James Harris, best known to generations of wrestling fans as the towering and fearsome Kamala, the Ugandan Giant, passed away on Sunday at the age of 70. ESPN's Jason King spoke to the former WWE star's wife and she confirmed he tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
King wrote: "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."
A pro wrestler of over 30 years, the 6'7", 370-pound Harris wrestled under monikers such as Sugar Bear Harris, "Big" Jim Harris, and The Mississippi Mauler in his earlier years. He took on the handle of Kamala (sometimes spelled Kimala) in 1982, upon beginning a major run through Memphis' Continental territory.
Kamala soon wrestled for other territories, including Bill Watts' Mid South and the Von Erichs' World Class in Dallas. He turned up in the World Wrestling Federation for the first time in 1984, where he feuded with fellow super-heavyweight Andre the Giant. Their battles culminated in a steel cage match at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens that October, which Andre won.
For the two years after, Kamala worked other territories, including the AWA, Jim Crockett Promotions, and even in All Japan Pro Wrestling, before returning to the WWF in 1986. For a time late that year and in early 1987, Kamala faced Hulk Hogan in World title matches throughout North America, marking the biggest run of his career.
His final full-time WWF run took place in 1992-93, and included a notable feud with The Undertaker that spanned two pay-per-views. Though once portrayed as a ferocious monster heel, Kamala turned babyface in 1993, when manager Slick convinced him that handlers Harvey Wippleman and Kim Chee did not have his best interests in mind, and guided Kamala himself for a time.
After a short run in WCW in 1995, Kamala largely freelanced for the remainder of his career, including a number of WWE guest spots. Contrary to how he was portrayed in his earlier lucrative runs, this time around, Kamala was treated with affection by booking and crowds alike. He last wrestled in 2010.
A fixture in Memphis through numerous runs, Kamala's noted 1982 feud with Jerry "The King" Lawler netted him the AWA Southern Heavyweight title. He was also a former four-time USWA champion.
Kamala also holds the distinction of being one of few wrestlers to slam Andre the Giant, doing so more than once.
Harris experienced numerous health issues over the final decade of his life, including having both legs amputated below the knee due to diabetes and high blood pressure.
Outside of wrestling, Kamala wrote and recorded music, and even released an album through his website. In 2015, Kamala released his memoirs with the aid of Kenny Casanova, entitled Kamala Speaks.
Cultaholic extends its condolences to Mr. Harris' family and friends.