James “Jim” Harris (born May 28, 1950) is an American retired professional wrestler and author. For most of his career, Harris wrestled under the ring name Kamala, using a “wild savage” gimmick.
Harris was born in Senatobia, Mississippi, and grew up in Coldwater, Mississippi, where his family owned a furniture store. He had four sisters. When he was around four, his father was shot dead during a dice game. The family collected welfare to help pay the bills. He became a habitual burglar in his teens and, in 1967, local police suggested he leave town. As Harris put it, “Back then if you didn’t leave like they said, you would be found dead somewhere.” He relocated to Florida, where he picked fruit. At age 25, he moved to Michigan, where he met wrestler Bobo Brazil. Harris then began training as a wrestler, under Brazil’s friend, “Tiny” Tim Hampton. He moved to Arkansas to continue training and escape the snow in Michigan.
Professional wrestling career
Harris trained alongside Michael Hayes, Percy Pringle, and Terry Gordy. He debuted in 1978, facing The Great Mephisto. Harris originally wrestled as “Sugar Bear” Harris, then “Ugly Bear” Harris and “Big” Jim Harris.
He wrestled in the United Kingdom for several years, developing his skills and the character of The Mississippi Mauler (which had some similarities to the Kamala gimmick which later made him famous). Harris then returned to the United States.
While acquiring a new costume in Memphis, Tennessee, Harris was asked by Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett to adopt a new gimmick. Harris agreed, and, together with Lawler, created Kamala (originally spelled Kimala), drawing upon ideas for a character originally developed for Harris by The Great Mephisto. Jarrett and Lawler decided that portraying an African wrestler would help Harris succeed, despite his limited technical wrestling ability and poor interview skills. There are two stories on the origin of the name; Jarrett said he took it from a National Geographic Magazine article he’d read, about a Doctor Kimala, a researcher in Uganda. Lawler says it was derived from Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The character was a vicious and simple-minded Ugandan cannibal, with face and body paint copied from a Frank Frazetta painting. He wrestled barefoot and in a loincloth.
Kamala wrestled for Mid-South Wrestling, Memphis, and World Class Championship Wrestling in the early 1980s. In Mid-South Wrestling, Kamala was nicknamed “The Ugandan Giant”, managed by General Skandor Akbar and billed as a former bodyguard of President of Uganda Idi Amin.
World Wrestling Federation and United States Wrestling Association (1984–1993)
Kamala had several runs in the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s and 1990s. His first began in 1984. As a heel, managed by a masked “handler” in safari clothing known as “Friday” (who was played by a variety of different people depending on where they were performing) and “Classy” Freddie Blassie, he competed in a series of matches against André the Giant, including a high-profile steel cage match, which he lost after André twice sat on his chest. Harris later admitted to pulling a loaded Magnum on him in the locker room the night after a fistfight broke out during the match. Kamala also appeared, along with Blassie and Friday, in a segment of the WWF’s Tuesday Night Titans, where he (in kayfabe) ate a live chicken on the air; a cutaway shot was shown of feathers flying out of Kamala’s mouth to create the illusion.
Kamala briefly left the WWF, returning in 1986 with the masked handler now named Kim Chee (and usually portrayed by Steve Lombardi), and managed by The Wizard. In this run, Kamala battled Hulk Hogan and Jake “the Snake” Roberts, the latter feud beginning after Roberts exposed Kamala’s fear of snakes. He was then managed by Mr. Fuji and formed a tag team with Wild Samoan Sika, before leaving the WWF in late 1987.
He then wrestled for the Memphis-based United States Wrestling Association, feuding with Jerry Lawler and Koko B. Ware, and winning the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship four times.
Kamala returned to the WWF in 1992, along with Kim Chee, and managed by Harvey Wippleman. After losing to The Undertaker in the first televised Coffin match at the 1992 Survivor Series, Kamala turned face, abandoning Wippleman to take the newly ordained Reverend Slick as his manager. Slick set out to “humanize” Kamala, by such means as teaching him to bowl (in a segment taped for Coliseum Video). He was scheduled to compete in the 1993 Royal Rumble, but did not appear at the event. He also had a match scheduled against Bam Bam Bigelow at WrestleMania IX but it was canceled without explanation before the event began.
After leaving the WWF in July 1993, Kamala returned to his previous job of driving a truck for two years. He was advertised to return in the 1994 Royal Rumble match, but was replaced by Virgil. On January 29, 1994, he appeared at an independent wrestling show in a Hamilton, Ohio school, challenging a group of local personalities to slam him.
