For decades, the former pro wrestler towered as the “Ugandan Giant” at 6 feet, 7 inches tall and 380 pounds. Harris famously dressed in a leopard loincloth and war paint and was known for slapping his stomach like a wild warrior. After 30 years of wrestling, he retired from the sport in 2010 due to health issues.
Between 2011 and 2012, Harris had both legs amputated due to complications from diabetes and high blood pressure. A cause of death was not immediately revealed.
In 2014, Commentator Jim Ross told Bleacher Report of Harris’ wrestling career, “He was the kind of guy you had nightmares about. But out of the ring, you couldn’t find a more beautiful person.
“He may not have been the best technical wrestler,” Ross continued, “but he had phenomenal agility. When a wrestler would come off the ropes, he could leapfrog over him. At the time, I had never seen anyone that big do that. In fact, I’ve never seen it since.
“One can only imagine what would’ve happened if James had been in a really good high school football program,” Ross said of Harris, who grew up poor in Coldwater, Mississippi, and dropped out of high school in the ninth grade. “There’s no doubt in my mind he could’ve become an outstanding NFL lineman. The footwork and athleticism he possessed…for someone that size, he was way ahead of his time.”
Here’s what you need to know about James “Kamala” Harris:
1. Harris’s Entire Career Changed After Being Discovered by Wrestler Jerry Lawler
In 2014, Harris and co-writer Kenny Casanova started a Kickstarter to fund the publishing of his memoir, Kamala Speaks. The book, which was published in 2015 and is for sale on Amazon, details Harris’ unlikely journey from a high school dropout to wrestling superstar.
Harris’s life changed at age 32 when, in May 1982, he was discovered by Jerry Lawler, a professional wrestler who co-owned Memphis Wrestling. “I was shocked by his size,” Lawler says. “I just thought, ‘My gosh, there’s got to be something we can do with this guy.’”
Harris, who started out his career fighting under the moniker “Sugar Bear” Harris, transformed into Kamala with the help of Lawler and his business partner, Jerry Jarett.
“I was happy,” Harris said of the new look and face paint. “I’d always wanted something like that. It gave me an identity. When I was walking to the ring that night, the police had to hold everyone back. Everyone wanted to get a look at me or take a picture. It gave me goosebumps. Lawler acted like he was scared to death of me. I was trying to keep from laughing. He was the one that created me.”
2. Former Pro Wrestlers Helped Harris Financially After He Retired & Medical Bills Mounted
After retiring from wrestling, Harris was living in Tate County, Mississippi, struggling financially with medical bills and $13,000 in taxes owed. In 2017, Harris’ stepdaughter Juanita James shared on Facebook that he underwent an emergency medical procedure and that it was unknown if he would survive at the time, but he eventually pulled through.
As reported by the Tampa Bay Times, after hearing about Harris’ ongoing medical issues, former pro wrestler and Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair started a GoFundMe for Harris in April 2018.
Former pro wrestler Chris Irvine, who was known as Chris Jericho in the ring, donated $5,000 to the fundraiser, which brought in $15,000 in less than a month.
Harris was grateful and surprised by the support. He said, “Brian is a good friend who I wrestled many times and I thank him so much. Chris just knocked it out. I know who he is from TV, but I can’t remember ever meeting Chris.”
As for being a double amputee, Harris said it took a while to get used to his new body. “I didn’t even want to look down at first,” Harris said. “But when I came home (from the hospital), I would look down, and I’d cry a little. I’d think, ‘I’m not normal, am I? I’m not normal anymore. People are going to treat me like I’m not normal.’ But I made it through. I made it through.”
3. Harris Is Survived by His Wife Melissa Guzman
In July 1993, Harris’s sister and niece were murdered by his brother-in-law, according to Bleacher Report. In 1998, Harris’s mother Betsey Lee Mosley died. His father, who owned a furniture store, was killed while playing a game of dice when Harris was 4 years old. The former wrestler was again met with heartbreak when his son died of AIDS at age 35 in 2005.
Harris is survived by his wife Melissa Guzman and his stepdaughter. He was previously married to Sheila Stover from 1974 to 2005.
4. Harris Loved Sharing a Name With Former Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris
The former wrestler loved sharing a name with California Senator Kamala Harris during her presidential run. He made t-shirts that said, “Kamala 2020,” and tweeted that he needed your vote to “Make American GIANT Again!”
On March 19, 2019, he tweeted, “I’m going to win this election by a landslide. Believe in me because I believe in you. 👍🏽👍🏽 #kamalaforpresident.”
5. Tributes to The Ugandan Giant Filled Twitter Following the News of Harris’ Death
John Canton, owner of TJWrestling, tweeted, “Sad news. Rest in peace, Kamala. I think it’s fair to say that James Harris gave us an unforgettable character that was unique and very entertaining. Thanks for the memories. Condolences to his family, friends, and fans. #RIPKamala.”
Many wrestling fans remember Harris during the time he wrestled with the WWE, his primetime fight with Hulk Hogan at Madison Square Garden and his ongoing rivalry with The Undertaker. After leaving WWE in 1993, Harris took two years off before returning to the ring in WCW in 1995 and joining the Dungeon of Doom.