Former pro wrestler George "The Animal" Steele gets his bald head buffed by barber Brian Thayer at the Rochester Barber Shop on Tuesday. Better known by his given name in Madison Heights, Jim Myers, he is promoting a book he has just written with Daily Tribune sports writer, Jim Evans. (The Oakland Pres/VAUGHN GURGANIAN)
Former Madison coach Jim Myers — George the Animal — talks about life as an educator, entertainer WITH VIDEO
ROCHESTER – This likely was the easiest hair cut Brian Thayer has ever given out.
Thayer, the owner of the Rochester Barber Shop within the Main Street Plaza in downtown Rochester that has its walls covered with old sports and car photos, had in his chair on Tuesday afternoon someone who doesn’t have any hair at all.
So instead of scissors, Thayer got out a rag to wipe the dome of one of professional wrestling’s true legends.
Jim Myers, better known as George “The Animal” Steele, paid a visit to promote his new book that is on shelves right now that is appropriately titled “Animal”.
Myers, who might be better known around Madison Heights as a teacher and former football and wrestling coach at Madison Heights Madison (the football field at the school is named after him), spent roughly an hour entertaining barber shop employees and customers with his wit and stories, both from his days as a professional wrestler and a teacher/coach at Madison.
Now 76 and living in Cocoa Beach, Fla., Myers still has that trademark green tongue he flashed during his heyday in the 1980's as one of the more famous wrestlers in the then World Wrestling Federation, where his most famous antic was biting off the top of a turnbuckle in the ring and using the stuffing as a weapon against opponents.
The book chronicles how he overcame dyslexia and flunking second grade to ultimately earn a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State and a master’s degree from Central Michigan, and then ultimately his fame as a professional wrestler.
Myers said in the early 1980’s, he was a full-time teacher and coach at Madison, a part-time wrestler and a full-time father of three kids, and a typical day would see him sleep for only 2 to 3 hours.
He would get up at 7 a.m. to teach, be at a practice after school, take off in the evening for a wrestling show anywhere on the west side of the state and then come home around 3 a.m., only to repeat the routine the next day.
“I needed the money, I needed the money and I needed the money,” Myers said.
His break in wrestling came after he appeared at a show in Detroit and was noticed by then champion Bruno Sammartino, who invited him to Pittsburgh to participate in a wrestling show.
At that point, the legend of “The Animal” was born.
He went on to become a fixture at the WWF’s premier shows and one of its most beloved icons, participating in multiple “Wrestlemanias” and having feuds with legendary wrestlers such as Nikolai Volkoff, the Iron Sheik and “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
Myers ultimately quit his job as a teacher at Madison to become a full-time wrestler for four years until retiring from the business in 1988.
“Nobody was able to accomplish the height that I went on a part-time basis,” Myers said. “I would always come back to Madison Heights and did my coaching for football and wrestling, which was important to me.”
Myers said he does pay attention to what’s going on now with the wrestling business, and said there are some differences.
“They are much better athletes than we were,” Myers said. “The difference is the way we did our business. We were much tougher. It was much more entertaining. Everything was pre-determined before we went to the ring. We knew who was going to win. But the old way we did it was that we did it in the ring until we got to the finish. Now, it’s more choreographed because of the television. It’s just a different business.”
As much as wrestling is in his blood, so is teaching and high school sports, which he talked about passionately.
“Naming the stadium after me was humbling,” Myers said. “As a coach, I was blessed to have a lot of great kids. High school sports is the best thing going. We never ran our program trying to create good college and pro football players, although we had a few. We had a lot of kids that had a great experience and I think that is what high school sports is all about.”
Amidst telling jokes and posing for pictures with fans at the barber shop, Myers did reveal a serious side when he said he became a born-again Christian in 2002, something that is also detailed in his book. He also walks on a cane that is covered with inscriptions of bible verses on it.
“I don’t want to shove it down people’s throats,” Myers said. “I’m just very subtle about it. If somebody asks what (the cane) is, I just say it is what I lean on and that’s the end of that. If they want to talk about it, great. If they want to talk about the Tigers or the Lions, or whatever, that’s great.”
Myers will sign copies of his book at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Royal Oak Barnes and Noble and at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Troy Barnes and Noble.
E-mail Keith Dunlap at firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @kd2578.