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Andre the Giant (May 19, 1946 - January 27, 1993) was a professional wrestler and actor, born André René Roussimoff in Coulommiers, France. He was at least 6'10" tall, and was usually billed at over 7' tall. His great size was a result of excessive growth hormone, a condition known as pituitary gigantism, and led to him being dubbed "The Eighth Wonder of the World".
André René Roussimoff was born in France, of Bulgarian and Polish descent. He was the third of five children. As a child, he was referred to by his parents as Dédé and very early on displayed symptoms of his acromegaly, reaching a height of six feet and weight of 240 pounds by age 12. Roussimoff was a good student but left school after 8th grade because he did not feel having a high school education was necessary to live and work on a farm that was not his own. As an adolescent, he worked on the farm, completed an apprenticeship in woodworking, then worked in a factory that manufactured engines for hay balers, but none of these jobs brought him any satisfaction.
Professional wrestling career
At 18 years of age, Roussimoff moved to Paris and was taught the art of professional wrestling by a local promoter who knew there would be good money in André's future. Roussimoff trained at night and worked as a mover during the day in order to pay living expenses. Roussimoff was billed as "Géant Ferré", taken from the name of a mythical French giant, and began his career wrestling in Paris and surrounding areas. Montreal-native promoter and wrestler, Frank Valois, met Roussimoff in 1966 and became his business manager and close adviser. For the next few years, Roussimoff began making a name for himself wrestling in England, Germany, New Zealand and Africa.
Roussimoff made his Japan debut in 1970, billed as "Monster Roussimoff", wrestling for International Wrestling Enterprise. Wrestling there as both a singles and tag team competitor, he quickly won the company's tag team championship alongside Michael Nador. It was during Roussimoff's time in Japan when doctors first informed him that he suffered from acromegaly, a hormonal disorder, which can lead to gigantism.
After his stint in Japan, Roussimoff moved to Montreal, Canada. He became an immediate success, regularly selling out the Montreal Forum. However, promoters eventually ran out of plausible opponents to fight him and, as his novelty wore off, gate receipts dwindled. In 1972, Roussimoff wrestled numerous times for Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association (AWA) as a special attraction until Valois reached out to Vince McMahon, Sr., founder of the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) for help. McMahon suggested a couple of changes to Roussimoff's gimmick. He felt Roussimoff should be portrayed as a large, immovable monster. To enhance his significant size McMahon discouraged Roussimoff from performing maneuvers such as dropkicks, as he had been doing due to his natural athleticism. McMahon also began billing Roussimoff as "André the Giant" and set up a travel-intensive schedule, loaning him to wrestling territories all over the world, so he would not wear out his welcome in any one area. To receive André, promoters had to guarantee André a certain amount of money, as well as pay McMahon's WWWF a booking fee.
World Wide Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Federation
Face run (1973–1987)
In 1982, Vince McMahon, Sr. sold the World Wrestling Federation (which had dropped "Wide" from its name in 1979) to his son, Vince McMahon, Jr.. As McMahon began to expand his newly acquired promotion to the national level, he required his wrestlers to appear exclusively for him. McMahon signed André to these terms in 1984, although he still allowed the Giant to work in Japan for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW).
André was one of WWF's most beloved "babyfaces" throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. As such, Gorilla Monsoon insisted that André was never defeated for 15 years by pinfall or submission prior to WrestleMania III. This, however, is not true. André actually had lost cleanly in matches outside of the parameters of WWF; a pinfall loss in Mexico to Canek in 1984 and a submission loss in Japan to Antonio Inoki in June 1986. He also went sixty-minute time limit draws with the two other major world champions of the day, Harley Race and Nick Bockwinkel.
One of André's feuds pitted him against "the Mongolian Giant" Killer Khan. According to the storyline, Khan had snapped André's ankle during a match on May 2, 1981, in Rochester, New York by leaping off the top rope and crashing down upon it with his knee-drop. In reality, André had broken his ankle getting out of bed the morning before the match. The injury and subsequent rehabilitation was worked into the existing André/Khan storyline. After a stay at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, André returned with payback on his mind. The two battled on July 20, 1981 at Madison Square Garden in a match that resulted in a double disqualification. Their feud continued through the summer and fall as fans filled arenas up and down the east coast to witness their matches. On November 14, 1981 at the Philadelphia Spectrum, the feud culminated when André decisively defeated Khan in what was billed as a "Mongolian Stretcher Match", in which the loser must be taken to the dressing room on a stretcher.
