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André the Giant

André René Roussimoff (May 19, 1946 – January 27, 1993), best known as André the Giant, was a French professional wrestler and actor. His great size was a result of a condition known as acromegaly, and led to him being dubbed "The Eighth Wonder of the World."

In the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Roussimoff briefly held the WWF Championship. In 1993, he was the first inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. Roussimoff was one of the most famous professional wrestlers of the 1970s and 1980s, and was involved in a legendary match with Hulk Hogan in 1987 at WrestleMania III.

Birth and childhood

Andre René Roussimoff was born in Grenoble, France, to Boris and Marian Roussimoff, who were of Bulgarian and Polish descent, respectively. He was the third of five children. Roussimoff was a good student but left school after 8th grade because he did not feel that it was important to have a high school education 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 baling machines, but none of these jobs brought him any satisfaction. Roussimoff was drafted into France's peacetime army, but was rejected during his physical because there were no shoes big enough to fit him or beds long enough for him to sleep in.

Career

Roussimoff was discovered by Lord Alfred Hayes, a wrestling promoter, and left home as a teenager to become a wrestler in Paris. He worked as a mover during the day, to pay his expenses, and trained in the ring at night. However, it was difficult to find wrestlers who were willing to train with him because of his size and strength. In 1964, Édouard Carpentier, a well-known French wrestler, agreed to train with him. Roussimoff was billed as "Géant Ferré", the name of a legendary French lumberjack, and quickly made a name for himself. For the next few years, he wrestled in arenas and carnivals in Europe, New Zealand, and Africa. By the time he was 21, he was a European wrestling star.

In 1969, Édouard Carpentier offered to bring Roussimoff to North America, but he had already signed to wrestle in International Pro Wrestling in Japan, where he was billed as "Monster Roussimoff". While he was in Japan, a doctor there diagnosed him with acromegaly and told him that those with the same problem were generally lucky to reach 40 years of age, but Roussimoff refused to accept either the diagnosis of or treatment for this condition.

After performing in Japan, Roussimoff followed Carpentier to Montreal, Canada, where he was an immediate success. However, promoters eventually ran out of plausible opponents to fight him and, as his novelty wore off, gate receipts dwindled. Desperate, Carpentier reached out to Vincent J. McMahon and his son, Vince McMahon, Jr. for help. They suggested that Roussimoff have a schedule that purely involved travel, so he would not wear out his welcome in any one area. They also suggested that he be billed as "André the Giant" for his North American audiences. Roussimoff also competed throughout various territories.

Professional Wrestling Career (1973–1992)

Face run (1973-1987)

On March 26, 1973, André made his WWF debut as a "face", defeating Buddy Wolfe in New York's Madison Square Garden.

He was billed early in his career at a height of 6 ft 10 in (2.08m) and 6 ft 11 in (2.10m); this was enlarged in the early 1970s to 7 ft 4 in (2.24m) and sometimes 7 ft 5 in (2.26 m) with a weight that ranged from 309 lb (140 kg) to 565 lb (256 kg). His actual height is contested, and there has been much speculation and debate over the issue. Jim Duggan and Bobby Heenan maintain that his kayfabe height was correct. Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer claims André was measured at 6 ft 9 ¾ in 1974 by a French athletic commission at age 28; Meltzer also estimated André at 6 ft 11 ½ in (2.12 m) when comparing him to fellow Conan the Destroyer star Wilt Chamberlain in 1984. However, Mike Mooneyham, another wrestling journalist, maintained in his obituary of André in 1994 that André was 7 ft 2 in when he began wrestling. Chuck Wepner's manager said André made the 6 ft 5 ½ in Wepner look like a baby, dwarfed beside André. Nevertheless, the sight of him alone was enough to draw huge crowds during a time when there were only a handful of wrestlers over 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m); his condition, which included symptoms such as enlarged hands and feet and exaggerated facial features (acromegaly), likely aided the visual perception of him appearing larger than he actually was. André also had an abnormally large wrist, at 13", which is indicative of overall bone structure.

He branched out into acting in the 1970s and 1980s, playing a Sasquatch ("Bigfoot") on the 1970s television series The Six Million Dollar Man and the character Fezzik in The Princess Bride. By the time the chairman of the (renamed) World Wrestling Federation, Vincent K. McMahon, began to expand his promotion to the national level in the early 1980s, André wrestled exclusively for WWF in the USA, while still holding international engagements.

He was offered a professional American football contract with the Washington Redskins after a tryout in 1974 and seriously considered it, but turned it down, reasoning that he could make far more money wrestling. Andre 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.

André was one of WWF's most beloved "babyfaces" throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. The legend that he was never defeated for 15 years by pinfall or submission prior to WrestleMania III is not true. André actually had lost cleanly in matches outside of the parameters of WWF; a pinfall loss in Mexico to El Canek in 1984 and in Japan a submission loss to Antonio Inoki in 1986, as well as a controversial no-contest finish against Akira Maeda, who used heel shoot-style tactics, breaking kayfabe to nullify André's considerable size advantage. He also went sixty-minute time limit draws with the two other major world champions of the day, Harley Race and Nick Bockwinkel.

André had memorable clashes all over the world with a variety of tough, rugged opponents. Among his chief rivals in the ring: The Sheik (who gained a deathmatch win over the Frenchman in 1974 with the help of his fireball), Abdullah the Butcher, Stan Hansen, Ernie Ladd, and a young Hulk Hogan, who first met André in 1978 during his rookie years in the deep South. Hogan and André would go on to have one of the greatest WWF feuds of 1980, peaking in front of 36,295 fans at the Showdown at Shea event on August 9, 1980 in Flushing, New York's Shea Stadium.

