André the Giant was many things, but most of all, he was an icon.
Literally larger than life, André commanded attention everywhere he went. When he entered a room, everything stopped. Conversations ended, eyes moved to him, and time stood still. He was a commanding presence. But it was far more than his size. It was his warm personality, outgoing demeanor, and a constant smile that drew people in.
His size was impressive. Legend has it that he weighed 13 pounds at birth, the same amount as an average four-month-old. His growth was fast and spectacular. He was very tall and large as a teenager and would eventually have a shoe size of 22. His billed height during his wrestling career was 7’ 4,” and his weight was listed at 520 pounds. Would you want to get in the ring with him?
André was often called the Eight Wonder of the World, and the moniker fits. He wrestled in France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The world grew to know André the Giant and adored him. At one point, he was the highest-paid wrestler in the world.
Traveling the world was extremely difficult for André. He could not sit in a regular airplane seat and fly first class, which led to the free booze. More about that later. Cars were tough; he would travel in the front seat hunched over, barely fitting under the roof. Even after a short trip, his back and neck would be stiff. During his career, André wrestled in over 5,000 matches.
A Different Kind of Childhood
Born André René Roussimoff, he had a fairly normal childhood for a giant. He helped with chores around the family farm and tended to the animals in Molien, France. While the Roussimoff’s lived well off the land, they had little extra for any luxuries. At Christmas, the children would receive oranges instead of toys.
During Elementary School and Middle School, André attended a school near the Rousimoff home. In the morning, he would often get a ride to school from a neighbor. The neighbor happened to be Mr. Samuel Beckett. Beckett was a famous Irish Novelist and Playwright who befriended André and enjoyed his conversations with the boy. The rides offered by Mr. Beckett were greatly appreciated because the village could not afford school buses.
By the time André turned 14, he was tired of school and decided to leave. In the beginning, he worked hard lifted 250-pound sacks of grain, working odd jobs in the local factories, and delivering packages and goods to neighbors. On one of his delivery trips, he happened to meet a mysterious man named Robert Lageat. Lageat was extremely interested in André.
You see, Robert Lageat was one of the promoters that introduced Greco-Roman-style wrestling to France. At just 18 years old, André was already 6’ 6” and 250 pounds. Immediately Lageat saw André’s potential. He offered to bring him to Paris and train him at his wrestling school.
Transition Into Wrestling
Paris was the center of the French Wrestling scene. Any aspiring wrestler in France had to go to Paris to make it. So here was André, who had never seen wrestling because his family did not own a TV preparing to become a professional wrestler. Wrestlers in training made no money, so André had to get creative to live. He often slept in the train station and offered to be a bodyguard for street workers near the Moulin Rouge.
By January 25, 1966, André was ready to make his debut in the ring. His size and strength made him a natural. For his new wrestling persona, André chose a notorious French lumberjack named le Grand Ferré. The legendary lumberjack had disposed of 85 people with his ax. André was a hit, and soon, he had his first televised match, which featured outrageous wrestling moves like head scissors and hip tosses.
André continued wrestling and growing. By now, he had reached 7’ 4” and weighed almost 300 pounds. His reputation grew, and he began wrestling across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. He then turned his attention to the U.K. and moved on to Canada after conquering that market. By 1971 he expanded to New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.
In 1973, while wrestling in a match in New York City, he met another wrestling promoter who would change his life. He was introduced to Vince McMahon Sr. and the rest is history. On March 24, 1973, he made his monumental debut with the World Wide Wrestling Federation in Philadelphia. He wrestled two wrestlers, Frank Valois and Bull Pometti, in a handicap match (two against one) and, of course, André won.
The World’s Most Famous Wrestler Video
The Many Names of André the Giant
Everyone knows André the Giant, but not everyone knows that André was called by many other names within the wrestling ring. Here are a few:
- Jean Ferré or le Grand Ferré – In France (1966)
- Monster Roussimoff – In Japan (1971)
- André the Géant (Géant is Giant in French)
- André Roussimoff
- Ferré Giant Machine
- Jean Ferré Monster
Regardless of what his billing name was, André the Giant always showed up in the ring.
André’s Legendary Feats of Strength
For fun, André would move cars around in a parking lot. He either slid the cars sideways or would lift the front and pull them. When his friends would come out to the lot, they would find their car in a different spot.
One urban legend states that André helped a motorist in a Volkswagen Beetle. The poor driver suffered a flat tire, and André held the car up while the driver changed the tire.
Pictures of him deadlifting a 2000-pound weight were circulated by the WWE. This photo was taken to verify the fact that André did indeed have superhuman strength.
He would often carry two professional wrestlers, one on each arm. These men each weighed more than 200 pounds, and he carried them like they were children.
André would lift more than professional wrestlers. One publicity photo shows him holding four women in the air—one atop each shoulder and one hanging on each arm.