Another feud involved a man who considered himself to be "the true giant" of wrestling: Big John Studd. Throughout the early to mid-1980s, André and Studd fought all over the world, battling to try and determine who the real giant of wrestling was. In December 1984, Studd took the feud to a new level, when he and partner Ken Patera knocked out André during a televised tag team match and proceeded to cut off André's hair. After gaining revenge on Patera, André met Studd in a "Body Slam Challenge" at the first WrestleMania, held March 31, 1985 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. André slammed Studd to win the match and collect the $15,000 prize, then proceeded to throw cash to the fans before having the bag stolen from him by Studd's manager, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.
The following year, at WrestleMania 2 on 7 April 1986, André continued to display his dominance by winning a twenty-man battle royal that featured top NFL stars and wrestlers. André last eliminated Bret Hart to win the contest. Afterward, André continued his feud with Studd and King Kong Bundy. André was suspended after a no-show (in reality, he needed time off to film The Princess Bride); he returned under a mask as "The Giant Machine" part of a team with "Big Machine" (Robert Windham) and "Super Machine" (Bill Eadie) (The Machines gimmick was copied from New Japan Pro Wrestling character "Super Strong Machine", played by Japanese wrestler Junji Hirata). Soon afterward, Giant Machine disappeared, and André was reinstated, to the approval of Bobby Heenan.
Heel run (1987–1990)
André was turned heel in early 1987 so that he could face Hulk Hogan for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship in the main event of WrestleMania III. In January 1987, Hogan was presented a trophy for being the WWF World Heavyweight Champion for three years. André came out to congratulate him. Shortly afterward, André was presented a slightly smaller trophy for being "the only undefeated wrestler in wrestling history." In actuality, André had suffered a handful of countout and disqualification losses in WWF but had never been pinned or forced to submit in a WWF ring. Hogan came out to congratulate André and ended up being the focal point of the interview. A visibly annoyed André walked out in the midst of Hogan's speech. Then, on an edition of "Piper's Pit", Hogan was confronted by Bobby Heenan. Heenan announced that his new protege was André, who then challenged Hogan to a title match at WrestleMania III, ripping the T-shirt and crucifix from Hogan.
At WrestleMania III, he was billed at 520 lb (240 kg) and the stress of such immense weight on his bones and joints resulted in constant pain. After recent back surgery, he was also wearing a brace underneath his wrestling singlet. Hogan won the match after body slamming André, followed by Hogan's running leg drop finisher. Years later, Hogan claimed that André was so heavy, he felt more like 700 lb (320 kg), and that he actually tore his latissimus dorsi muscle slamming him. Another famous story about the match is that no one knew if André would lose the match. André had agreed to lose the match some time before, mostly for health reasons, though he almost pinned Hogan (albeit unintentionally) in the early goings of the match. Contrary to popular belief, it was not the first time that Hogan had successfully bodyslammed André in a WWF match. A then-heel Hogan bodyslammed a then-face André early in a match in Hamburg, Pennsylvania on 13 September 1980, though André was much lighter and more athletic at the time. This, of course, took place back in the territorial days of wrestling three years before WWF began its national expansion (André had also previously allowed Harley Race, El Canek, and Stan Hansen to slam him.) By the time WrestleMania III had rolled around, the WWF had gone national, giving more meaning to the André-Hogan match that took place then. The feud between André and Hogan simmered during the summer of 1987, even as Roussimoff's health declined. The feud would begin heating up again when each wrestler was named the captain of rival teams at the inaugural Survivor Series event. André's team won the main event after André pinned Bam Bam Bigelow.
In the meantime, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase failed to persuade Hogan to sell him the WWF World Championship. After failing to defeat Hogan in a subsequent series of matches, DiBiase turned to André to win it for him. Acting as his hired gun, André won the WWF title from Hogan on 5 February 1988 in a match where it was later revealed appointed referee Dave Hebner was "detained backstage", and a replacement who DiBiase paid to get plastic surgery to look like Dave (in reality, his twin brother Earl Hebner), made a three count on Hogan while his shoulders were off the mat. After winning, André "sold" the title to DiBiase; the transaction was declared invalid by then-WWF President Jack Tunney and the title was vacated. This was shown on WWF's NBC program The Main Event. At WrestleMania IV, André and Hulk Hogan fought to a double disqualification in a WWF title tournament match (with the idea in the storyline saying that André was again working on DiBiase's behalf in giving DiBiase a clearer path in the tournament). Afterward, André and Hogan's feud died down after a steel cage match held at WrestleFest on 31 July 1988 in Milwaukee. He and DiBiase also wrestled Hogan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage in the main event of SummerSlam; the DiBiase-André team lost, despite apparently having referee Jesse "the Body" Ventura on their side.