World Championship Wrestling (1995)
Main article: The Dungeon of Doom
At Hulk Hogan’s suggestion, Kamala joined World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He was introduced as part of Kevin Sullivan’s Dungeon of Doom stable, whose goal was to end Hogan’s career. In his first WCW pay-per-view appearance, he defeated “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan at Bash at the Beach 1995. He lost a singles match to Hogan at Clash of the Champions XXXI. In his second and final WCW PPV, he was part of the “Dungeon of Doom” team at Fall Brawl 1995, which lost to Hogan’s team, “The Hulkamaniacs”. Kamala was scheduled to wrestle Randy Savage at Halloween Havoc 1995 but was on a pay-per-appearance deal and WCW was not interested in offering him a full-time contract. Because of this he was replaced by The Zodiac at the event and Kamala left the company.
Return to WWF/E (2001, 2004-2006)
After making sporadic appearances on the independent circuit for the next few years, Kamala participated in “The Gimmick Battle Royal” at WrestleMania X-Seven and was eliminated by Sgt. Slaughter. On July 26, 2004, he made a surprise return to World Wrestling Entertainment, participating in a Raw Diva Search segment on RAW, in which the female contestants were instructed to try to seduce him. Kamala faced Randy Orton on the August 11, 2005 edition of SmackDown! (accompanied by Kim Chee) but the match was interrupted by a message from The Undertaker to Orton, and ended in a no contest. Kamala appeared at the 2005 Taboo Tuesday event, as one of the choices for Eugene’s tag team partner. He lost the fan vote to Jimmy Snuka, but came to the ring after the match to deliver a big splash to Tyson Tomko. On June 25, 2006, at Vengeance, he accompanied Eugene to the ring (along with Doink the Clown and Hacksaw Jim Duggan) to take on Umaga. Umaga quickly won the match, after which he attacked Eugene, Doink, and Duggan. Before Kamala and Umaga could fight, Umaga’s manager, Armando Estrada, intervened. Kamala faced Umaga the following night on Raw and lost the match.
Independent circuit, ROH, TNA and retirement
In 2003, Kamala wrestled for Juggalo Championship Wrestling. Accompanied by The Masked Negotiator, he defeated jobber Tom-Dub in a “Loser Leaves JCW” match. At the 2007 Gathering of the Juggalos, it was announced Kamala was to make a one-night return at JCW’s first Bloodymania show, but he no-showed the event, leaving his scheduled opponent, C.J. O’Doyle, to work as a referee in one match instead.
In September 2006, he wrestled to a non-finish with Bryan Danielson, in a match for the ROH World Championship. Kamala appeared at Total Nonstop Action Wrestling’s Slammiversary pay-per-view in June 2008, as a guest at Jay Lethal and SoCal Val’s storyline wedding.
In response to the Hogan scandal he sided with Virgil, saying, “I do not think Hogan meant harm by saying that. Hogan is my brother until he decides not to be.”
Harris completed his autobiography along with one of his wrestling managers, Kenny Casanova, to help him offset medical costs. Kamala Speaks was funded on Kickstarter and self-published in December 2014. It tells his life story, his wrestling career, and the loss of both of his legs to diabetes.
He has dabbled in a singing career, releasing his debut album, The Best of Kamala Vol 1, through his official website. The album features a ballad, dedicated to the memory of Stanley “Tookie” Williams.
Harris was married to Sheila Stover from 1974 to 2005. After the couple divorced, Harris married Melissa Guzman. As of 2007, Harris lives with his niece Ashley in Senatobia, Mississippi.
Since 1993, he has been writing, performing, and producing his own music. He has written over 100 songs. Some of his songs discuss his frustration with the working conditions he experienced in the wrestling industry, most notably the low pay. In an interview, Harris spoke about the payouts for SummerSlam 1992. He said he received $13,000 and heard his opponent, The Undertaker, had received $500,000. Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer responded to this claim, saying: “I’m not saying he’s lying, but that’s hard to believe … for there to be that big of a disparity wouldn’t make any sense.”
In July 1993, Harris was called away from a WWF tour after an Oakland, California show when his youngest sister and her stepdaughter were shot to death. The killer attempted suicide, but only severely disfigured himself. After his WWF release that August, Harris pushed for the man’s arrest and conviction. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and died in 2013.
On November 7, 2011, Harris had his left leg amputated below the knee due to complications of high blood pressure and diabetes, a condition he has had since 1992, but not accepting dialysis treatment, forcing him to retire. In April 2012, his right leg was also amputated below the knee and a campaign was launched seeking donations to cover his financial needs.
Harris told Bleacher Report in 2014 that he relies on a disability check, sells handmade wooden chairs, and recently wrote a book about his life.
In July 2016, Harris was named part of a class action lawsuit filed against WWE which alleged that wrestlers incurred traumatic brain injuries during their tenure and that the company concealed the risks of injury. The suit is litigated by attorney Konstantine Kyros, who has been involved in a number of other lawsuits against WWE.