One of my absolute favorite performers as a child, George “The Animal” Steele, has passed away at the all too uncommon age for wrestlers of his era, of 79. The Animal was never a champion in the WWE because he never needed to be. He was a superstar in a class to himself. Here was a guy who, even though he didn’t want to at first, spoke only in grunts and single words. He could wrestle, but often resorted to brawling and biting. His signature move in the ring was to eat part of the turnbuckle pad and spew the stuffing everywhere before ramming his opponent into the exposed buckle. As a little kid growing up in the 80’s, I could not have been more fascinated.
George Steele was born William Jim Meyers in Detroit in 1937. He was a high school athlete in multiple sports, played football in college and for the Grand Rapids Shamrocks of the UFL before earning degrees from Michigan State and Central Michigan University and becoming a teacher. To supplement his teacher salary he started wrestling under a mask as The Student in the Detroit area. As The Student, he used his strength to win matches. (because students don’t know holds apparently) He was scouted by the legendary Bruno Sammartino and began working in Pittsburgh in 1967. He caught on so quickly that he was immediately offered a deal with WWE. He had dropped the mask and name, and started going by George Steele during his initial appearances and cut well-spoken promos. However, this clashed with his in-ring persona of a wild brute. He took some time away from the ring to fully develop The Animal character and came back as a heel. Legend has it that while filming some promos, Vince McMahon told him to be more savage, which pissed Steele off. Steele responded by saying, “duh-da-dahhh” in an effort to get Vince to back off not realizing that “duh-da-dahhh” was exactly what Vince was looking for. The incoherent mumbling would become his signature interview style for his entire run.
It wasn’t until the 80’s wrestling explosion that The Animal really became a household name. His feuds with Nikoli Volkoff and The Iron Shiek were very good but it was his feud with Macho Man Randy Savage of Miss Elizabeth that really put him at the forefront. The lovable but dimwitted Animal was smitten with the beautiful Miss Elizabeth, as we all were. He loved her in a simple, pure way. It was obvious that this man wanted nothing more than to dedicate himself to the woman he loved. Except that said woman was with the Macho Man and the Macho Man did not take kindly to Steele’s affections. They had some truly great matches that made up for what they lacked in ring work with story. Steele unfortunately was forced to retire early in 1988 due to Crohn’s disease. He worked as an agent for the WWE on and off and returned to the ring in the 90’s as part of the Oddities. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.
While never the greatest technician, Steele was an absolute joy to watch. Pre-teen me loved this monster of a man who seemed so sweet yet so very brutal. He told great stories and had natural charisma through the roof. Check out some clips below and make sure to follow me on twitter and instagram, @geekadedan, to let me know what you though of The Animal. Until then…