During this past weekend, we learned the news that George “The Animal” Steele had passed away. Steele was one of the most beloved professional wrestlers of all time. His bald head, hairy body, and green tongue made him instantaneously recognizable whenever he entered the squared circle.
When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have a friend of the family that was very prevalent in the world of professional wrestling during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. My brother and I had the special privilege of going to all kinds of wrestling cards and getting to go backstage to meet some of the top stars from back in those days. The number of wrestlers we got to meet is truly amazing. So many in fact, that I probably can’t remember them all. There were several however who stand out either because they were really nice people or really bad people. A few of the really good guys were Andre the Giant, Pedro Morales, Tony Garea, and of course George “The Animal” Steele.
His real name was William James Myers and there are very few people, if any, that can say anything bad about him. He went out of his way to show us around and proved what a nice guy he was, not to mention helping introduce us to all of the other wrestlers. While some of the guys in the back rooms were put off by kids being there, Steele seemed to embrace it. Maybe that’s because he was a teacher. Or maybe that’s why he became a teacher. Either way, he was a really nice person. Even though it might have been months between seeing him in person, he never forgot our names.
Over the years he gave us a lot of great memories both inside and outside of the ring. Today we will look back and remember some of those great memories that he gave us, all in the name of entertainment.
Thanks William, may you rest in peace.
15. The Bruno Sammartino Feud
When George “The Animal” Steele broke into the then WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) he was matched up against Bruno Sammartino. Bruno had ruled the region as the champion for a good part of the 1960’s and 70’s. He was a fan favorite that had the backing of every working class citizen in the northeast. Remember, back in those days the wrestling organizations were regionalized and there were several “major” companies across the country.
Sammartino turned back challenge after challenge for his title over the years but he had never come across anyone like The Animal. They faced off many times during 1976 and 1977 and the action was often brutal to say the least. The matches that took place at Madison Square Garden were the most memorable ones as they were paired up in many Texas Death Matches and one pretty brutal Stretcher match in 1977. When all was said and done in that one, Steele had put up a valiant fight but was left on the losing end, bleeding in the corner of the ring.
14. Beating Hulk Hogan in 1984
During the 1980’s The Animal had a new champion to go after. Hulk Hogan was still creating the “Hulkamania” era at the time and it hadn’t yet reached the heights that it eventually would. That’s not to say that he wasn’t popular though because he was at the top of his game back then. It’s just that nobody knew what was yet to come.
Once again Steele was the type of opponent that Hogan had never come across in his career and he proved to be a very tough challenge to the champ. One memorable night George Steele actually beat Hogan but he wasn’t able to claim the championship because the title doesn’t change hands on a win via count out.
That night Steele gave Hogan a pretty severe beating. It looked like his fortunes might change that night and he might actually leave the ring with the belt. At the end of the match, a beaten Hogan was outside of the ring trying to gather himself. Steele’s then manager, Mr. Fuji, came over and gave the champion a nice eyeful of the salt he had hidden away in his pants. It was stunning when Hogan wasn’t able to return to the ring before he was counted out, due to the sneak attack, and Steele was named the official winner.
13. Walking Out of an Interview in 2003
One thing you don’t want to do when interviewing someone that might be unstable is to get them upset. While Steele’s character was an act, as an interviewer you really wouldn’t want to push things and find out how far he might be willing to go with his role. That’s exactly what “Handsome” Randall Burton did in 2003 and he got very lucky with the end results.
Steele was making appearances for Tony Vellano’s Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame that is located in Amsterdam, New York. At the very first event, Burton was interviewing The Animal and he seemed very nervous while he asked some pretty odd questions. After a while, Steele had enough and decided not to answer any more questions and he just got up and walked away. This was better than laying a beat down on Burton and was probably a smart move on Steele’s part.
A lot of people say that it was all planned out to happen that way but we may never really know the truth. What we do know is that they were filming the interview and it has received quite a number of views over the years. It’s available out there if you want to take a look at it.
12. “Saving” Miss Elizabeth
In 1986 Steele fell in love with Miss Elizabeth. The only problem there was that she was the manager (and real life wife) of Randy “Macho Man” Savage. She treated Steele as a friend but he saw her as much more. This led to several confrontations between The Animal and The Macho Man.
In early 1987 Steele couldn’t take it anymore and wanted Elizabeth for himself. He came out to the ring and kidnapped her to save her from Savage. He thought that The Macho Man was mistreating her so he came to her rescue under the “damsel in distress” thought process. As you can imagine Savage was none too pleased about these events.
In what was one of the strangest feuds in professional wrestling history, Randy Savage and George Steele spent most of 1987 battling all across the country. There were even several matches that had Elizabeth, or her services going to the winner.
While The Macho Man was at the height of his career in those days, the fans were torn over which side to take. Savage was wildly popular (in a not so good way) but so was Steele. Fans felt for Savage who was having the love of his life torn away from him, but they also felt for Steele, who really didn’t understand what was going on and why he was wrong in his actions. The storyline was well played out by all involved.
11. Helping Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III
At WrestleMania III a pair of feuds were combined for a memorable match. George Steele was still battling with Randy Savage over Elizabeth and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was angry with Savage because he had injured his throat previously.
