William James Myers (April 16, 1937 – February 17, 2017), better known by his ring name George "The Animal" Steele was an American professional wrestler and actor. Steele's career lasted from 1967 until 1989, though he made occasional wrestling appearances into the 1990s and 2000s.
He also portrayed Swedish wrestler/actor Tor Johnson in Ed Wood, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.
Myers was raised in Madison Heights, Michigan. During high school, he found success in track running, baseball, basketball and football. In 1956, Myers entered Michigan State University as a football player for the Michigan State Spartans, but his career as a football player was immediately cut short as a result of knee problems.
After gaining a bachelor of science degree from Michigan State University and a master's degree from Central Michigan University, Myers became a teacher, amateur wrestling coach, and football coach at Madison High School in Madison Heights, Michigan. There he would eventually become a member of the Michigan Coaches Hall of Fame.
Professional wrestling career
Looking to supplement his income, he got into the world of Detroit-area professional wrestling, but in order to protect his privacy, he wrestled using a mask and the name The Student. Scouted by World Wide Wrestling Federation champion Bruno Sammartino, he began working in Pittsburgh in 1967 on the popular Studio Wrestling TV show broadcast on WIIC-TV (later WPXI-TV) Channel 11. There he dropped the mask, but still looking to hide his real name, adopted the name "George Steele". Some say the name was taken from Michigan High School Hall of Fame Coach George Steele of Warren, against whom Myers coached. Steele states in an interview available on YouTube that he was in Pittsburgh when he was looking for a stage name. Someone suggested Jim Steele since he was in the "Steel City". He didn't like the first name Jim and he suggested George which is what he eventually went with.
Working well with Sammartino, he was invited for a full run in the WWF. He told WWF TV commentator Ray Morgan that he was the nephew of Ray Steele (kayfabe) and had an extensive amateur background. He sold the story by using an array of armlocks on opponents, weakening them for his finisher, the Flying Hammerlock (Steele would lift his opponents off the mat by a hammerlocked arm). He also revealed his teaching background to interviewers that made his in-ring Neanderthal image all the more incongruous. He wrestled Sammartino to an hour-long draw at Madison Square Garden but lost the rematch. In Boston, being set up to face Sammartino for a long series in that city, he got one of the few clean wins over Victor Rivera, a top babyface, with the flying hammerlock submission, at a huge Fenway Park outdoor show. He was then relegated to a feud with Chief Jay Strongbow, and lost to Edouard Carpentier at the Garden before taking a brief hiatus to reinvent his wildman character.
Now his gimmick was fully established. A true crazy heel, he acted like a wild man in the ring, tearing up the turnbuckle with his teeth and using the stuffing as a weapon as well as sticking out his green tongue (an effect accomplished by eating green Clorets breath mints). The Animal had a stooped posture and a hairless head, but a thick mat of fur on his back; wrestling broadcasters often speculated that The Animal was indeed "the missing link." At best, The Animal could occasionally manage to utter a word or two during interviews with one of them usually being "Duh-da-dahh" or "YOU! YOU go!".
As Steele recalled in a later shoot interview, his infamous "Duh-dahh" interview style happened by accident. Throughout his career, Steele prided himself on being able to cut eloquent and effective promos, and ranked his mic skills with the best in the business. At a WWF TV taping in the early 1980s, he was cutting one of these promos when Vince McMahon cut him off, and reminded Steele that his gimmick was the "Animal", and for an animal he was "making too much sense". Incensed, Steele did a second take of nothing but garbled and incoherent syllables ("Duhh-dahh"). Steele did this deliberately, and out of pure frustration, thinking that McMahon would acquiesce and allow Steele to cut his normal, eloquent promos. Much to Steele's shock, McMahon replied, "That's exactly what I want!", and this would remain Steele's interview style for the rest of his WWF run. Steele started to fully cultivate his gimmick of a menacing imbecile.
