RIP George 'The Animal' Steele, wrestler and star of Tim Burton's Ed Wood

·UK Movies Writer
George 'The Animal' Steele with Lisa Marie in 1994's 'Ed Wood' (credit: Disney)
George ‘The Animal’ Steele with Lisa Marie in 1994’s ‘Ed Wood’ (credit: Disney)

George ‘The Animal’ Steele, WWE wrestler and co-star of Tim Burton’s ‘Ed Wood,’ has reportedly passed away at the age of 79.

The news was made public by his friend and colleague Hulk Hogan, who called Steele his “brother” on Twitter.

The cause of death has not yet been announced, but Steele had made it known in early 2016 that he was battling “serious health issues.”

Born William James Myers on 16 April 1937 in Detroit, Michigan, Steele was a successful athlete at school and college, and at first found employment as a teacher and amateur wrestling coach in Michigan. He got into pro-wrestling in the 1960s initially to supplement his income, wearing a mask and using stage name The Student in order to protect his identity.

He was hired by the World Wide Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) in 1967, and adopted the name George Steele, earning nickname ‘The Animal’ thanks to his feral performance style. He went on to become one of the best loved ‘heels’ when WWF became big business on 1980s television, before retiring in 1988 after being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease.

Steele in his wrestling heyday (credit: WWE)
Steele in his wrestling heyday (credit: WWE)

For film audiences, Steele is best known for his debut role in Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic ‘Ed Wood,’ alongside Johnny Depp in the title role and an Oscar-winning Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. Steele was a natural choice for the role of Tor Johnson, a Swedish wrestler-turned-actor to whom he bore a striking physical resemblance. While this proved to be his only major role, it’s a memorable and affectionate performance which proves to be one of the film’s great strengths.

Steele briefly returned to the ring for WWE a number of times in the 1990s and 2000s, and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1995.

He is survived by Pat Steele, his wife of 60 years, and their three children, to whom we extend our deepest sympathies.

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