The world of sports entertainment is in mourning today, as it was confirmed this morning that legendary WWE Superstar George 'The Animal' Steele, a.k.a. William James Myers, has passed away at the age of 79. The pro wrestler's death was confirmed by his wife Patricia, who revealed that he passed from kidney failure last night in Florida. The wrestling legend had been in and out of hospice care since April.
TMZ broke the news of George 'The Animal' Steele's passing last night, although wrestling promoter Eric Simms of ESS Promotions had previously shared that the late wrestler had entered hospice care, asking fans to pray for him, before he ultimately passed. This morning, a number of WWE Superstars took to Twitter to pay tribute to this wrestling legend, and the WWE released a statement, confirming George 'The Animal' Steele's death. Here's the full statement below, which reveals how he went from a high school teacher to a wrestling legend.
"WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer William James Myers, known to fans as George "The Animal" Steele, has passed away at the age of 79. Steele was one of the wildest and most unpredictable Superstars in sports-entertainment history. Yet, despite his green tongue, hairy torso and insatiable appetite for turnbuckle pads, "The Animal" was a very well-educated man. Prior to breaking into sports-entertainment, Steele received his Master's Degree from Central Michigan University and became a high school teacher and wrestling coach in the Detroit area. It was during his teaching stint that he began moonlighting in sports-entertainment, working in the Detroit-area promotions. Steele's first WWE appearances took place in 1967, when he began a heated rivalry with WWE Champion Bruno Sammartino. For nearly 20 years, Steele was a reviled villain, managed by the likes of fellow WWE Hall of Famers The Grand Wizard, "Classy" Freddie Blassie, Capt. Lou Albano and Mr. Fuji. His classic main events against Sammartino, Pedro Morales and Bob Backlund saw him come close to winning the WWE Championship on many occasions. In 1985, however, Steele was embraced by the WWE Universe and changed the course of his career. After The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff abandoned him during a match, Steele fell back under the tutelage of the then-beloved Albano. His transformation was remarkable, as one of the most hated men in the sport became one of its most loveable figures. 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. WWE extends its condolences to Steele's family, friends and fans."
After a legendary career in the ring, George 'The Animal' Steel retired in 1988 and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995, although he still wasn't quite done with the world of 'sports entertainment'. He made a surprise return in a 1997 episode of Monday Night RAW to team up with Taka Michinoku, and then became a part of The Oddities in 1998. He also competed in a match against Jeff Jarrett on WCW Monday Nitro in 2000, and the wrestling icon's most recent appearance was in 2010, where he helped Kofi Kingston defeat David Otunga.
Non-wrestling fans may recognize George The Animal Steele's name from an episode of Seinfeld, where he was referenced in the classic "man hands" episode to describe one of Jerry's girlfriends. He also appeared in the 1994 classic Ed Wood as pro wrestler turned actor Tor Johnson, and had roles in other films such as Small Town Conspiracy, South of Heaven and Boston Girls. The wrestler is survived by his wife of 62 years, Patricia Randolph, and their three children. We have collected some of the tweets from pro wrestlers paying tribute to George 'The Animal' Steele, which you can read below.