1988-1990: Feuds with Jake "the Snake" Roberts, Ultimate Warrior; forming the The Colossal Connection
In addition to appearances that built toward the Megabucks-Megapowers match at SummerSlam, Andre was also involved during the summer of 1988 in a feud with "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. The feud began on WWF Superstars of Wrestling (taped March 9 at an event in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and aired shortly after WrestleMania IV) when—after Andre easily dispatched jobber Brian Costello in a singles match—Duggan came to the ring and challenged Andre to a match. Andre scoffed at Duggan and pretended to turn to walk away, but suddenly he grabbed Duggan by the throat and headbutted him repeatedly, causing Duggan to bleed from the mouth; a reeling Duggan got close enough to his 2-by-4 wooden plank to grab it and strike Andre on the head (as Andre was rearing back to hit with another headbutt); Andre was briefly knocked unconscious, but when he came to, he went into a fit of rage, attacking referees, ring officials, medics and a cameraman. Andre dominated the resulting series of matches throughout the spring and summer, until the feud was de-emphasized in anticipation of SumerSlam..
André's next major feud was against Jake "The Snake" Roberts. In this storyline, it was said André was deathly afraid of snakes, something Roberts exposed on Saturday Night's Main Event when he threw his snake, Damien, on the frightened André; as a result, André suffered a kayfabe mild heart attack and vowed revenge. During the next few weeks, Roberts frequently walked to ringside during André's matches, causing him to run from the ring in fright (since he knew what was inside the bag). Throughout their feud (which culminated at WrestleMania V), Roberts constantly used Damien to gain a psychological edge over the much larger and stronger André.
In 1989, André and the returning Big John Studd briefly reprised their feud, this time with Studd as a face and André as the heel. Later, during the late summer and fall of 1989, André engaged in a brief feud (almost entirely consisting of house shows (non-televised events), save for a SNME title defense) with then-Intercontinental champion The Ultimate Warrior. The younger Warrior, WWF's rising star, regularly squashed the aging André in an attempt to showcase his star quality and promote him as the "next big thing".
In the fall of 1989, André was joined with fellow Heenan Family member Haku to form a new tag team called The Colossal Connection, in part to fill a void left by the departure of Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson (The Brain Busters, who were also members of Heenan's stable) from the WWF, and also to continue to keep the aging André in the main event spotlight. The Colossal Connection immediately targeted WWF Tag Team Champions Demolition (who had recently won the belts from the Brain Busters). At a television taping on December 13, 1989, the Colossal Connection defeated Demolition to win the titles. André and Haku successfully defended their titles, mostly against Demolition, until WrestleMania VI on April 1, 1990, when Demolition took advantage of a mistimed move by the champions to regain the belts. After the match, a furious Heenan blamed André for the title loss and after shouting at him slapped him in the face; an angry André responded with a slap of his own that sent Heenan staggering from the ring. André also caught Haku's kick attempt, sending him reeling from the ring as well, prompting loud cheers for André for the first time in three years. André went into the match as a heel, but left as a face.
Shortly before WrestleMania VI, Andre met Hogan one last time in the ring, as part of a tag team match at a non-televised house show pitting the Colossal Connection against Hogan and the Big Bossman. It was a non-title match, and Hogan and Bossman won after Hogan pinned Haku.
His last major WWF storyline following WrestleMania VII had the major heel managers (Bobby Heenan, Sensational Sherri, Slick, and Mr. Fuji) trying to recruit André one-by-one, only to be turned down in various humiliating ways (i.e. Heenan had his hand crushed, Sherri received a spanking, Slick got locked in the trunk of the car he was offering to André and Mr Fuji got a pie in his face). Finally, Jimmy Hart appeared live on WWF Superstars to announce that he successfully signed André to tag-team with Earthquake. However, when asked to confirm by Gene Okerlund, André denied the claims. This led to Earthquake attacking André from behind (injuring his knee). Jimmy Hart would later get revenge for the humiliation by secretly signing Tugboat and forming The Natural Disasters. This led to André's final major WWF appearance at SummerSlam '91, where he seconded The Bushwhackers in their match against the Disasters. He also made an appearance later in the year to help The British Bulldog who had just won a Battle Royal in London.
All Japan Pro Wrestling (1990–1992)
André branched out into acting in the 1970s and 1980s, making his acting debut playing a Sasquatch ("Bigfoot") on the 1970s television series The Six Million Dollar Man. He went on to appear in other television shows, including The Greatest American Hero, B.J. and the Bear, and The Fall Guy. He also participated in an episode of Zorro.
