One of the most endearing wrestlers for decades, George “The Animal” Steele, died on Friday at the age of 79.
Steele reportedly died from kidney failure and had been in and out of hospice care for nearly a year beset by other health issues as well.
He made his professional wrestling debut in 1967, but it wasn’t until three years later when his career began to take off.
In the 1970s, Steele largely performed as a deranged heel, having a memorable feud with fellow wrestling icon and Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino in sold-out arenas nationwide, including famous main events at New York’s Madison Square Garden. In May of 1985, Steele turned on partners Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Shiek during a six-man tag team match on WWE’s (then WWF) first “Saturday Night’s Main Event” on NBC.
At this point in his career, which was winding down, Steele was a lovable, crazed… well… animal… who would enter the ring and eat the turnbuckle with his green-tongued mouth. He faced off again the late Randy Savage at Wrestlemania II for the WWF Intercontinental Title, but was unsuccessful in winning the title. Steele would get revenge at the next year’s Wrestlemania at Wrestlemania III when he helped Ricky Steamboat defeat Savage for the title in what is considered one of the greatest matches of all-time in front of over 93,000 people.
Steele would retire from wrestling full-time in 1988 due to Crohn’s Disease.
Outside of the ring, Steele had a career in acting as well, starting in 1994 with Tim Burton‘s “Ed Wood” in which he played Swedish wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson. He also starred in 1997’s “Blowfish” and 2003’s “Small Town Conspiracy.”
He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995 and made sporadic appearances for the company following his retirement. His last appearance came on an episode of WWE Monday Night RAW where he ate the turnbuckle during a match between Kofi Kingston and Justin Gabriel. He was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2005.
I would like to extend my sincerest condolences to the family and friends of George Steele at this time. He was beloved by so many, and will be truly missed.