There have been taller men, and there have been stronger men. But few have left behind such an enduring legacy as the wrestler known as André the Giant. This deep-voiced Frenchman wasn't just a big-boned WWE star who made his opponents look like puppies. He was an excellent cribbage and gin rummy player and an even better friend who called people he liked "boss" to make them feel at ease. Don your singlet because we're about to go down a very large André the Giant rabbit hole.
Once upon a time, a not-so-little boy was born to a Polish and Bulgarian couple in post-War Grenoble, France. His name was André René Roussimoff. André was called Dédé when he was a child, and this was the name the future Nobel-Prize-winning writer Samuel Beckett would know him by when he met the cricket-mad 12-year-old around 1958. André was already six-foot-three at that point. When he began wrestling, he was dubbed Géant Ferré after a Picardian folk hero, and upon his Japanese debut, he was given the moniker Monster Roussimoff. It was only in 1973 that the World Wide Wrestling Federation's Vincent J. McMahon started to use the ring name André the Giant. It stuck, and the Frenchman soon became an international wrestling sensation after fame had eluded him for years in the sport. André was also known as the Eighth Wonder of the World for his immense size.
When André was born, he weighed an eyebrow-raising 13 pounds, and throughout his childhood, he was much taller than other kids his age. When his mandatory schooling was complete, André left his family home. He returned five years later as a 19-year-old, and he had grown so much his parents couldn't recognize him. Of course, as soon as he entered show business, his measurements were exaggerated for dramatic effect. Billed as 7 foot, 4 inches with a weight of 520 lb, André may have been closer to 7 feet tall—shorter than the 7 feet 8 inches height his father attributed to his grandfather. Accounts vary on André's actual weight; some say it oscillated between 380 lbs. and 555 lbs. when he died.
André's size was the result of "gigantism," a condition related to a pituitary gland disorder and excess growth hormone. He was diagnosed with acromegaly later in life, a condition that can shorten life expectancy. Because the bones and cartilage grow too much, acromegaly can be painful, and André was indeed hurting for large chunks of his career. He wore a back brace after spinal surgery in 1986, which is why fans often saw him in a single-strapped black costume. For a long time, André refused treatment because he felt his ability to make money depended on his extraordinary physique.
André was drafted into the French army in 1965, but when he showed up, he couldn't sleep in the bunk beds, nor was he able to find a uniform that fit. Custom-making everything for one oversized dude was apparently not on the agenda, and he was told to leave without repercussions when he couldn't comfortably be in the trenches.
Was André popular with the ladies? Why yes, he was. But his mighty frame came at a cost. We've already established that it caused him physical pain. But André was also affected by the constant pointing and laughing when he was in public, first as a youngster and then as a celebrity who could never disguise himself. There were also many practical challenges. For example, he couldn't pee in a plane, so cabin attendants would have to curtain his section off (he would have to pay for more than one seat to accommodate his girth), so he could relieve himself in a bucket. He also couldn't spontaneously do activities like going to the theatre for fear of blocking others' view.
André did not like exercising, but he was naturally strong and could do the work of three men. There's footage of him lifting a 2000-lb. weight straight up off the floor. He made Arnold Schwarzenegger look as light as a feather, and he could lift cars like they were moving boxes. For his size, André was pretty swift too.
André had several thrilling feuds with big names. The Giant used wear-down offense, chops, and headbutts to dominate in the ring. His cage match against Big John Studd was a standout because it pitted two big guys against each other, and André triumphed with a top rope maneuver. There was a no-contest match against Nick Bockwinkel at Comiskey Park in 1976 that sticks out for fans, and the Mongolian stretcher match against Killer Khan in 1981 is also one for the highlight reel. André's matches against Stan Hansen and Antonio Inoki were enthralling too, but nothing beats the WrestleMania III match pitting André against his nemesis Hulk Hogan. The unexpected body slam saw the Giant felled in one of the most famous matches ever. It ended a years-long winning streak.
It comes down to two words: baby oil. Randy loved putting that stuff all over his body for the shine and slipperiness, and André despised the substance. Baby oil was Randy's gimmick, and he wasn't about to let it go over a rival's displeasure and request. Their beef may have also been due to rumors swirling around Randy's use of steroids—André had no time for performance-enhancing drugs.
