James Harris, better known by his ring name, Kamala, has died at the age of 70. The exact cause of death is not yet known, though Harris has faced a number of health problems in the last few years, including the amputations of both his legs following complications with diabetes.
Harris was raised in Coldwater, Mississippi, not far from Memphis. He was the only boy among four sisters. His family owned a furniture store, but when he was still young, his father was murdered, leaving the family in tough financial shape. Harris took to crime to feed himself and his family, and in 1967, a local police officer advised him to leave town.
Harris moved around a lot over the next several years, working odd jobs and making connections that eventually propelled him into the wrestling world. He learned to wrestle in the US, but got his start as a professional in England.
While in the UK, Harris tried out several different wrestling personas — "Sugar Bear" Harris, "Ugly Bear" Harris, "Big" Jim Harris, and "The Mississippi Mauler." All of these would help Harris to develop the "Kamala" character that would become his bread and butter back home.
Harris returned to the US and met Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarret in Memphis. With their help, he put the finishing touches on the character of Kamala — an ill-tempered cannibal from Uganda, famous for his "wild savage" gimmick.
Harris began his professional career in the US in the early 80's, when he was already over thirty. He worked his way through several federations and several managers, before getting his first gig with the World Wrestling Federation in 1984.
Look back at the memorable career of Kamala, "The Ugandan Giant," with these classic photos.https://t.co/tEqmciumam— WWE (@WWE) August 10, 2020
Harris worked sporadically for the WWF throughout the years. He would leave for a few years and work a more pedestrian job, just as driving a truck, and then turn back up for an even down the line. He left the WWF for a time in the mid-nineties, worked sporadically for other federations and on the independent circuit, then returned to the WWF in 2004.
All that career turbulence made much more sense years later when Harris self-published his autobiography. In Kamala Speaks, Harris wrote about how severely underpaid he was in the wrestling world, especially compared to his contemporaries. He said that that accounted for his dire financial straits later in life, and his mounting medical bills.0comments
In 2011, Harris's left leg was amputated below the knee due to complications with diabetes and blood pressure. Less than a year later, the right leg had to be taken as well, forestalling any hope of a return to the wrestling world. He was proud but outspoken about his troubles, and wrestling fans came to his aid. His book was funded through Kickstarter, and an online donation campaign helped buoy him through the years following his amputations.
Harris also produced a catalogue of over one hundred original songs starting in 1993. That, along with his handmade furniture, sustained him through the last few years of his life.