Towering (literally) over everyone else in professional wrestling in the 1970s and 1980s was the seven foot four inch frame of the mighty Andre the Giant.
A sufferer from gigantism from birth and acromegaly as an adult, Andre the Giant turned a medical condition that left him deformed and in crippling pain to his advantage as he became not only one of the most famous wrestlers of all time, but also one of the most memorable characters in one of the world’s most beloved children’s movies.
Here is the remarkable life of the man they called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.
He Left School Early
Born on May 19th, 1946, Andre Roussimoff showed signs of gigantism from a very early age. Though excelling at Mathematics at school, Andre decided to drop out of school before finishing his education as he figured he didn’t need qualifications to be a farm labourer. His brother Jacques said that the young Andre could do the work of three men when he worked on his father’s farm, and he was not yet even an adult.
He Was Driven Around By A Famous Playwright
By the age of twelve, Andre already towered over his classmates at a staggering six foot three. He was too big to fit in the school bus, so instead was driven to school in the back of a pickup by the celebrated playwright, Samuel Beckett. Wait … what? That’s right. Beckett was a neighbor of Andre’s, and friends with his father. The playwright would frequently give this gigantic boy a lift to school in the only vehicle in town he could fit into. The two apparently talked about cricket – a sport the two were both obsessed with.
He Was Too Big To Join The Army
Andre moved to Paris when he was seventeen. He had gained an interest in wrestling, and went to the city to study the sport and learn its techniques. A potential glitch in his plans occurred when he was nineteen and a draft letter from the French Army arrived. Luckily, when the army saw the towering Andre enter the recruitment office, they realized he wouldn’t fit into any of their kit or vehicles and told him he couldn’t join up. That left the way free for Andre to pursue his professional wrestling dreams.
His Father Didn’t Recognize Him
Returning home at the age of nineteen, Andre’s father didn’t recognize the gigantic man who stood before him. Andre was over seven feet tall by this stage and still growing. It wasn’t until his father saw the twinkle in Andre’s eyes that he realized the man mountain standing before him was his son.
He Wasn’t Always Called ‘The Giant’
Andre made his professional wrestling debut in 1963 in the United Kingdom, where wrestling was a very popular sport at the time. In 1970, he moved to Japan to join the International Wrestling Enterprise. It was there that he earned his first nickname – ‘The Monster’. Three years later he would head to the States, and it wasn’t long before the nickname he would have for the rest of his life was coined. Andre the Monster became Andre the Giant. A legend was born.
He Enjoyed Farting On Opponents
It wasn’t long before Andre the Giant was a fixture on the American wrestling circuit. One of the things this singular man used to enjoy doing was farting on his opponents. Andre produced titanic farts. During a match against Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Andre sat on Roberts’ face and farted out one single fart that went on for an astonishing thirty seconds. Speaking after the fight, an impressed Roberts admitted that, “Giant’s farts are for extremely long periods of time.”
He Had A Feud With Randy Savage
Andre the Giant may have been a bruiser in the ring, but in real life he was a playful, gentle man who had very few enemies. He didn’t, however, have any good feelings towards Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage. Savage was famous for smothering himself in baby oil to make him harder to fight, and the Giant loathed baby oil. He asked Savage repeatedly not to cover himself in baby oil when they fought, but Savage refused, stating that Andre’s gimmick was being a giant, and his was the baby oil. This annoyed the Giant, and the two remained enemies both in and out of the ring for the rest of Andre’s life.
He Was Denied The World Championship Title
The Giant was robbed of the legendary WWF World Championship title after defeating Hulk Hogan in 1988 when it was revealed that the fight had been rigged by Earn ‘Evil Ref’ Hebner. Andre had to hand back his hard-won title minutes after winning it. Andre never got the chance to compete for the title again, but the fight, which was part of Wrestlemania III, went down in history when it attracted a whopping thirty three million viewers when it was aired on February 4th on NBC.
He Lived The High Life
Andre certainly enjoyed the lifestyle that came with being a well-paid professional wrestler. By 1974, he was commanding a salary of $400,000 per year – an unheard of sum for the time which meant his name entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest ever paid pro wrestler. The Giant liked the finer things in life, such as expensive wine and beer and traveling first class wherever he went. He was also generous with his money, refusing to let anyone pay their share when he ate at restaurants and often helping out those in need less fortunate than himself.
He Found It Difficult To Fit In
When he was wrestling in Japan, Andre was diagnosed with acromegaly. The condition caused Andre’s bones to carry on growing even into adulthood, explaining his enormous size. Hulk Hogan recalled that this often caused the wrestler problems, such as having to urinate in a bucket on airplanes as he was too big to fit into a toilet cubicle. “It’s difficult everywhere I go,” the Giant later recalled. “They don’t have anything for big people. They’ve got everything for blind people, for crippled people, for some other people but not for big people. So, we have to fit in there and it’s not too easy all the time.”