After acting in a French boxing film in 1967, André made his American acting debut playing a Sasquatch in the 1976 TV series, The Six Million Dollar Man. He followed that up with other TV shows and appearances in movies like Conan the Destroyer (1984), "Micki & Maude, and most iconically, The Princess Bride (1987). He was incredibly proud of his role as Fezzik in the latter and would make friends watch it with him and ask their thoughts on his performance. André's final cameo was as a circus strongman in 1994's Trading Mom.
The Giant's drinking feats were epic. He was a collector of fine wines, and his size allowed him to drink far more than the average person. In addition, alcohol helped dull the physical pain he felt due to his condition. His bar tabs were the stuff of legend, with an alleged $40,000 bill at the Hyatt in London after a month-long stay. When André "quit" drinking to lose weight, he'd simply reduced his intake to a casual three bottles of white wine with dinner. And rumor has it he drank 119 beers in 6 hours and passed out in a hotel lobby. He couldn't be physically removed and lay there till the morning when he awoke from his slumber.
André was well-known as a gentle giant. He was a babyface in the wrestling world and carried that good guy energy into his personal interactions. Many of his famous friends have tales about his generosity. Because he ate a lot, he always insisted on paying for meals. He was a sensitive soul who was very sweet with children, loved animals for their lack of judgment, didn't speak badly of anyone, and liked joking, seeing new places, and making people happy. On the set of The Princess Bride, he placed his enormous hand on Robin Wright's head because she was feeling cold, and he thought it might help her be more comfortable.
Born in 1979, Robin Christensen was the product of a brief relationship with Jean Christensen. André and his daughter barely spent time together, meeting around five times, and he regretted the state of their relationship. He left his entire fortune to Robin, who is 6 feet tall and later dabbled in wrestling and acting.
Where did the Eight Wonder of the World call home? It might technically have been France. But that's not where André chose to spend his downtime. He bought a farm in a small North Carolina town called Ellerbe and entrusted friends with its caretaking in his absence. Home was where all his furniture fit his body and where he sat for hours watching QVC and buying an assortment of goods.
André liked riding all-terrain vehicles because they could accommodate his size. There's a picture of him on The Princess Bride set posing on a red three-wheeler. The big man was a slow walker, so production asked him how he moved around his ranch in North Carolina— they needed to get him up hilltops faster. It turned out he loved riding an ATV from point A to point B at home.
A high tolerance for alcohol isn't the only thing folks mention when they reminisce about André. The giant's farts were monumental too. Cary Elwes shared a story about a hilarious moment on set when André passed gas for 15 seconds straight. And yet that duration might not be close to the time André felt cramped in an elevator and wanted to clear out the place. He tooted a seemingly endless toot, and someone was standing behind him right in the firing line. It didn't take long before he had all the room he needed.
Because André had a big sense of humor, he would often play pranks on his buddies. Yes, some of these pranks involved flatulence. But the big man would also move his pals' cars to face in a different direction or "park" them in difficult-to-navigate spots. It was all in good fun, though.
When his father died, André went to Paris to attend the funeral and be with his family. Little did he know that he would soon be gone too. He passed away in his hotel room on the 28th of January 1993, the morning after playing cards with friends. Cardiovascular comorbidities and hypertension are, unfortunately, prevalent in individuals with acromegaly, and congestive heart failure was the official cause of André's death.
André was the first person inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. That should tell you all you need to know about the gentle giant's impact on his industry. In 1974, he was the highest-paid wrestler in history up to that point, a fact that scored him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. He made $400,000, which is equivalent to more than two million dollars today.
HBO aired a documentary called André the Giant" as recently as 2018, and there have been semi-fictional movies, memorial trophies, graphic novels, and video game characters made in his honor. The actor Billy Crystal was so inspired by his friendship with André that he wrote the 1998 movie, My Giant.
The contemporary artist Shepard Fairey used an André the Giant image from a newspaper to show a friend how to make a stencil. Fairey also made stickers and added the words ANDRE THE GIANT HAS A POSSE, and André's billed height and weight. These stickers would end up being distributed to skaters and graffiti artists. When a 1994 lawsuit forced Fairey to remove Andre's name, he replaced it with the word Obey as an antiauthoritarian statement and started a streetwear line with the logo. Clearly, André the Giant won't be forgotten any time soon.
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