Savage had slammed a ring bell into Steamboat’s throat and severely injured him. The battle between The Dragon and The Macho Man came to a head at The Pontiac Silverdome with Savage’s Intercontinental Championship on the line in front of 93,000 fans.
The match itself was one for the ages as two of the top superstars of that time went at it hard and heavy. It was back and forth and the addition of Steele and Elizabeth at ringside only added much more to the entertainment value of that match.
As the bout was winding down, Savage grabbed the ring bell and was going to once again slam it into Steamboat’s throat, adding insult to injury, and even more injury. As he made the attempt to end Steamboat’s career Steele intervened and stopped the attack. Steamboat eventually won the match and the title and while he was celebrating his victory in the middle of the ring, Steele was right there by his side.
10. The 1999 Return
In 1999 everyone thought that George “The Animal” Steele’s career was over. He had been elected into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995 and not much had been heard from him in several years. During the “Attitude Era” though, there were a bunch of freak show characters running around the WWE. It only made sense to bring back the biggest freak show character of all time, and one of the most loved.
You had the likes of Golga, Kurrgan, Giant Silva and Luna Vachon running around the arenas in those days and they eventually decided that they needed a leader. They put in a call and soon thereafter George Steele was running the show for them. He was more in a mascot/managerial role but he was still back. That return marked the fourth decade that he had been active in professional wrestling.
The crew wasn’t a mainstay in the company and they were all gone almost as quickly as they appeared but once again George Steele had returned to the arena and made fans laugh and smile. Everyone loved his character and they never knew what he was going to do next. That right there is entertainment on its highest and greatest level.
9. Vince McMahon Saved His Life
This isn’t something that Steele gave us for a memory but it’s something that should be known nonetheless. When Steele retired from the ring his health was pretty bad. As he usually does behind the scenes, Vince McMahon stepped in to see if he could help out some. Say what you want about McMahon, behind the scenes he is a pretty stand up guy.
Steele said “I retired because I was deathly ill, I had Crohn’s disease and at one point they told me I didn’t have very much time to live. When I was coming down with the sickness, I got a call from Vinnie who asked me to be an agent. So I would be on the road, taking long times off to go into the hospital for 30 days on IV’s. Looking back, I think keeping busy when I wasn’t in the hospital probably helped keep me alive. With Chron’s Disease, they don’t know the cause of it, they said there’s no cure. I’m totally cured. I think being very active, I was able to overcome the illness, I owe a lot to the WWF, I owe my life to the WWF, they have been very good to me and my family.”
While McMahon comes across on camera as quite the ass, there have been numerous things that he has done behind the scenes for some of his wrestlers that only a stand-up guy would do. Kudos are certainly deserved in that respect for him.
8. Getting Into The Ring at 72 years old
George “The Animal” Steele loved to be in the ring entertaining the fans. It wasn’t really all that long ago when he jumped into the ring at the ripe old age of 72 years old.
We all should have seen it coming. It was during an appearance on WWE’s Old School edition of Monday Night Raw. There aren’t many that are more old school than Steele is. He came down to the ring during a bout between Kofi Kingston and David Otunga. If you think that last name mention sounds familiar you are exactly right. He is married to Jennifer Hudson. Anyway, The Animal slowly made his way down to the ring, green tongue hanging out the entire way, and eventually ended up getting right up into the ring.
There he saw an old friend that he just had to say hello to. He proceeded to sit down at the dinner table, (I.E. the corner of the ring) and go to town on the turnbuckle. Not many that were in attendance or watching on television were surprised but it was nice to see him in action one last time. Not many entertained the fans throughout the years quite like The Animal did.
7. “The Student”
When George Steele first started out in professional wrestling he wore a mask and was named “The Student”. This was during the late 1960’s and he was teaching at a local Detroit high school. He wore the mask to protect his identity because everything in the wrestling world back then was ultra top secret.
He got started with a local promotion in the Detroit area and was soon involved in a bitter feud with The Sheik. They tore each other up all across the Detroit area during that time period.
He would go to whatever arena was hosting the card that night, put on a great battle under the mask with his rival, and then return to the classroom the following day. None of the students had any idea that they were probably rooting for him the night before at the match.
In 1980 while back in the Detroit area Steele partnered with Frankie Lane and won the NWA Detroit Tag Team Championship. The title was one of the few he held over the course of his career but the NWA moniker made it one of the biggest he ever held. That in itself is something that the business should be ashamed of.
6. Appearance on Piper’s Pit
During the course of his career, George “The Animal” Steele had numerous managers. Mr. Fuji, “Classy” Freddy Blassie and Captain Lou Albano all gave their services at one point or another.
While under the tutelage of The Captain, Steele made an appearance on Piper’s Pit one time to promote an upcoming match. Everyone remembers those segments that were hosted by the great Roddy Piper. Just like any other time The Animal was around others, nobody really knew what to make of him during the interview.
Clips of the interview can be found online quite easily and there is one appearance that was made with Captain Lou, Cowboy Bob Orton and of course Piper who conducted the interview. Sadly, Orton is the only one of them that is still alive as of today.
