Pro wrestler James Harris, who performed as the monster heel Kamala, died this weekend at the age of 70, according to a statement released Sunday by WWE.
“WWE is saddened to learn that James Harris, known to WWE fans as Kamala, has passed away at age 70,” the WWE tweeted. A cause of death has not been released.
WWE is saddened to learn that James Harris, known to WWE fans as Kamala, has passed away at age 70
Born in Mississippi, Harris struggled to make ends meet for his family as a farmworker and truck driver and was even arrested as a teen for burglary. At the age of 25, he met wrestler Bobo Brazil in Michigan and decided to train under him. After getting his start in the Southeast U.S. and winning the NWA heavyweight title in that territory, he traveled to Memphis in 1982 and joined the Continental Wrestling Association run by famed promoters Jerry “The King” Lawler and Jerry Jarrett.
It was there where Harris worked with Lawler and Jarrett to form the persona he would use for the rest of his career: Kamala, a monstrous 6-foot-7, 380-pound headhunter from Uganda found by villainous manager J.J. Dillon and brought to the U.S. to take on Lawler, CWA’s biggest star. Lawler and Kamala would main event matches in sold-out auditoriums in Memphis, as they feuded over the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship.
Over the next decade, Harris would perform with some of the most famous wrestlers of the era, including NWA heavyweight champion Harley Race, Rick Martel and Sgt. Slaughter. But his most famous matches would come during two stints in the World Wrestling Federation, including a steel cage match against Andre the Giant and world title matches against Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage.
n the fall of 1992, he entered a feud with one of wrestling’s longest lasting stars, The Undertaker, culminating in the first-ever televised casket match, where the Ugandan giant and the undead mortician from Death Valley attempted to throw each other into a casket.
Harris continued to wrestle as Kamala on the indie circuit and in sporadic WWE appearances until 2010, after which he was forced to retire when he underwent a below-the-knee amputation on his left leg due to high blood pressure and diabetes. In 2016, he was part of a class action lawsuit against WWE, saying that the promotion concealed the risk of traumatic brain injury suffered by multiple wrestlers. The lawsuit was later dismissed.
WWE offered its condolences to Harris’ family in a tweet sent Sunday.
Look back at the memorable career of Kamala, “The Ugandan Giant,” with these classic photos