Towards the end of his career, André also starred in several movies. He had an uncredited appearance in the 1984 film — Conan the Destroyer, as Dagoth, the resurrected horned giant god who is killed by Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger). But he appeared most notably as Fezzik (his favorite role) in the 1987 film The Princess Bride. Both the film and Andre's performance have retained a devoted following.
In his final film, he appeared in something of a cameo role as a circus giant in the comedy Trading Mom, which was not released until the year after his death.
André was the inspiration for the 1998 film My Giant, written by his friend Billy Crystal, whom he had met during the filming of The Princess Bride.
Paul Wight, better known as The Big Show, more similar in body structure to André than any other wrestler since André's death, was originally billed as the son of André the Giant during his stint in WCW (when he was known as simply The Giant) despite no biological relation. While also suffering from acromegaly, unlike André, Wight did get surgery on his pituitary gland in the early 1990s, which successfully halted the progress of his condition. The former wrestler Giant González suffered from problems similar to those that André had near the end of his life and died in September 2010 due to diabetes complications.
André is cited and impersonated in the comedy film I Love You, Man. He is also cited in the Eminem song "Crack a Bottle" in the lyrics "Back with Andre the Giant, mister elephant tusk, picture us and you'll be another one to bite the dust". Andre is also cited in the movie The 40 Year Old Virgin when the protagonist quotes a woman (actually a transvestite) he met who "had hands like Andre The Giant."
The OBEY brand icon originated from a stencil that artist Shepard Fairey had created based upon a photo of Andre the Giant that Fairey had found in a newspaper.
Capcom's video game character Hugo (known as Andore in Final Fight) is based on him. André appears himself as a game boss along Ted DiBiase, fighting as their real-life tag team The Mega Bucks, in the 1989 arcade game WWF Superstars.
On 25 January 2005 WWE released André The Giant, a DVD focusing on the career of André. The DVD is a reissue of the out-of-print André The Giant VHS made by Coliseum Video in 1985, with commentary by Michael Cole and Tazz replacing Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura's commentary on his WrestleMania match with Big John Studd. The video is hosted by Lord Alfred Hayes. Later matches, including André's battles against Hulk Hogan while a heel, are not included on this DVD.
Roussimoff had one daughter, Robin Christensen, who was born in 1979.
The disease that granted him his immense size eventually began to take its toll on his body. By the late 1980s, André was in constant, near-crippling pain, and his heart struggled to pump blood throughout his massive body.
According to William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride and its respective screenplay, André was having such terrible back pain during the filming of the movie that in the first shooting of a scene where Robin Wright drops about one foot and is caught by André, he fell to one knee and almost dropped her.
In the A&E documentary, Biography, Arnold Skaaland mentions how André wished he could see a Broadway play. Arnold offered to buy tickets, but André then passed up the opportunity, citing how he was too big for the seats and that people behind him would not be able to see. This was cited as a principal reason for why André frequented taverns more than anywhere else.
André was mentioned in the 1974 Guinness Book of World Records as the highest paid wrestler in history up to that time. He had earned $400,000 in one year alone during the early 1970s.
He has been unofficially crowned "The Greatest Drunk on Earth" for once consuming 119 12-ounce beers in 6 hours. On an episode of WWE's Legends of Wrestling, Mike Graham claimed that André once drank 197 16-ounce beers in one sitting, which was confirmed by Dusty Rhodes. Such feats can be attributed to his much larger than usual size, meaning it would take higher volumes of liquor to inebriate him. In her autobiography, The Fabulous Moolah alleges that André drank 127 beers in a Reading, Pennsylvania hotel bar and later passed out in the lobby. Because the staff could not move him, they had to leave him there until he regained consciousness.
André was arrested by the Linn County, Iowa sheriff in August 1989 and charged with assault after the 540 lb (240 kg) wrestler allegedly roughed up a local television cameraman.
André died in his sleep due to congestive heart failure on the night of January 27, 1993, in a Paris hotel room. He was in Paris to attend the funeral of his father. André's body was cremated in accordance with his wishes and his ashes scattered at his ranch in Ellerbe, North Carolina.
- Finishing and signature moves
- Scoop Slam
- Butterfly Suplex
- Elbow Drop
- Double Underhook Facebuster (Innovated)
- Kneeling Belly-to-Belly Piledriver
- "The 8th Wonder Of The World"
- "The Gentle Giant "
- Tag teams and stables