2017 has only been here for less than two months but the year has already seen the losses of Chavo Guerrero Sr., Ivan Koloff and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. There have also been a couple of lesser known people that have died as well. We can only hope this isn’t a sign of things to come for the rest of the year as far as pro wrestlers are concerned.
5. World Title Bouts vs Pedro Morales and Bob Backlund
For quite a while George “The Animal” Steele was a top draw. He received countless title matches over his career but the business never had enough respect for him to let him win one of the big ones. He took on some of the greatest champions the sport has ever seen but was never able to take home a belt.
Steele went toe to toe With Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan and he also gave Pedro Morales and Bob Backlund a run for their money. We have already talked about some of those matches so we’ll discuss the others here.
Pedro Morales (pictured above) was a huge fan favorite back in the day because of his charisma and the energy that he brought to the ring for every bout. He and Steele put on some very memorable matches back in the day and The Animal came very close to putting an end to Morales’ title reign several times. They had a few matches at Madison Square Garden that fans still remember today.
The same holds true with Bob Backlund. The then WWF champion faced a very tough competitor when defending his title against The Animal but Bob was able to turn him away with each defense of his title. They also put on some truly great matches at MSG back then.
4. His 1985 visit to the zoo
When you have the nickname of “The Animal”, at some point people are going to compare you to actual animals. It only makes sense and it’s really not that surprising.
When Steele was at the top of his game as a fan favorite in the mid-1980’s, his character played a comical role as well as being one of the top draws in the company. Something like that isn’t seen very often in the business. One thinks of the “Doink The Clown” character when a funny role is brought up but that character never received as many shots at a title as Steele did over the years.
In 1985 Steele would visit local zoos with Gene Okerlund in an effort to “connect with his fellow animals”. The video is still available and it’s pretty funny to see.
While taking part in these types of promotional events didn’t do anything to show off Steele’s true wrestling talent inside the ring, it did make a lot of people laugh. That was another one of his God given talents. He played his parts perfectly and that’s why he is as highly regarded in the business as he is.
3. He Called The “Montreal Screwjob” a Joke
When George Steele’s career was finally over he liked to do interviews and give his opinions on the “sport”. He gave us just as many memorable interviews as he did fantastic matches inside of the squared circle. In 2012 he said this about the famous Montreal Screwjob, “To me, that’s one of the biggest jokes in wrestling of all time. Let’s be honest, who did Bret Hart beat to win the belt? They give him the belt and then he can’t drop the belt in his own country? Give me a frickin’ break. By Vince doing the double cross Vince became the hottest thing in the business when all he did was take his belt back. He outdid everyone who walked away like Hulk and Bret.”
He was also very candid on his thoughts of other wrestlers. He was asked to say his first thoughts when hearing another wrestler’s name. It went something like this: Hulk Hogan – “Right place, right time.”, Bret Hart – “Lucky.”, John Cena – “Johnny come lately.”, Ric Flair – “Needed the belt.”, Undertaker – “One of a kind.”, The Rock – “Great.”, Ultimate Warrior – (Laughs) “That’s all I have to say.”
2. The 1983 Match Against Pete Sanchez
The character of George “The Animal” Steele was never at a loss for entertainment. When he first started coming around, people were afraid of him because they never knew what he was capable of. After all, there weren’t many bald, hairy people running around the world with a green tongue at the time. There was no denying that he had talent in the ring but his use of that talent sometimes went unseen during a match.
In 1983 fans watched in amazement as The Animal put a beat down on Pete Sanchez. Now we all know that Sanchez wasn’t supposed to win that match because after all, do we even know who he was? He was one of those “jobbers” that was there for the sole purpose of taking a beating and making a superstar look good, but in this match, he got more than he bargained for.
After beating him pretty good, Steele went over to the corner for one of his favorite meals; a turnbuckle. With that green tongue sticking out he licked the turnbuckle and then ripped it apart with his mouth. The foam inside was soon all over the ring and stuck in his hairy body, along with being stuck to his sweaty head.
Steele took the foam and forced it down the throat of his unsuspecting opponent and tried to suffocate him with it. It was an act that Steele would carry out in the ring thousands of times over his career.
1. The Face Turn in 1985
George Steele was a natural at the role of a heel. He had the textbook bad guy look with his very hairy body, bald head and green tongue. Being a heel gave him the opportunity to challenge many champions as back in those days most of them were considered “good guys”. One fateful day in 1985 though that all changed forever.
On the very first episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event, the company needed something memorable to happen. What could be more memorable than a bad guy turning on his partners and becoming a good guy? George “The Animal” Steele was the lucky one chosen and that night has never been forgotten.
Steele was paired up with The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff in a six-man tag team match against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and The U.S. Express (Mike Rotunda and Barry Windham). During the bout, Steele got into an argument with his tag team partners and at one point during the match, they refused to tag in and enter the ring. This led to Steele taking a vicious beating from Windham.
At the end of the match, both the Sheik and Volkoff attacked Steele, ending their partnership. Captain Lou Albano came out to help The Animal and the turn was complete. Almost instantly George “The Animal” Steele was now loved by everyone. It is a love affair that continues to this day.