“Under the frightening face paint of Kamala, the 6-foot-7, 380-pound Harris battled the greatest Superstars in sports-entertainment history, including Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker and Andre the Giant,” read the company’s statement. “He terrorized opponents and thrilled audiences in Mid-South, World Class Championship Wrestling, WCW and WWE until 2006.”
Harris Dealt With Numerous Health Issues, Reportedly Battled COVID-19 Before His Death
Shortly after Harris’ passing, Bleacher Report writer Jason King took to Twitter on Sunday night to provide more information on the last few days of the wrestler’s life. You can view his tweet here.
“Spoke w/ Kamala’s wife. He tested positive Wednesday for COVID which he likely contracted from one of his numerous weekly visits to the dialysis center. Was hospitalized Wednesday night & seemed fine & in good spirits this morning. Went into cardiac arrest & passed this afternoon.”
Prior to Harris’ apparently brief battle with COVID-19, the grappler had suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure since the early 1990s. Complications from these conditions forced him to have his left leg amputated in November 2011, with his right leg also getting cut off below the knee in April 2012. He was placed on life support in November 2017 after undergoing emergency surgery.
He Spent Well Over Two Decades Competing Under The Kamala Gimmick
A native of Mississippi, Harris did not have any plans of becoming a wrestler during his childhood days, as noted by King in a 2014 Bleacher Report article. After growing up in poverty, then later on finding work as a truck driver and fruit picker, he entered the pro wrestling business when he was in his late 20s, training under legendary African American grapplers Bobo Brazil and “Tiny” Tim Hampton.
It was in 1982 when Harris would start working the gimmick that he became most famous for, as he was discovered by future WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Lawler, who saw immediate potential in the then-32-year-old. Lawler, who was then the co-owner of Memphis Wrestling, was instrumental in the development of the Kamala character — a Ugandan headhunter who wore face and body paint and carried a spear to the ring.
Thanks to his success in the territories, the so-called “Ugandan Giant” moved on to bigger things when he joined WWE (then known as WWF) in 1984, where he largely worked as a villainous character and had a particularly memorable feud with Hulk Hogan in 1986. He would, however, leave the company in 1987, supposedly due to concerns that he was getting paid much less than the promotion’s top stars.
Harris would later return to WWE in 1992 and had another notable rivalry against The Undertaker that year. He was released just one year later, having failed to make the same impact he did as a heel after getting turned into a “comedic” babyface. His last appearance for the company was in 2006 when he made a one-off return for a match against Umaga.
He Faced Several Other Challenges Away From The Ring
As further pointed out by King in his Bleacher Report piece, Harris faced a number of other issues aside from his health problems. He wrote that the grappler was let go by WWE in 1993 just two weeks after his sister and niece were killed by his sister’s husband. Harris would later deal with the deaths of his mother and his 35-year-old son, who respectively passed away in 1998 and 2005.
It was also noted that from the mid-1990s to the early 2010s, Harris relied mainly on autograph shows and oftentimes poorly attended independent wrestling events to make a living. He then moved on to building and selling handcrafted wooden chairs after both his legs were amputated. He also released his autobiography, Kamala Speaks, as well as a music album in the years prior to his passing.