In case you missed the news, George “The Animal” Steele died yesterday.
In case you missed the news because you don’t know who George “The Animal” Steele was—he was a wrestler.
But that’s far too simple.
Steele (real name: Jim Myers) was a masterful performer; perhaps the best the ol’ WWF once had. In the ring, he was this grunting, mumbling buffoon. Hairy, scary, a bit deranged. Athletically limited, but a dazzling character. Outside the ring, he worked as a teacher and coach at Madison High School in Madison, Wisconsin. He actually earned a master’s degree from Central Michigan University, and was inducted into the Michigan Coaches Hall of Fame.
Steele was hairy, and bald, and big. Really big. You saw him and shuddered.
He was also gentle, and kind, and warmhearted. You saw him and smiled.
I’ve met a fair number of wrestlers who wrestled, did drugs, ate a lot, chased women—then died. That wasn’t Steele. He played the Swedish wrestler “Tor Johnson” in “Ed Wood.” He was, pre-injury, a lineman at Michigan State. He battled dyslexia and, later, Crohn’s Disease. He was a devout Christian who attended church weekly. He was a father of three. The punk bank Half Japanese wrote a song about him.
He was 79 at his passing.