James Harris, a Mississippi-born sharecropper who rose to international fame as “Kamala the Ugandan Giant”, a huge professional wrestler who terrorized his opponents with his “splash” brand, has passed away.
World Wrestling Entertainment confirmed his death in a statement on Sunday.
Kenny Casanova, who co-wrote Harris’ autobiography, wrote on social media that Harris died from COVID-19. He was 70 years old.
In recent years, Harris had suffered from numerous health problems, including the amputation of both legs due to diabetes.
Born in Senatobia, Mississippi, the nearly 400-pound (181 kilogram) Harris began his wrestling career under the name Sugar Bear Harris and other names, but was not considered successful in the ring. It wasn’t until a promoter suggested the Kamala gimmick loosely based on Ugandan dictator Idi Amin that his career took a turn.
Walking into the ring with body and face paint and a spear, Kamala would make headlines against babyface wrestlers like the Junkyard Dog, Andre the Giant and Hacksaw Butch Reed in Louisiana’s Mid-South Wrestling territory and from Texas. It was run by Skandor Akbar and a masked man named Friday, who attempted to control the wrestler’s behavior.
Kamala would take on the popular Junkyard Dog, a former college football player by the name of Sylvester Ritter, in front of crowded crowds.
Harris would later join WWE and face Hulk Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Robert and the Undertaker.
Critics have claimed Kamala’s character is based on racial stereotypes, as wrestling announcers often use terms such as “savage” and “beast.”
In later life interviews, Harris said he found the gadget fun and meant no harm. But he often told interviewers that he was underpaid compared to other wrestlers at the time and treated badly.