The legendary wrestler George ‘The Animal’ Steele has died, Hulk Hogan announced on Twitter. The WWE Hall of Famer, whose real name was William James ‘Jim’ Myers, was 79 years old and dealt with health issues recently. In December 2015, he had major kidney surgery and suffered complications during the procedure.
Steele’s family has yet to confirm his death on his Facebook page. However, fans have already begun to offer their condolences to remember the legend. The WWE has confirmed Steele’s death.
“His transformation was remarkable, as one of the most hated men in the sport became one of its most loveable figures,” the WEE said. “Long after his in-ring retirement and WWE Hall of Fame induction, George “The Animal” Steele’s name still evoked terror for one generation of WWE fans and warm smiles for another.”
Triple H also shared his memories of Steele:
“George Steele was a one of a kind performer who could make fans smile or boo…and his competitors laugh or cry,” he wrote. “I worked with him a lot when I first got to @WWE and was able to learn so much. My condolences to his family.”
“George Steele was only an animal in the ring. He was one of the truly nice men in the world,” Vince McMahon tweeted.
In addition to being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995, Steele is also a member of the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Michigan Football Coaches Hall of Fame. He was remembered for the impact he left on the younger generation of wrestlers who followed him.
“The Fans are the most important part of the wrestling business,” Steele wrote on his website. “Wrestling fans are as loyal as any other fans and I believe more loyal then most.”
Here’s a look at Steele’s life and career.
1. Steele Had a Major Surgery in December 2015 & Had Been Dealing With ‘Serious Health Issues’ Ever Since
Steele had major kidney surgery in December 2015 and flatlined, he said on Facebook. He never recovered.
His family first confirmed on Facebook in May 2016 that he was “dealing with some serious health issues.” They declined to be more specific until a few weeks later when he wrote that he could see a “glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel.” He wrote that he had “major kidney surgery” at the Mayo Clinic and “completely flatlined” during the procedure.
In a May Facebook post, Steele’s daughter, Felicia, wrote, “They had to stop the surgery because of my dad’s breathing.”
Around that time, Steele tweeted that he was at peace and thanked fans for their thoughts and prayers.
2. Steele’s Wife Told Bob Backlund This Week That Steele Might ‘Not Come Home This Time’
Steele’s wife told Bob Backlund that Steele won’t be coming home from the hospital.
The most recent update on Steele’s health came from fellow WWE Hall of Famer Bob Backlund, who wrote on Facebook that he spoke with Steele’s wife, who said her husband would not be coming home.
“I called George the Animal steel yesterday. His wife answered the phone. I asked if Mr. Steel was there. She said he was not at home,” Backlund wrote. “Then she said who are you. I told her my name and she said that he my not come home this time. As tears slowly came to my eyes, I told her that everyone loved GEORGE THE ANIMAL STEEL. HOPE.”
3. Steele’s Wrestling Career Stretched Over 2 Decades & He Only Went Into Pro Wrestling to Supplement His Income
Steele’s career began in 1967 and continued until 1988. He was born in Detroit on April 16, 1937 and taught amateur wrestling after earning a master’s degree at Central Michigan University. He first entered the world of pro wrestling in Michigan under the name “The Student” to protect his identity.
According to an interview with Workforce, Steele only went into pro wrestling to supplement his income. He didn’t become a full-time wrestler until Vince McMahon launched WrestleMania.
Steele became one of the most famous wrestlers during the 1980s, thanks to his act, which featured him playing a wild “Animal” who wasn’t smart.
He retired in 1988 after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He did come out of retirement briefly in the late 1990s. He also appeared on Monday Night Raw in 2010.
In a 2012 interview with the WrestleShark Podcast, Steele said working with the WWE saved his life.
“With Crohns Disease, they don’t know the cause of it, they said there’s no cure,” he told the podcast. “I’m totally cured. I think being very active, I was able to overcome the illness, I owe a lot to the WWF, I owe my life to the WWF, they have been very good to me and my family.”
As for his famous fight with Randy Savage, Steele said working with him was fun, but professional and tough. “That was a long run, and it lead up to probably one of the best matches in the history of the WWE and that was Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat,” he recalled.
4. He Also Tried His Hand at Acting, Appearing in a Tim Burton Movie
He also had an acting career, appearing in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. He played Tor Johnson, a Swedish wrestler who also became an actor. Steele was even mistaken for Johnson in real life. He also made a Minolta commercial with Tony Randall.
“Johnny Depp was a delight to work with. Johnny was very helpful and a true pro,” Steele wrote of his Ed Wood co-star.
Ed Wood, which was about the infamous B-Movie director of the same name, also featured Bill Murray. “The first day on the set someone ask me if I was nervous. Bill said to them, are you kidding he has been acting his whole life. Bill put me at ease with that statement,” Steele recalled.
5. He Was Married to His Wife Pat for Over 60 Years
He was married to Pat Myers for over 60 years and had three children.
Steele and his wife, Pat Myers, were married for over 60 years. The two graduated from the same high school, Madison High School. The two are parents to Dennis, Randy and Felicia.
“As the world turns it was my fight with Crohn’s Disease turned into a gift from GOD. It was my battle with Crohn’s that led me to my personal savior JESUS CHRIST (2002). Things just keeps getting better as I grow older and JESUS is in my life. Looking back at my battle with Crohn’s is like looking at a different life time (1990). I have a book coming out about over coming many different challenges. It is my hope to help folks in many ways. Always work with your doctor, but you must be in control, you are the major player. This is my story and it’s been hell. We only get one shot at life we must make the most of it. I’m about education, look around things are changing. You will see that I’m on a mission.”
When Workforce asked Steele if he enjoyed playing a “heel,” he said he loved it. He really didn’t like becoming a “lovable cartoon-type thing” during the 1980s.
“I loved the ‘heat,'” he explained. “I loved the people hating me. That was what I was all about. It just was a great fit for me.”