William James Myers, who as his pro wrestling alter-ego George “The Animal” Steele became one of the iconic names in the sport, has died. He was 79. Steele’s persona — wild eyes, a furball body, green tongue, mute and a slightly unhinged penchant for eating turnbuckle padding — made him a star well before the WWE came into prominence on TV and pay-per-view in the 1980s. He later caught the eye of Tim Burton, who cast him as Swedish actor Tor Johnson in his 1994 pic Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp and Martin Landau.
Steele became a staple on televised WWE events later in his career and “transformed” from a bad guy to a hero during the mid-1980s. He appeared in several films after Ed Wood but will be best remembered on the big screen as Johnson, one of Wood’s motley crew of actors mounting Plan 9 From Outer Space in Burton’s homage to the so-bad-it’s-good director Edward Wood Jr. The movie won Landau an Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi.
According to the WWE, Steele had a master’s degree from Central Michigan University and started as a high school teacher and wrestling coach in Detroit, where he was born in 1937. His first WWE matches came in 1967, and with his look he became a villain foil for the league’s champions to face off against. He was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame in 2005.