James Harris, remembered as the man behind one of wrestling’s more unique and memorable personas as “Kamala”, has died at the age of 70.
News of Harris’ passing was confirmed by Kenny Casanova, who was the co-author of Harris’ 2015 biography “Kamala Speaks”.
Just got off the phone. Unfortunately, the rumors were correct. To make matters worse, it was Corona that took him; one of the good ones.
Kamala was one of the most believable monsters in wrestling. He played the role perfectly, but was also one of the nicest guys you could meet. In helping him get his book out there, we became pretty close over the years and I am happy to have been his friend…
Born on May 28, 1950, Harris was born in Senatobia, Mississippi and grew up in nearby Coldwater.
He lost his father at a young age and ran into trouble with the law before leaving the state and dropping out of school in the ninth grade.
It was in Michigan that Harris connected with Bobo Brazil and Tim Hampton, who served as his trainers and brought him into the industry of professional wrestling in 1978.
In his early days, he wrestled as “Sugar Bear” Harris and was managed by the late Percy Pringle (Bill Moody).
Wrestling as “Bad News” Harris, he became the Southeastern heavyweight champion in May 1980, defeating Killer Karl Kox before eventually dropping the title to Terry Taylor.
Harris would go on to wrestle in Europe where he developed a character known as The Mississippi Mauler. His biggest stage in the European scene was wrestling for Dale Martin’s Joint Promotions.
The origin of the Kamala character goes back to this era. Harris has stated over the years that one of the men responsible for the character’s development was The Great Mephisto (Frankie Cain). In 1982, Harris brought the character to life in Memphis where it was further developed with Jerry Lawler. The character was introduced with the original spelling of “Kimala” with an elaborate video shot on the property of promoter Jerry Jarrett, utilizing dry ice to turn Henderson, Tennessee into Uganda.
He debuted as Kimala with manager J.J. Dillon and feuded with Lawler, winning the Southern heavyweight title in June, holding it for two months. He later feuded with an imposter known as Kimala II (Stanley Fraizer).
After Memphis, he worked for World Class in Texas where he feuded with the Von Erichs before traveling to Mid-South; a territory he raved about working in, citing it as the best paying of his career.
His first of several stints with the World Wrestling Federation occurred in July 1984 where he was managed by Freddie Blassie, sticking around for only four months.
After runs with the AWA, Jim Crockett Promotions, Montreal, and touring All Japan, Harris had his most successful run when he returned to the WWF in August 1986.
As Kamala, he re-appeared at the end of the summer at a show in Providence, Rhode Island managed this time by The Wizard (Curtis Iaukea).
Harris had an incredible run with WWF champion Hulk Hogan beginning with a November 30th, 1986 date at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, selling out the venue with 15,000 in attendance.
The feud drew big numbers all over North America, including a massive run for the post-Christmas holiday shows in 1986: On December 26th, they sold out Madison Square Garden, followed by big shows at the Rosemont Horizon the next night, Maple Leaf Gardens on December 28th, and Market Square Arena in Indianapolis on December 29th.
1987 kicked off with Hogan and Kamala drawing 20,476 fans to the Tacoma Dome in Washington, 15,534 to the Oakland Coliseum, another sellout at Maple Leaf Gardens on January 11th (the third time running Toronto in seven weeks) before returning to Madison Square Garden on January 19th.
As Hogan geared up for WrestleMania 3 with Andre the Giant, it was Kamala he was consistently working with around the horn and doing tremendous business with.
One of the unfortunate realities throughout Harris’ career was his reflection on not being paid what he felt he was owed for these big events. Harris stated Hogan and Ultimate Warrior pushed him to stand up for himself and get paid. According to Harris, Vince McMahon thought he was being paid well and he was free to leave whenever he wanted to.
After WrestleMania 3, in which Kamala was not booked, Mr. Fuji replaced The Wizard as his manager. Kamala worked with Hogan on a few more dates but would slowly move down the card, working with Jake Roberts and eventually, teaming with Sika before leaving the company at the end of the summer of 1987.
Harris bounced around, returning to World Class, wrestling for the USWA, CMLL in Mexico, and for W*ING and SWS in Japan.
In the USWA, he reignited the program with Lawler as they feuded over the USWA heavyweight title, which Kamala won from Lawler in November 1991. He would win it three more times over the next four months.
He returned to the WWF in May 1992, this time managed by Harvey Wippleman and programmed with The Undertaker. The two had a match at SummerSlam 1992 in front of 78,927 at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Years later, Harris stated he was paid $13,000 for the match while repeatedly claiming that The Undertaker made $500,000, although that figure has never been verified. They came back with a Coffin Match at the Survivor Series that year before Kamala was shuffled down the card, largely serving a comedic babyface role as he was paired with Reverend Slick.
Kamala was scheduled to face Bam Bam Bigelow at WrestleMania 9 in April 1993 but the match was cut from the show.
Harris left the company by the end of 1993 and would pop up in WCW in the summer of 1995, working a Clash of the Champions show with his most famous rival, Hulk Hogan in August of that year.
In 2001, he was featured in the Gimmick Battle Royal at WrestleMania X-Seven in Houston during what was his first and only WrestleMania appearance. In the following years, he made numerous cameos on WWE programming, including a match on Raw in June 2006 losing to Umaga in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Harris wrestled as late as 2010 for Juggalo Championship Wrestling. In a trivia note, he once challenged Bryan Danielson for the ROH title in September 2006, winning by DQ in Bridgeport, Connecticut for Liberty States Wrestling.
His health later took a bad turn, with the effects of diabetes ultimately forcing him to have both the lower portion of both legs amputated.
In November 2017, he received a procedure to remove fluid around his heart and lungs but would battle complications following the surgery.
Harris was also part of the class-action lawsuit filed by Konstantine Kyros against WWE over the impact of concussions and traumatic brain injuries, which was dismissed in 2018.
Kenny Casanova posted the following information for those wanting to send cards or assist with funeral expenses:
CARDS: Emmer & James Harris
3400 Lyles Road
Senatobia MS 38668
PAYPAL: (for flowers or help with funeral, as they had financial problems in recent years due to medical issues) [email protected]
From Wrestling Legend to Double Amputee by Jason King
Breaking Kayfabe with Kamala by Stephen Laroche, SLAM Wrestling
Kamala Dies by Greg Oliver, SLAM Wrestling
The History of WWE – 1986-87 Attendance & Match Results
Matt Farmer, Historian