Legendary wrestler George “The Animal” Steele has died at the age of 79, the WWE confirmed Friday, February 17.
TMZ reports that Steele died Thursday night from kidney failure. His wife told the website that he had been in and out of hospice care since last April.
Born William James Myers in Detroit, he played college football and earned a bachelor’s of science and a master’s degree, and worked as a teacher before moving into professional wrestling in the 1960s.
He started out wearing a mask and called himself “The Student” but dropped the disguise and adopted the alias George Steele and the character of “The Animal” when he joined the WWE in 1967.
His trademark stooped posture, bald head and hairy back was combined with a green tongue (courtesy of breath mints). The Animal had amazing strength and would tear up the turnbuckle on the corners of the wrestling ring and use the stuffing as a weapon. In interviews, he would seldom say more than “Duh-da-dahh.”
Steele became one of the most popular wrestlers in the 1980s alongside Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Hulk Hogan and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995.
Hogan tweeted about the loss of his friend on Friday, writing, “RIP my brother, only love, only grateful.”
George”the Animal”Steel,RIP my brother,only love,only grateful. HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) February 17, 2017
Steele made his film debut in 1994 in Tim Burton‘s Ed Wood, playing Swedish wrestler and actor Tor Johnson, and also had roles in the movies Blowfish and Small Town Conspiracy.
He also appeared in the video games WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain and all three installments of the Legends of Wrestling.