André the Giant Fun Facts
- In the late 1970s, André married a young woman named Jean Christensen. They didn’t stay married for very long, but their relationship did produce a daughter, Robin Christensen-Roussimoff. When André was wrestling, she didn’t see him very much. “Maybe had he lived longer,” Robin said, “I might have had a closer relationship with him.” Robin inherited André’s total estate when André passed away.
- André lived on a ranch in North Carolina. His impressive home on the ranch had a tree growing through all three floors. He would sit in his den and watch QVC ordering all kinds of things he did not need.
- André always wanted to pay for dinner. One night while filming “Conan the Barbarian” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Wilt Chamberlin, they went out to dinner. Schwarzenegger slipped the waiter his credit card. André found out about this and was furious. He and Chamberlin picked up Schwarzenegger, carried him out of the restaurant, and put him on top of his car.
- André the Giant hated the touch and feel of baby oil. Because of this, André was not a big fan of Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Savage wore copious amounts of baby oil and refused not to wear it. He said, “André’s deal is he’s a giant. My deal is baby oil.”
- Both Handsome Harley Race and Hulk Hogan have lifted André the Giant over their heads and slammed him to the mat.
- Because of his size, André had a hard time getting around, especially in Japan. Getting a cab was the worst. If André tried to hail a cab, the cab drivers would ignore him. So, other wrestlers would hail a cab. They would distract the driver while André tried to get in. Sometimes he would succeed with his head out one window and his rear out the other. Then, the cab driver would try to pull him out, yelling, “no, no, no.”
- Once, in a crowded elevator in Japan, André was feeling very claustrophobic. He devised a plan and signaled Ted DiBiase that something was going to happen. André wants the elevator emptied. Suddenly the loudest, longest fart ever recorded lets out from André’s direction. The next time the doors open, everyone except André and DiBiase leaves.
- André’s fingers were so large that they gave him problems. He would have to hold a pencil and use the pencil to dial the number to dial a rotary phone.
- Bobby, the Brain Heenan, was traveling with André from Chicago to Omaha. They got on the plane in the early morning, and André ordered a screwdriver. The flight attendant left and came back with a Black and Decker screwdriver a few minutes later. André said to the flight attendant, “What would you have brought me if I ordered a Bloody Mary?” Heenan pulls the flight attendant aside and says, “you don’t bring 500-pound giant tools if he orders a screwdriver; what if he had wanted a Jackhammer?”
- Once, the Washington Redskins invited André to try out with the team to be a defensive lineman. André politely declined. Can you imagine how the worlds of wrestling and football would have changed?
The Giant Could Flat Out Drink
André’s weight was problematic and caused a lot of pressure on his back. His opponents would brutally break wood chairs over his back. Many would whack him with metal folding chairs or perform dropkicks into his back. The beatings took their toll, and André turned from a light drinker to a legendary one mostly because of the pain. The constant stares, pointing, and snickering further alienated, André.
While many wrestlers would have a beer or two, or maybe a six-pack after a match, André always had a case. Stuck waiting for a plane near the house of Hulk Hogan in Florida, André called Hulk to have a drink. Hulk drove over to the airport, and in the 45 minutes André had to wait for his plane, André downed 108 12 oz. beers.
A famous drinking challenge story features quite a list of characters. André, Frank Valois, Dick Murdock, Dino Bravo, Captain Lou Albano (who played Madonna’s Dad in a Music Video), and Ken Patera in Las Vegas. Murdock challenged everyone to a beer-drinking contest. They drank from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM using their bottle caps to keep track. Final tally… André 116, Frank Valois (André’s 65-year-old manager) 65, and Ken Patera 46. The others dropped out.
André was sitting in a plane with hall of fame wrestler Ric Flair by his side. André empties the entire Vodka supply from a Boeing 747 on a 14-hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo. How much Flair assisted in this feat is hotly debated. Dusty Rhodes confirmed an urban legend that André the Giant had consumed 156 beers (14.6 gallons) in one sitting.
The American: André’s Favorite Drink
He nicknamed one of his favorite drinks “The American.” The recipe was simple. He would have the bartender pour a variety of different hard liquors for the drink. Rum, vodka, tequila, gin, whisky, brandy, and more would go into a 40-ounce pitcher. André would then drink several of these pitchers during the course of an evening.
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, WWE Hall of Famer Gerald Brisco said André requested wine before matches. He would have six bottles of Mateus Dry Rosé iced and consume them before a match. It’s said that no one could tell that André had anything to drink. Wait a minute, what about his breath?
Hulk Hogan tells a story about a bus ride in Japan. Hogan says he went to a little neighborhood bar near their hotel and bought a case of Pouilly-Fuissé wine. Pouilly-Fuissé is a robust French white wine. The bus picked them up at 8:00 AM, and after just three hours, André said he had to go to the bathroom. He had already consumed all 12 bottles of the wine.