His Singlet Contained A Special Brace
Towards the end of Andre the Giant’s professional wrestling career, his signature black singlet was fitted with a special back brace to help the Giant support his enormous weight. If you watch his most famous bout against Hulk Hogan in Wrestlemania III in 1988, you can see that this brace severely restricted his movement, meaning he was no longer capable of pulling off the signature moves that had made his name in his younger days.
He Liked A Drink
Andre the Giant was a notorious drinker. On a typical day, he would drink an entire case of beer and follow that with two bottles of wine and eight glasses of brandy. Because of his huge frame, the Giant hardly ever got drunk despite drinking the colossal amount of booze, and actually drank to alleviate the pain associated with acromegaly. On one of the rare occasions Andre actually did get drunk, he passed out in the lobby of a hotel while filming The Princess Bride. Unable to move the five hundred and fifty pound man, the hotel staff put a velvet rope around him to stop other guests from tripping over the slumbering giant.
He REALLY Liked A Drink
In his autobiography, Ric Flair fondly remembered his colossal drinking sessions with the Giant. “I was with him one night at the Downtowner in Charlotte. In 1975, he drank 106 beers. And Frank Valois, his manager at that time, drank 56,” Flair recalled. “Hey, I’ve been on a plane, on a 747 with him going to Tokyo out of Chicago, on No. 4 on Northwest. We drank every bottle of vodka on the plane.” He was a very thirsty man, was Andre the Giant.
He Was The Author’s First Choice For Fezzik
Andre the Giant famously portrayed the giant ‘Fezzik’ in 1987’s film adaptation of the smash hit novel, The Princess Bride. When it came to casting the character, the casting director, Jane Jenkins, turned to the book’s author, William Goldman. “So this Fezzik character, this giant, what are we talking about? Am I looking for a basketball player?” she asked Goldman. “Oh no,” the author replied. “I want a giant like Andre the Giant.” Andre was approached about playing Fezzik, but had to turn the offer down as he was touring Japan at the time. Luckily, the tour was cancelled and he was able to play the role he would become most associated with outside wrestling.
He Made His Presence Known
The giant wrestler made his presence felt on the set of The Princess Bride straight away. “He let out a 16 second fart and brought production to a standstill,” recalled the film’s star, Cary Elwes. “It could be heard three counties away. Nobody said anything except Rob Reiner, who said, ‘Are you OK, Andre?’ and Andre replied, ‘I am now, boss.’ He was comfortable enough to do that!”
His Final Wrestling Appearance
Andre the Giant’s final pay-per-view performance occurred at Summer Slam ’91. The event is mainly remembered for the on-air ‘marriage’ of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth. The Giant continued touring with the WWF, notably in the United Kingdom. He was still wrestling in 1992, just months before his death.
He Was A Huge Fan Of QVC
Towards the end of his life, Andre became obsessed with the television shopping channel, QVC. The Giant loved the fact that he could shop from the comfort of his own home, lounging back on his custom-made recliner. He bought tons of useless garbage from QVC during the last years of his life, but he was happy because it meant he didn’t have to go out shopping – one of his favorite pastimes – and be hounded by fans.
He Died Young
Andre the Giant died peacefully in his sleep shortly after attending the funeral of his father in Paris in 1993. The cause of death was given as congestive heart failure, which was thought to have been caused by factors such as the wrestler’s weight and his years of heavy drinking. The Giant was cremated and set another, final record – his ashes weighed in at a whopping seventeen pounds. He was just forty six years old when he passed away.
He Was The First To Be Honored
After his death, Andre the Giant became the first and only member (for 1993, at least) of the newly-created WWE Hall of Fame. The inauguration ceremony took place during an edition of Monday Night Raw, before the ceremony became an event in its own right the following year. At the 1994 ceremony, the commentator talked about Andre in an excerpt that wasn’t supposed to be broadcast. The WWE Network decided to release the commentary – alongside film footage of the Giant’s famous ‘Sitdown Splash’ and ‘Double Underhook Suplex’ signature moves – in 2015.
His Ashes Returned To The States
Andre the Giant stipulated in his will that he wanted to be cremated and his ashes buried in the United States where he had lived since 1973. His family wished to bury his ashes alongside those of his father in Paris, but decided to respect Andre’s wishes and fly them back to the States. It took two weeks to find a suitable crematorium to cremate the body of the enormous wrestler. His ashes are buried at his former home in North Carolina. The sole beneficiary of his will was his daughter, Rose.