Last week the wrestling world as hit with the loss of one its most beloved performers. George “The Animal” Steele was a big star of the 1980s, Rock N Wrestling era of the WWF. George’s career in the ring lasted over 20 years where he scared fans as a heel in the beginning only to finish as a beloved babyface.
Born William James Myers in Detroit, Michigan the man we now know at “The Animal” was a gifted high school athlete. Known as Jim Myers to his friends and later to those backstage in the business found success in football, track, baseball and basketball. In 1956 Myers attended Michigan State University with intentions on playing football but his career was cut short due to a knee injury. He ended up finishing his undergrad at MSU and then went onto Central Michigan where he obtained a Master’s degree and embarked on career as teacher.
Myers became a teacher and also coached football and wrestling at Madison High School in Madison Heights, MI. To supplement his income, he got into professional wrestling in the Detroit area. He wrestled as a masked character known as “The Student”. Steele wore a mask so it would not interfere with his day job as a teacher. He was managed by the legendary Gary Hart.
Myers was recruited by WWWF Champion Bruno Sammartino to wrestle in Pittsburgh. He dropped the mask and started going by the alias of George Steele on the Channel 11 Studio Wrestling show. The most interesting part of this during this time he did not quit his job as a teacher. While working in Pittsburg and other East Coast cities he remained a teacher and coach and his students never knew. In the territory days of wrestling the television never crossed over to different markets. So, he would wrestle on the weekend in the WWWF while living a normal life in the Detroit area.
Working in the WWWF, Steele was able to main event alongside the great Sammartino. Their first match ended in an hour long draw at Madison Square Garden. Bruno went on to win the rematch. Steele continued his career in the territory as a top tier heel in the territory. As a true crazy heel he started what became his signature tearing up the turnbuckle and dropping his well-spoken promos in favor of audible grunts and incoherent speech.
In the 1980s Steele turned into the lovable babyface that most fans remember. As the WWF was reaching its peak and now a national company Steele was one of its stars that kids around the country loved. He ended up in a feud with “Macho Man” Randy Savage as Steele became smitten with the lovely Miss Elizabeth. In one of the biggest spots of his career The Animal was ringside at Wrestlemania III in the corner of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. George watched Ricky’s back as Savage was known to cheat. At the biggest event of the year and in the history of the company at the time Steele was a part of one of the most remembered matches. This also took place 20 minutes from his home at the famed Pontiac Silverdome.
In 1988 Steele retired from in ring work as he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He then began work as an agent with the company. In 1995 he was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame, just the second hall class ever. Over the years, he returned for special cameo appearances in the WWE, WCW and even TNA. Steele was a great asset to the wrestling business and will be missed by fans around the world.
Keith B. Holt
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