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Madison Heights, Royal Oak

July 31, 2013

George ‘The Animal' Steele talks life, wrestling at book signing

By Jason Carmel Davis
C & G Sports Writer

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Brothers Mark Davis, left, and John Davis were a part of a large group who converged on the Royal Oak Barnes and Noble July 18 to buy copies of the book “Animal,” an autobiography written by Madison Heights native Jim Myers, center, who wrestled as George “The Animal” Steele. The Davis brothers were wrestlers at Hazel Park High in the 1970s and competed against Myers’ Madison Heights High squads.

ROYAL OAK — Wrestlemania III, which took place March 29, 1987, at the Pontiac Silverdome is said by many to be the most important professional wrestling event in history.

A match on that card — Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage for the then-World Wrestling Federation Intercontinental Title — is universally regarded as one of the best, if not the best, matches of all time.

Madison Heights native Jim Myers, who gained fame wrestling as George “The Animal” Steele, was ringside for that match, but not in the capacity he would have liked.

“People ask me all the time about Wrestlemania III — biggest crowd ever, 15 miles from my hometown,” Myers said. “I was mad. I didn’t wanna be standing outside the ring watching somebody else. Watching (Savage’s valet) Elizabeth was nice, but I wanted to be in the ring.”

Myers shared that and other stories during a question-and-answer session that was a part of a book signing July 18 at the Barnes & Noble in Royal Oak to promote his autobiography, “Animal,” published by Triumph Books. Myers also held a similar session at the Troy Barnes & Noble July 20.

About 100 family members and fans stayed after the signing to listen to Myers, who taught physical education at Madison Heights High School and coached the Eagles’ wrestling team. Myers, who said he loves what’s happening in the Madison Heights (community) right now, led Madison to a Michigan High School Athletic Association state title in 1969. Myers said he began his teaching career in Madison Heights in 1962 with a starting salary of $4,300 a year.

Myers, who began his professional wrestling career in 1962, said it took 17 years to complete the autobiography, written with Jim Evans and published through Chicago-based Triumph Books. The 224-page book was published in June.

In the book, according to the Triumph Books website, Myers shares how he balanced his real life as a teacher and coach at Madison High with the green-tongued, turnbuckle-eating wrestling icon he became. The memoir paints a picture of wrestling in the 1970s and 1980s, and Myers’ entry into the World Wrestling Federation, where he earned a spot in the now-World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame, being inducted in 1995 as a part of the Hall’s second class. Myers is also enshrined in the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, located in Schenectady, New York.

“Now, at my age, if I eat a turnbuckle, it needs to be sautéed,” said Myers, who said his still-green tongue is a result of eating a breath mint early in his career.

The book, according to the Triumph site, is filled with nostalgic and humorous anecdotes about the whirlwind life of wrestling alongside notables such as Hulk Hogan and Bruno Sammartino, both in and out of the ring.

That life, which Myers called “the screwiest life possible” during the meet and greet, began out of necessity. He said he was married to his wife of 58 years, Pat, right out of high school. He said he needed to make more money because, while he was teaching, he had two children and another one on the way.

“So, obviously, I needed an income,” said Myers, who now lives in Cocoa Beach, Fla. “I was looking for a job as a bouncer, and I went out with a friend for some beers. He said I should try wrestling, and here we are.”

Myers is quick to say how athletics opened so many doors for him. He’s battled dyslexia his whole life and discusses the fight at length in the book.

“Writing a book opened a lot of wounds for me because I had to open up about a lot of different things,” Myers said. “But I’m in the twilight of my life now, so I thought it was the perfect time to write a book.”

Myers told the crowd, which included several of his former students, about how teachers would send him to the gym after role call. He excelled in athletics and was able to get into Michigan State University.

“When they send you to the gym every day, you should become a good athlete,” Myers said.

Myers began his wrestling training in Windsor in the mid-1960s. It was there he thought he had a chance to shine — but not before some second thoughts.

“I thought (other professional wrestlers) were messing with my integrity as an athlete,” said Myers, who at 76 walks with a cane that features the title of each book of the bible.

“But once I learned the art and orchestrating what was going on, I gained a great appreciation for the sport, and working a match and putting on a great performance.

“(Today), it’s a different business. I respect what they’re doing, but I don’t necessarily like it. And I respect the heck out of the (WWE owner Vince) McMahon family.”

Myers said he went from not even liking pro wrestling to becoming one of the roughest, toughest bad guys (insiders call them “heels”) in the business.

“And then when we started selling lunch boxes and toys, I became a lovable character,” Myers said.

Myers told the crowd, which featured a number of hardcore wrestling enthusiasts, of several differences in the profession today. He said today’s matches are much more choreographed due to the new nature of the business.

“A lot of it now is for television. You have to fill commercial breaks and ads, so they really can’t work a match,” Myers said. “To work a match when I was active, we never went less than 40 minutes because we had to tell a story — bad guy beats on good guy until good guy comes back to win. We needed that time to get the fans riled up enough that they hated the bad guy.”

Myers, who’s battled Crohn’s Disease and was given six months to live 23 years ago, also spoke about why he believes so many wrestlers are dying young.

“A lot of people say it’s steroids, and they’re wrong,” said Myers. “It’s the pain pills and the booze after their matches. They take the pain pills because of all the crazy stuff they do in the ring and they hurt. We never did that stuff.

“(Today’s wrestlers) are the greatest athletes we’ve ever had in wrestling, and many of them are the greatest athletes in the world. But in my era, things were a lot different.”

Myers, who worked for WWE as an agent after he retired from active duty, said he would have taken a different path if mixed martial arts were as popular 50 years ago as they are now.

“Thank God that didn’t exist when I was younger because that’s what I would have done,” Myers said. “I wouldn’t be here. I’d be dead.”

Wrestling against fighters who lacked technique could have killed Myers, too, he said. He said all of his favorite bouts were with wrestlers who knew what they were doing.

“People always ask what my toughest match was. It was the ones with the guys who didn’t know what they were doing,” Myers said. “You’d get killed going out there with those kinds of guys.”

Myers, who proudly sports his MSU and WWE hall of fame rings, said there’s only one person he would still like to wrestle.

“I know where the money is. I’d want to wrestle (McMahon),” Myers said. “That’s where the payday is.

“But things worked out. I still get a payday every quarter from videos and other things. I’ve had a great life.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Jason Carmel Davis at jdavis@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1107. Twitter Follow Jason on Twitter.