The Untold Truth Of James ‘Kamala’ Harris

On August 9th, 2020, the WWE released a statement confirming that James Harris, better known by his in-ring persona Kamala, had passed away at age 70.

Most of what we know about Harris comes from first hand accounts of his life, doled out in interviews and his autobiography. Per the Washington Post, he had a rough start. Born in 1950 in Senatobia, Mississippi, he was very much a witness to the Jim Crow era. Dropping out of school in the ninth grade, Harris would work odd jobs throughout his young adulthood. Wrestling was apparently a last resort — he claimed to have worked as a sharecropper, truck driver, and even petty criminal before entering the ring out of desperation at 25.

In his early days, Harris would wrestle under the names “Sugar Bear” Harris, “Ugly Bear” Harris, and “The Mississippi Mauler,” among others. It wasn’t until he started working with Jerry Lawler that the Kamala persona emerged.

A familiar struggle

If he got into wrestling to get by, Harris was about to be disappointed. “It’s kind of sad to say,” he said in an interview with HoboTrashCan, “but after all those years in the business, I didn’t make a lot of money, I wasn’t paid well when I was in the WWF. Vince knows he didn’t pay me what I deserved, after all the main event matches that I was in. I don’t know why because we had sold out everywhere.” Frustrations with compensation aside, he apparently had no ill feelings towards the character of Kamala, who others have pointed to as a problematic stereotype. “Lawler asked me if I was going to be ashamed to do it,” he said, “but I’m not ashamed to do stuff like that. I enjoyed it.”

After leaving the ring in 1993, Harris went back to driving trucks. Unfortunately, his later life was marked by tragedy and personal hardship. By the time of his death, he had lost both legs to diabetes, and had his court case thrown out when he attempted to sue the WWE over their alleged role in his traumatic brain injuries, according to Fox Sports.

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