Jim ‘George Steele’ Myers: 1937-2017
SAD TO HEAR about the death of George ‘The Animal’ Steele on Thursday of kidney failure, aged 79.
I spoke to him in July 2013, and the man was a true gent.
Real name Jim Myers, he was such an authority on wrestling, having worked as a wrestler and WWF road agent in a career which stretched from 1962 through to the late 1990s, that I quickly realised I was overmatched in the interview. When he spoke, I listened.
Renowned for his green tongue and unkempt body hair and feral behaviour on interviews as ‘The Animal’, Myers off-screen was mild-mannered and intelligent.
A safe distance from the WWWF/WWF territory in the Northeastern United States where he tore up turnbuckles and caused chaos as George Steele, he worked as a teacher and football coach in Madison Heights, Michigan, unbeknown to his pupils.
Myers was forced to step down from his coaching job in 1985 after the WWF had expanded nationally, and the kids in Madison Heights learned of his double life as the deranged ‘Animal’. There was also a huge financial incentive: there was far more money to be earned as a full-time wrestler in the WWF of the mid-1980s than if he continued to wrestle part-time around his teaching job, as he had done in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the ring, Steele headlined Madison Square Garden events against WWWF champions Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales in 1968 and 1973, respectively, but will always be remembered for his wacky feud with charismatic dynamo Randy Savage from 1986-1987.
In our July 2013 interview, I pointed out to Myers that Savage had done most of the work in their WWF matches. He concurred:
“Yeah. Very true,” said Myers. “It was great. There I was, an old man. He was a young guy, and he was adding to my career, and I was enjoying the heck out of it.”
We also discussed the differences between Myers’ and Savage’s approach to working their matches.
“In the ring, there’s two ways of working,” explained Myers. “I was so old school that everything we did was called in the ring. Randy, everything we did in the match, he wanted to have predetermined — move by move. That wasn’t my style.
“So, the first time we [wrestled], he had this whole four pages written out of what he wanted to do in the match. I ripped it up and threw it away, and said to him: ‘Just listen to me, kid, and we’ll have a good match.’
“Old school together with new school. It was a struggle: he was going to do it his way, I was going to do it my way. But we made it work.”
Asked how they managed to reach a compromise, Jim said: “We did it my way. [Savage] resented it. But as time went on, we compromised because we knew what was working and what wasn’t working. We just didn’t do [things] in the order that he wanted it to happen.”
Myers became a WWF road agent in 1990 after he had retired from the ring. It was a job he held for nearly nine years.
Outside wrestling, Myers memorably played the character of Tor Johnson in Ed Wood, Tim Burton’s acclaimed movie, released in 1994.
Photo of Jim Myers under his George Steele alter ago (circa 1986) courtesy of Bob Mulrenin at www.wrestlingfigs.com