Steele eventually became one of the more beloved wrestlers of the early "WrestleMania" era of the mid-1980s. He turned face during Saturday Night's Main Event when his partners in a six-man match, Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik, abandoned him to their opponents, Ricky Steamboat and the U.S. Express (Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda), leading to Steele being taken under the wing of the Express' manager, Capt. Lou Albano. His most famous feud was in 1986 against "Macho Man" Randy Savage, after Steele developed a crush on Savage's valet, Miss Elizabeth. The feud was meant to last only a couple of months (and end with Steele being disappointed), but it proved so popular with fans that it continued well into 1987. In 1988, Steele began carrying a stuffed animal named "Mine" to the ring, He participated in the Wrestlemania IV Battle Royal, but was outside the ring the whole time. Late in 1988 Steele retired due to Crohn's disease. Though he left the WWF without any WWF championships behind him, he left a fan favorite. A decade later, Steele came out of his retirement briefly.
In 1998, during the WWF's "Attitude Era", George Steele returned as part of The Oddities. Then on January 10, 2000, George Steele appeared on an episode of WCW Monday Nitro as one of three legends Jeff Jarrett had to face that night. Eight years later, Steele made an appearance at TNA Slammiversary as a groomsman in the wedding for "Black Machismo" Jay Lethal and So Cal Val, along with Koko B. Ware, Kamala, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts.
Steele has made several appearances for Tony Vellano's Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, NY. At its first event in 2003, Steele was interviewed by journalist "Handsome" Randall Burton for the Rochester, NY television show "Wrestlevision." Steele became frustrated while a nervous Burton stammered through several odd questions during this controversial interview. Rather than answering questions, Steele became agitated and abruptly walked away from the interviewers. The clip circulated on YouTube, as many have questioned whether Steele's frustration was legit or if he was in kayfabe mode. Opponents have cited that it would make little sense for Steele to kayfabe the interview as a heel, as he had been a fan favorite throughout the majority of his career.
George Steele appeared on Monday Night Raw on November 15, 2010. He made a guest appearance during the Kofi Kingston vs. David Otunga match.
Animal Triumph Books
Myers has dyslexia and was also diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in 1988, an inflammatory bowel disease which currently has no cure but can be brought into remission. In 1998, doctors told Myers that his Crohn's Disease had gone into remission and that he no longer suffered from any of the disease's symptoms. In 2002, to prevent the symptoms from returning, Myers had his colon removed.
Myers is a religious man. He attends the First Baptist Church Merritt Island, and currently lives in Cocoa Beach, Florida with his wife Pat, whom he married before he entered Michigan State in 1956.Together, Pat and Jim have two sons, Dennis and Randy, and a daughter, Felicia.
In 1994, Steele made his professional acting debut as Swedish wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson in Tim Burton's Ed Wood. The casting was particularly appropriate because for many years Steele was often mistaken for Johnson. He tells a story about a New York novelty store, which once sold the popular Tor Johnson mask as a George Steele mask to increase sales due to his popular run in wrestling at the time.
Steele also did a Minolta Office Products commercial with actor Tony Randall.
On February 17, 2017, Myers died in hospice care due to kidney failure. He was 79 years old.
Steele appeared in the video game WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain as a legend character.
A song about George "The Animal" Steele titled "George Steele" appears on the album Charmed Life by Half Japanese, a punk rock band formed by brothers Jad Fair and David Fair in their Uniontown, Maryland bedroom around 1975. The lyrics contain the line "There's a man who I admire, a man who set his hair on fire."
Steele is referenced in the Seinfeld episode, The Bizarro Jerry. Repulsed by the "man hands" of his current girlfriend, Jerry complains, "I feel like I'm dating George 'the Animal' Steele."
- Finishing moves
- Flying Hammerlock (Lifting opponents off the mat by a hammerlocked arm)
- Big Splash
- Signature moves
Championships and accomplishments
- Other honoree (2004)
- Georgia Wrestling Alliance
- GWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWA World Tag Team Championship (Detroit version) (1 time) - with Frankie Laine
- Class of 2005
- PWI ranked him # 267 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the "PWI Years" in 2003.