George “The Animal” Steele — one of the WWE’s most notorious villains know for his green tongue, hairy torso and wild, unpredictable style — has died, the WWE announced Friday. He was 79.
Steele, whose name out of the ring was James Myers, had long been battling Crohn’s disease. He was diagnosed in 1988 after a nine year struggle with its symptoms, he explained on his website, and had his colon removed in 2002.
After news of his death, condolences were spread on social media by various members of the wrestling community — including Hulk Hogan, who tweeted: “RIP my bother. Only love, only grateful.”
George"the Animal"Steel,RIP my brother,only love,only grateful. HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) February 17, 2017
George "The Animal" Steele was one of a kind. He created a truly unique, funny, lovable character. Great entertainer and WWE legend. pic.twitter.com/8tyxqMaetn
— John Cohen (@JohnCohen1) February 17, 2017
Condolences go out to the Jim Myers family. George "The Animal" Steele was a fantastic guy and first class gentleman. RIP
— Honky Tonk Man® (@OfficialHTM) February 17, 2017
— Jim Ross (@JRsBBQ) February 17, 2017
Steele began wrestling in Detroit in the 1960s, dabbling in the sport-entertainment business while working as a high school teacher and football coach. To protect his identity, he wore a mask and went by the name “The Student.”
Soon, he joined the WWE, where he began a 20-year career as one of their biggest stars. His signature moves involved biting the padding off of the medal turnbuckles in the ring — a motion that would allow him to then smash his opponent’s face into its exposed roping.
He also often carried a stuffed animal named “Mine” around with him.
His biggest rivalry in the ring was WWE Champion Bruno Sammartino — though he also famously faced off with Pedro Morales, Bob Backlund, and Macho Man Randy Savage.
He would eventually change the course of his storyline in 1985, becoming an underdog and hero under the guidance of Albano.
Though he never won an official WWE Championship, he was inducted in to the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995. Steele also appeared in Tim Burton’s 1994 film Ed Wood.
Off the ring, Steele was a strong advocate against Chron’s and all chronic disease — calling it his “mission in life” to help people fight. He wrote an autobiography about his struggles, simply called Animal.