Who Was Andre the Giant?
Andre the Giant had the hormonal disorder acromegaly, which causes the release of excess growth hormone and in Andre's case, resulted in gigantism. His size helped Andre dominate the sport of wrestling in the 1970s and '80s. He made millions, became world famous, and found crossover success in the movie The Princess Bride. Near the end of his career, Andre faced off with Hulk Hogan in 1987's Wrestlemania III. Andre died at the age of 46 in his native France.
Andre the Giant was born as André René Roussimoff on May 19, 1946, in Coulommiers, France. He reportedly weighed 13 pounds at birth. Though billed in wrestling as hailing from Grenoble in the French Alps, Andre actually grew up in the small town of Molien, forty miles east of Paris. He had four siblings, two older and two younger. Sometimes while walking to and from school Andre was given a ride by famous playwright Samuel Beckett, who was a neighbor.
Andre left school at 14 (the legal age at the time) and began to work. According to his family, it was around this time that his acromegaly became noticeable. He grew to be nearly 6-foot-6 by the time he was 15.
Andre had acromegaly, a hormonal disorder in which the pituitary gland releases excess growth hormone. The disorder can cause gigantism in children, which happened to Andre when he began to grow taller around the age of 14. Continued growth resulted in his enlarged head, hands, feet, and chest. Andre wore a size 22 shoe, and in his hands, a regular beer can seemed to be miniaturized (as he demonstrated in a photo that appeared in a 1981 Sports Illustrated profile).
His size could make life difficult. Andre once noted, "They don't build anything for a giant." In the days of telephone dials, he needed a pencil to make a call. He traveled 300 days a year for wrestling, but when he flew he couldn't squeeze into the airplane lavatory and therefore had to relieve himself in a bucket. Unless he was able to use a van that had been customized for him, driving was torturous: "Many times I have to ride for several hundred miles in the front seat of a car and my back and neck always get so stiff."
He was often the subject of unwanted attention in public, and he felt his personal relationships were affected. "People want to be my friend because of my size. They want to take advantage of me. I don’t like that," he once said.
Being a giant meant Andre could drink heavily. There are stories of him consuming 100 beers or 20 bottles of wine in one sitting. However, actor Cary Elwes, a Princess Bride co-star, has said, "Andre didn’t drink for the sake of drinking — Andre was in a lot of pain, God bless him. His back was injured from carrying all that weight around, and from having other wrestlers breaking chairs over his back."
Doctors didn't diagnose Andre with acromegaly while he was growing up in France. He may have received a diagnosis in Japan in 1970 and was definitely told he had the disorder after he broke his ankle in 1981. At this point in his life treatment would not have reversed Andre's growth but it could have increased his life expectancy. However, he opted not to get treated. In the 2018 documentary Andre the Giant, his doctor explained Andre's decision: "He decided that he did not want treatment at that time because it might interfere with his career as a wrestler."
Height and Weight
Andre's exact height remains unknown. Throughout his wrestling career he was usually described as 7-foot-4, but the world of wrestling is prone to hyperbole. His French passport gave a height in meters that converts to just under 7-foot-2. Some believe Andre may have stood at 7 feet, or possibly up to three inches shorter than that.
Andre once declared, "What God gave me, I use it to make a living," and his size helped him conquer the world of wrestling. In 1966 he began wrestling in France under the name Jean Ferré. Andre also wrestled in Japan, where he was known as Monster Roussimoff, before making his way to Quebec in 1971.
By 1973, Andre was being billed as "Andre the Giant" and was working with Vincent McMahon Sr. in the World Wide Wrestling Federation (which later became WWE). His fame grew and Andre became known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Over the course of his career he wrestled across the globe, traveling to Europe, Mexico, Japan, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
In 1987, Andre was the evil opponent who faced off with Hogan in the widely watched Wrestlemania III. The event billed Andre as an undefeated wrestler who'd never been body-slammed (neither of which was true). A large crowd (though not the 93,000 touted by WWE) witnessed Hogan triumph over Andre.
After Wrestlemania III an ailing Andre had back surgery (reports that he'd been operated on before the event appear to be incorrect). He worked with McMahon — in an increasingly limited capacity — until 1991. Though his health continued to decline, Andre kept wrestling until shortly before his death. His last match was in Japan on December 4, 1992.
Andre's career saw him wrestle in more than 5,000 matches. Following his death, he became the first person to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
'The Princess Bride'
Writer William Goldman and director Rob Reiner both thought Andre the Giant was the ideal person to portray the giant Fezzik in the 1987 movie The Princess Bride. Though Reiner said of Andre, "We had a three-page scene for him to audition with, and I didn’t understand a word he said," the wrestler still landed the part. He went on to prove himself by delivering a lauded performance.
Yet making the movie wasn't easy for Andre. His back was bothering him during filming, so stunts were difficult. When he was unable to catch actress Robin Wright in his arms she had to be held up with cables. Due to his size, Andre himself was lifted with cables when a scene called for him to ride a horse.
The Princess Bride wasn't Andre's first acting role. He had appeared in a French film in 1967, in television series such as Six Million Dollar Man in 1976 and The Fall Guy in 1982 and in the movie Micki & Maude (1984). After The Princess Bride Andre cameoed in the film Trading Mom (1994). Yet no part was as perfect a fit as Fezzik. Andre was so proud of his work that he usually traveled with a videotape of the film, and enjoyed holding screenings of the movie.
Andre, who'd been in France to attend his father's funeral and visit his family, had wanted to be cremated. When no crematorium in France was big enough for the task his body had to be flown back to the United States. His ashes were scattered at his ranch in North Carolina.
Andre's daughter, Robin Christensen-Roussimoff, was born in 1979. Andre and her mother, Jean Christensen, were not married and had a tense co-parenting relationship. This, along with Andre's demanding travel schedule for wrestling, made it difficult for him to see his daughter.
Robin would meet her father when he had matches around Seattle, and the two spoke on the phone. She has said, "Maybe had he lived longer, I might have had a closer relationship with him." Andre made Robin the main beneficiary in his will.
Documentary and Books
The 2018 documentary Andre the Giant provided an in-depth look at Andre's life. Andre's story has appeared in books, such as the 2014 graphic tale Andre the Giant: Life and Legend and the 2020 biography The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of André the Giant. Artist Shepard Fairey also kept Andre in the public eye with his "Andre the Giant has a Posse" street art campaign.
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