André racked up a $40,000 bar tab at the hotel bar during a month-long stay in London. One night, the bartender announced the last call, and André ordered 40 Vodka Tonics. The bartender obliged and then sat with André to feel lonely as he drank them. He left the bar at 5:00 AM.
An Accomplished Acting Career
Many people believe that the giant André the Giant played, Fezzik in the Movie Princess Bride was his only role. Far from it. He had a robust acting career that spanned 27 years, from 1967 to 1994. He had numerous roles on television and in films. His favorite, however, was the Princess Bride. He had the movie on videotape and would play it for his friends and family, constantly asking them, “Did You Like my Performance?”
His acting career started with an appearance in a movie titled Casse-tête Chinois pour le Judoka (Chinese puzzle for Judoka). He played a fighter in this French Spy Thriller and Kung Fu movie. The role and movie may have been forgettable, but André was not. He would move on from this auspicious start to play many more roles.
His next role was ten years later in two episodes of the TV series Six Million Dollar Man. André played a cyborg Bigfoot in both episodes. André continued on television with two appearances on BJ and the Bear in Snow White and the Seven Lady Truckers Part 1 and 2.
In an episode of The Fall Guy, André played a wrestler. In this role, sadly, he was uncredited. He followed this with an appearance in the series The Greatest American Hero as a Monster. The episode was titled Heaven is in Your Genes. He also appeared in the Canadian TV Comedy series Symphorien and My Brilliant Friend’s Italian TV series as Jean Petit.
Acting with Arnold
His film career included Conan the Destroyer with Arnold Schwarzenegger. André played a character named Dagoth. He was in the movies Micki and Maude and I Like to Hurt People plating himself. His final film was in the 1994 movie Trading Mom where he played a Circus Giant. He also appeared as himself in a Music Video titled Goonies are Good Enough.
But still, The Princess Bride was his biggest success, and it held a soft spot in his heart. Like many other tasks, making the movie was not easy on André. His back was causing him more and more pain. In scenes where he had to ride a horse, he was lifted on the horse with cables. Actress Robin Wright was also attached to cables so that André could “catch” her. Because of his back, André could not walk around the set, so he rode a personal four-wheel-drive UTV.
What is Gigantism?
André the Giant suffered from Gigantism but was never diagnosed with the condition as a child. It wasn’t until his mid-20’s that André found out he suffered from the condition. An overactive pituitary gland causes gigantism. The damaged pituitary gland produces excessive amounts of human growth hormone. The result is rapid growth and sometimes, as in André’s case, amazing strength.
As a person with Gigantism ages, the condition is known as Acromegaly, the adult form. At this stage, the affected person’s appendages, face, and head become enlarged. This was the case with André. His hands, feet, and head were all abnormally large.
André the Giant Quotes
All these quotes have been attributed to André, the Giant:
- If I’m clumsy, forgive me, and please don’t hurt me.
- Boss, I need a pit stop.
- What God gave me, I use to make a living.
- You Know, people think I have a great life…that I can travel all over and everything…but I see them when they point at me…little kids laugh and say, what kind of man is he?
- I want you to feel you’re doing well; I hate for people to die embarrassed. – Like the character Fezzik in the movie The Princess Bride
- I’m not supernatural. I’m just myself.
- It’s difficult wherever I go. They don’t build anything for big people. They have everything for blind people. And, they have everything for crippled people, for some other people, but not for big people.
- I like my opponents the way I like my steaks, in bunches.
- I know I have eaten more good food, drunk more beer and fine wine, had more friends, and seen more of the world than most men ever will.
- Don’t worry. I won’t let it go to my head.
Like the character Fezzik in the movie The Princess Bride
Check out more Quotes on Wrestling.
His Death and Burial
He died in his sleep, alone in a hotel room in Paris on January 28th, 1993. The cause of death was congestive heart failure, and he was just 46 years old. He had come to France to attend his father’s funeral twelve days earlier. His family searched the entire country of France for a Crematorium that was large enough to accommodate André. They could not find a Crematorium to fit his body, so André was flown to the U.S. to be cremated.
With a brief ceremony, his ashes were scattered on his beloved ranch in North Carolina. His ashes weighed 17 pounds.
The Exit of André the Giant
In 1988, André broke his ankle during a match, and it served as a wake-up call. André knew, at that moment, that his days in the ring were numbered. He also knew that he might have a very short time to live. He shared these things with Vince McMahon, Jr. Together with Hulk Hogan, a plan for a fantastic exit for André was hatched.
André would become the bad guy, and unfortunately, he would succumb to the Hulkster in an epic battle. It cemented both wrestlers’ mythical status and elevated the WWF. Shortly thereafter, André became the first member of the WWF Hall of Fame.
By Tim Moodie
Tim Moodie never had the pleasure or privilege to meet André, the Giant. He has met several other wrestlers, including Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Each meeting was interesting, but Tim would trade them all to meet André the Giant just once.
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