For over a decade, Andre the Giant was the highest-paid professional wrestler on earth.
A pro wrestler and actor, Le Geant Francais [The French Giant], was a gentle man with a deep voice. Billed as 7’4” [with an actual height of just under seven feet] and 530 pounds, Andre was a freak of nature. His towering height, enormous frame and gargantuan hands made him a true giant among men.
Andre Rene Roussimoff was born in a small farming community outside Grenoble, France, on this date in 1946. His parents and four siblings were all of normal size, but Andre suffered from acromegaly. A disorder that reduces life expectancy by a decade, acromegaly results from the pituitary gland producing too much growth hormone.
Roussimoff reached 6’3” and 208 pounds by age 12. At 14, he dropped out of school, left home and got a job as a furniture mover. A talented rugby player, Andre was discovered by several pro wrestlers while training at a gym three years later.
Drafted into the French army in 1965, Roussimoff was unable to join. The military did not have shoes big enough, bunks long enough or trenches deep enough to accommodate the hulking giant.
In 1971, he came to North America to wrestle under the name of Jean Ferre. He became mildly popular in Canada, then met Vince McMahon Sr., a New York-based wrestling agent. Renamed Andre the Giant, Rousimoff made his WWF debut in Madison Square Garden in March 1973.
Andre was one of professional wrestling’s most beloved “babyfaces” throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World, he employed his trademark moves all over the globe. Enormous crowds would turn out to see Andre’s bearhug, headbutt, choke, big splash and elbow drop.
Andre once threw Chuck Wepner out of the ring in a wrestler-versus-boxer match on the undercard of the Muhammad Ali – Antonio Inoki challenge match in Japan. He became a national sensation, starring in television, movies and commercials. NFL coach George Allen once offered the surprisingly athletic Rousimoff a tryout with the Washington Redskins.
In 1987, Andre fought Hulk Hogan for the WWR world heavyweight championship at Wrestlemania III. The gargantuan Frenchman hadn’t lost a singles match since 1971, spanning over 3,000 bouts. The streak ended when Hogan picked up the seven-foot, 500-pound behemoth and body slammed him for the pin. Over 94,000 viewed the history-making matchup, setting an indoor attendance record that still stands.
An expert card player and collector of fine wines, the Gentle Giant referred to friends not by name, but as “Hoss.” While visiting Montreal in the mid-1970s, Andre was in a bar, drinking [more on that later]. Soon, four drunken men began taunting the wrestler. After patiently trying to avoid a confrontation, Andre finally got fed up and chased the quartet into the parking lot. When the four men got into their car, Andre grabbed the car and turned it over onto its roof. With the men still inside the vehicle, the big man returned to the bar.
The Giant Machine had appetites of mythic proportion. To show off, he’d eat 15 lobsters and a dozen steaks for dinner. Andre may have had the highest tolerance for alcohol of any man in history. He used to drink six bottles of chilled Mateus wine before going into the ring.
Andre consumed 7,000 calories of booze every day. That figure doesn’t include food – just booze. His bar tab for a month’s stay at the London Hyatt while filming the 1987 romantic comedy The Princess Bride came to just over $ 40,000.
He allegedly consumed 119 beers in a single sitting, a feat that took him only six hours. That means he finished a twelve-ounce beer every three minutes. While on tour in Florida, Andre ordered Hogan off the bus to buy the thirsty giant some wine. Hogan returned with a case of Pouilly-Fuisse. Andre finished all twelve bottles in three hours, then asked the driver to find the nearest restroom.
Andre had back surgery in 1987. Persistent health issues forced his retirement from professional wrestling three years later. With his wealth, the mammoth Frenchman bought a ranch in Ellerbe, North Carolina, where he enjoyed relaxing in his custom recliner.
In January 1993, Andre traveled to Paris to attend his father’s funeral, then stayed to be with his mother. Roussimoff died in his sleep of congestive heart failure the night of January 23, 2003, in a Paris hotel room.
Weighing 530 at the time of his death, Andre was cremated and his ashes sprinkled on his North Carolina ranch.
The man who famously played Fezzik in The Princess Bride was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002. Creator of the tombstone piledriver and double underhook suplex, Andre the Giant was the only member of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.