Having watched professional wrestling since the early 1980s, I’ve been exposed to some of the most larger than life characters in the business. Unfortunately, we seem to be losing many of those icons at an alarming rate. This past week, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that George “The Animal” Steele and Ivan “The Russian Bear” Koloff have died.
Steele was born William James Myers and was raised in Detroit, Michigan. He played college football all while earning his bachelor’s, then master’s degree. Myers became an amateur wrestling coach and quickly became intrigued by the sport of wrestling. After spending time in some local independent promotions as The Student, he was scouted by and given his first shot by Bruno Sammartino. Throughout the late 1970s and early 80s, he cultivated what would become his wild man act, George “The Animal” Steele. He had a prolific run with the then World Wrestling Federation and returned several times, even into the 90s (where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame) and 2000s. Steele even dabbled in Hollywood, making his big screen debut in the film Ed Wood. After several colon and kidney related health issues, the 79 year old Steele passed away.
Oreal Perras, also known as Ivan Koloff, was raised in Montreal, Quebec Canada. This former dairy farmer took a liking to professional wrestling early in his life. The Canadian was first billed as the Irish Red McNulty. Shortly thereafter, he debuted and later refined his Russian Bear gimmick, Ivan Koloff. Koloff had several high profile feuds in the WWWF during the 1970s with Bruno Sammartino and Superstar Billy Graham. He later ventured to the National Wrestling Alliance in the 1980s to become a four time Tag Team Champion. Koloff made appearances in the 1990s as well, popping up in both Eastern Championship Wrestling and Smoky Mountain Wrestling. Koloff was diagnosed with liver cancer some time ago and died earlier today.
Both Steele and Koloff’s contributions to what would be one of the biggest boon periods of professional wrestling are too numerous to count. They were not just superstars, but icons for an entire generation. Our condolences go out to the families of both of these athletes.
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