Eight years later, Steele made an appearance at TNA Slammiversary as a groomsman in the wedding for “Black Machismo” Jay Lethal and SoCal Val, along with Koko B. Ware, Kamala, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Steele has made several appearances for Tony Vellano’s Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, NY. At its first event in 2003, Steele was interviewed by journalist “Handsome” Randall Burton for the Rochester, NY television show “Wrestlevision.” Steele became frustrated while a nervous Burton stammered through several odd questions during on YouTube.[dead link] Rather than answering questions, Steele became agitated and abruptly walked away from the interviewers. The clip circulated on YouTube, and many have questioned whether Steele’s frustration was legit or kayfabe. Opponents have cited that it would make little sense for Steele to perform the interview as a heel, as he had been a face for the majority of his career, though the Burton character was a heel interviewer.
Myers had dyslexia and was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 1988, an inflammatory bowel disease which currently has no cure but can be brought into remission. In 1998, doctors told Myers that his Crohn’s Disease had gone into remission and that he no longer suffered from any of the disease’s symptoms. In 2002, to prevent the symptoms from returning, Myers had his colon removed.
Myers was a devout Christian. He attended the First Baptist Church Merritt Island, and lived in Cocoa Beach, Florida with his wife Pat, whom he married before he entered Michigan State in 1956. Together, Pat and Jim have two sons, Dennis and Randy, and a daughter, Felicia.
In 1994, Steele made his professional acting debut as Swedish wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson in Tim Burton‘s Ed Wood. Coincidentally, Steele was often mistaken for Johnson earlier in his career. According to Steele, a New York novelty shop once sold a Tor Johnson mask as a George Steele mask to increase sales, due to Steele’s popularity at the time.
A song about Steele titled “George Steele” appears on the album Charmed Life by punk rock band Half Japanese. The lyrics include “There’s a man who I admire, a man who set his hair on fire.”
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
Championships and accomplishments
- Other honoree (2004)
- Grande Wrestling Alliance
- GWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Class of 2005
- PWI ranked him # 267 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the “PWI Years” in 2003.
- Superstars of Wrestling (Newfoundland)
- SoW Canadian Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
- “George Steele’s profile”. Online World of Wrestling. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-24.
- Solomon, Brian (2006). WWE Legends. Pocket Books. pp. 231–235. ISBN 978-0-7434-9033-7.
- “Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame – George The Animal Steele”. Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved 2011-09-09.
- Maslin, Janet (September 23, 1994). “Ed Wood (1994) Film Festival Review; Ode to a Director Who Dared to Be Dreadful”. New York Times. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
- George “The Animal” Steele :: The Biography
- Hart, Gary (2009). My Life In Wrestling: With A Little Help From My Friends. United States Of America: GEAN Publishing. pp. 15–18. ISBN 0692000461.
- George “The Animal” Steele :: The Gift of Dyslexia
- WWF Champs – Wrestler Profiles
- “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on March 25, 2010. Retrieved 2009-11-05.
- George “The Animal” Steele
- WWE Hall Of Famer George ‘The Animal’ Steele Passes Away At 79
- Royal Duncan & Gary Will (2000). Wrestling Title Histories (4th ed.). Archeus Communications. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
- “Superstars of Wrestling Canadian Heavyweight Title”. Retrieved April 25, 2015.
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