December 26, 2009
Gary Mehaffy

An interview with George "The Animal" Steele

First of all, how are you enjoying life out of the public eye?

George: Life is great. I will have been married to my wife Pat 55 years next March. We live on the beach in Cocoa Beach, Florida. We are involved in our church and the Michigan State Space Coast Alumni Club. I am on the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame board( Our three children are living very successful lives. We have nine grandchildren.

What first drew you to professional wrestling?

George: I was making $4,300 dollars a year teaching and coaching in Jr. High School. With a wife, 2 children and another one on the way I needed money. I umpired little league, worked Wednesday night recreation dances. We were not making it. I taught drivers training in the summer time. I delivered flowers on holidays.

I had to find a part time job for us to survive. I decided to get a job as a bouncer in a bar. I figure I had great resume for a job like that but I did not like the idea. One thing I can tell you if you are looking for a job as a bouncer in a bar don’t take a friend along and drink a few beers. Needless to say I did not get a job that night. The bouncer job would have paid $15 dollars a night.

Dave Perice was my drinking buddy that night. Dave was a big wrestling and had always told me that I should become a wrestler. Well, I was not a wrestling fan and thought wrestling was a big joke. At 2:30am Dave talked me into calling the local wrestling promoter Burt Ruby to see about becoming a professional wrestler.

To my surprise Burt Ruby invited me over the next day after school. I had no idea of what to expect or what I was getting into and I didn’t care I needed money.

Who were some of your most memorable opponents?

George: Leaping Larry Chane, Rickie Cortex, Bruno Sammartino, Bobby Backlund, Pedro Morales, Ivan Putski, Dusty Rhodes, Bobo Brazil, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ivan Putski, Jay Strongbow and many many more.

You had a run with Bruno Sammartino for the WWF title, but you never won it. Do you regret not ever having had the chance to wear the gold?

George: I had a great summer time deal with Bruno and the WWWF. I was a school teacher and an athletic coach, which was my first love. Wrestling was a part time thing for me. Remember wrestling was just a way make a lot of extra money. Being wrestling champion was never one of my goals

You have had the fortune to be managed by some of the biggest and best in the game – Captain Lou Albano & Classy Freddie Blassie to name but two – but in the wrestling scene at the moment there appears to be a dirth of male managers. Do you think that the major companies are missing a trick by not employing people who can ‘talk people into their seats’?

George: When I first went to the WWWF I did not have a manager and did my own interviews. I really liked doing my own interviews. The managers were a big help when I was not available because of teaching. The play stupid was not something that I liked but it did get over. I really don't watch much of todays wrestling product. They are great athletes. The art of working is a lost talent.

You were well known as a heel before you turned babyface during the 1980’s. Which of them did you have most fun in being?

George: I loved working heel and was never a true babyface. I realize that I pulled off that cartoon character big time. That cartoon character helped big time with my retirement.

The wrestling business has taken many twists and turns over the years as it has continued to adapt. You were around it during the early WrestleMania years, probably your most well known run in the business. Did you think it (WrestleMania) would have the success that it did?

George: Wrestling had to change with the times. WrestleMania and its success was a no brainer. Vinnie was in the right place at the right time. I really believe Vinnie was the only person that was involved in the wrestling business that could take it to the levels that he has taken the business.

You had a well known feud with Randy Savage in the mid-1980’s, as you were supposedly enamoured with the late Miss Elizabeth. What are your memories of Randy and of this feud?

George: The wrestling business was changing and that run with Randy was a huge part of that change. Randy was a great performer and worked very hard. I was a worker and called my matches in the ring. We were kind of like mixing water with oil but we were both professional enough to make it work big time..

Around this time you became the lovable oddball character on screen (including carrying a hand puppet to the ring), which was a world away from your strengths as a wrestler. Were you frustrated by how you were being portrayed?

George: Not at all; remember wrestling was just a form of entertainment. No one really ever told me how to play my character. That cartoon character was very successful in a very competitive business. I am not sure that anyone else could have pulled it off. I was a bit of a hard head and I never did anything that I did not agree with.

You left wrestling for the WWF in 1989 when you developed Crohn’s disease, which I know about only too well (my brother still suffers from it). How hard was it for you to battle what can be a very painful and life changing disease?

George: I see Crohn’s disease as a gift from GOD. Yes I was deathly for ten years. There they say there is no cure for Crohn's but I am cured. Crohn's lead both my wife and me to the LORD JESUS CHRIST.

You worked behind the sense in WWF for several years after this. Did you find it hard adapting to life outside of the ring?

George: I was very sick when I was behind the scene with the WWF. I believe the opportunity I had at that time lead to me beating Crohn's. With that said, I must tell you that I never asked for that job. Vinnie called me and had to talk me into taking that position. The only hard feeling that I ever had with the wrestling business was parting ways with Vinnie as a agent. I felt that Vinnie owed me a phone call. Remember Vinnie called me, I did not call him.

You have popped up from time to time on wrestling shows – be it with WWE, WCW or, indeed, TNA, as recently as last year. Do you enjoy still being able to show up and receive a legend type of response from today’s wrestling fans?

George: Vinnie is very big on closure and so am I. I waited for Vinnie’s call and it never came. Others have called me and asked me to take part but I have declined because Vinnie owes me that call. I have showed up at both the WCW and TNA for one reason only. It was my way of doing with Vinnie. Vinnie knows how loyal I was to both him and his father Mr McMahon.

You have also appeared in several films, as well as many TV adverts. Did you ever in you wildest dreams imagine that any of what you achieved would be possible?

George: Things have worked out great and I have been blessed. I had no idea where this crazy, but great, wrestling business would take me. What a great part time job.

Your faith plays an important part in your life, if not THE most important part. Tell us a little about it and how you see things being shaped for you before, during and after your wrestling career.

George: I did not know it but GOD was always in control. ( All of my challenges were nothing more than gifts from GOD.

Is there anything that you would change from your career?

George: Nothing at all. Good things just happened. I am very thankful.

You were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995. How honoured were you to receive this accolade?

George: The induction into the WWE Hall of Fame was really great as was my induction into the PWHF by my peers in 2005. I have also been inducted into the Michigan Coaches Hall of Fame, as well as the Michigan High School Football Hall of Fame.

You graduated with a degree before entering the world of professional wrestling. What advice would you give to any young men & women considering a career inside the ring today?

George: GOOD LUCK!

How do you see yourself as having shaped/left your mark on the wrestling industry?

George: The wrestling fans are a better judge of that.

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