George "The Animal" Steele, a World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame professional wrestler who gained fame in the 1980s for his eccentric look and wild antics, died Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, following an extended illness. He was 79.
Born William James Myers April 16, 1937, Steele attended Michigan State University and played football there until a knee injury forced him to quit the sport. After earning bachelor's and master's degrees and beginning a career in teaching and coaching, he began wrestling in the mid-1960s, signing on with the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1967.
Over the following decades, Steele honed his character as a feral menace, a "crazy heel" in wrestling parlance. By the mid-1980's, when pro wrestling hit a peak of popularity, Steele made an impression in stark contrast to the typical chiseled grappler: hirsute but bald, bug-eyed with a green tongue (he'd chew a handful of breath mints before appearances), babbling gibberish and biting both opponents and the foam pads at each corner of the ring. Fans either loved him or loved to hate him.
Steele initially retired from wrestling in 1988 but returned for a short stint in 1998. In 1994, he appeared as a wrestler in the 1994 film "Ed Wood."
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As news broke of his death, fellow wrestlers expressed their condolences on Twitter.
"RIP my brother," said Hulk Hogan, "Only love, only grateful."
Hacksaw Jim Duggan tweeted "God Bless. George 'The Animal' Steele. A friend over the years. RIP"
"George Steele was a one of a kind performer who could make fans smile or boo ... and his competitors laugh or cry," offered wrestler Triple H. "I worked with him a lot when I first got to @WWE and was able to learn so much. My condolences to his family."
The Iron Sheik, who was a tag-team partner of Steele's for a time, tweeted that Steele was "always the intelligent brother."
Fellow WWE Hall of Famer Ted DiBiase tweeted that "the wrestling world lost one of the best today and I lost a good friend."
Steele is survived by his wife of 60 years, Pat Myers, and three children.
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