One of André's most bitter feuds pitted him against the Mongolian terror Killer Khan, who was managed by Freddie Blassie. According to the storyline, Khan had broken André's ankle during a match in Rochester, New York by leaping off the top rope and crashing down upon it with his knee-drop. After a stay at Beth-Israel Hospital in Boston, André returned with payback on his mind. On November 14, 1981 at the Philadelphia Spectrum, André exacted revenge by destroying Killer Khan in what was billed as a "Mongolian Stretcher Match", in which the loser must be taken to the dressing room on a stretcher. In reality, André had snapped his ankle getting out of bed one morning. The injury and subsequent rehabilitation was worked into the existing André/Khan storyline.

Another memorable André 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 famous long locks (Big Show, Kurt Angle, Mark Jindrak, and Luther Reigns would duplicate the angle nearly 20 years later). André had the last laugh at the first WrestleMania on March 31, 1985 at Madison Square Garden. André conquered Studd in a $15,000 Body Slam Challenge. After slamming Studd, he attempted to give the $15,000 prize to the fans, before having the bag stolen from him by his future manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.

The following year, at WrestleMania 2 (April 7, 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.

Afterwards, André continued his feud with Studd and King Kong Bundy. André was suspended after a no-show; 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 afterwards, Giant Machine disappeared, and André was reinstated, to the approval of Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.

Heel run (1987-1990) and later years

Feud with Hulk Hogan
André was turned heel in 1987 so that he could face Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship in the main event of WrestleMania III. In early 1987, Hogan was presented a trophy for being the WWF World Heavyweight Champion for three years. André came out to congratulate him. Shortly afterwards, André was presented a slightly smaller trophy for being "undefeated in WWF for fifteen years." 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. André then challenged Hogan to a title match at WrestleMania III, ripping the t-shirt and crucifix from Hogan.

WrestleMania III was the first time the public really saw the pain that André was going through. At WrestleMania, he was billed at 520 pounds, and the stress of that 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 dropping André with a body slam, followed by Hogan's running leg drop finisher. Years later, Hogan stated that André was so heavy, he felt more like 700 pounds, and that he actually tore his lateral muscle slamming him, though the legitimacy of this statement is questionable. Another famous story about the match is that no one knew if André would lose the match. WWE Owner Vince McMahon has stated in the past that he believed if Hogan had either purposely or accidentally disrespected André that night, there was no way André would have allowed Hogan to win the match, no matter what had been agreed to. Aside from that possibility, 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 Andre in a WWF match. A then-heel Hogan bodyslammed a then-face Andre early in a match in Hamburg, Pennsylvania on September 13, 1980, though Andre was much lighter and more athletic at the time. This, of course, back in the territorial days of wrestling three years before WWF began its national expansion (Andre had also previously allowed Harley Race, Kamala, and Stan Hansen to slam him). By the time WrestleMania III had rolled around, the WWF had gone national, giving more meaning to the Andre-Hogan match that took place then.

The Hogan-André face off at WrestleMania III was likely the most highly anticipated professional wrestling matchup in history – the apex of wrestling's most recent golden era. The event, held at the Pontiac Silverdome, had millions watching on pay-per-view and established great permanent value in the WrestleMania franchise. A reported 93,173 fans turned out as the WWF sold many standing room only tickets and added seats in the alleys to exceed the Silverdome's capacity of 80,331. Hogan defeated André in what some consider a passing of the torch from André, wrestling's biggest star of the 70s, to Hogan, wrestling's biggest star of the 80s.

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. Hogan was counted out, and André would go on to be the sole survivor of the match after pinning 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 February 5, 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. André famously mistakenly called the WWF Championship the "WWF Tag Team Championship."

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). Afterwards, André and Hogan's feud died down after a brutal steel cage match held at WrestleFest on July 31, 1988 in Milwaukee. He and DiBiase also wrestled Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage in the main event of SummerSlam 1988; the DiBiase-André team lost, despite apparently having referee Jesse "the Body" Ventura on their side.

Other feuds
During the summer and fall of 1988, André also became involved in a heated feud with "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, and began wrestling Savage for the title.

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.

During the late summer and fall of 1989, André engaged in a brief feud with then-Intercontinental champion The Ultimate Warrior, where the younger Warrior regularly squashed the aging André. Earlier in 1989, André and the returning Big John Studd reprised their feud, this time with Studd as a face and André as the heel.

André won the World Tag Team Championship with his partner Haku (known collectively as The Colossal Connection) from Demolition on December 13, 1989. Managed by Bobby Heenan, they lost their titles at WrestleMania VI back to Demolition on April 1, 1990. After the match, a furious Heenan slapped André; he responded by knocking Heenan out, much to the delight of the fans. André went into the match as a heel, and left as a face.

Post WrestleMania VI
André continued to make appearances in the WWF throughout 1990 and 1991. His last major appearance was at SummerSlam 1991, where he seconded The Bushwhackers in their match against The Natural Disasters.

"Japan-U.S. wrestling summit" held in Tokyo Dome performance offered the tag team of "André the Giant and Giant Baba" on April 13, 1990. The team of "Andre and Baba" semi-won the championship with World's Strongest Tag Team League that All Japan Pro Wrestling had held in 1991.

After that he went back to Japan, this time for All Japan Pro Wrestling, where he briefly teamed with owner Giant Baba. André continued to compete in tag team matches, primarily in Japan and Mexico, until the end of 1992.

Outside wrestling
The disease that granted him his immense size also 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. When he was not in front of a camera, he was usually in a wheelchair.

André starred in several movies towards the end of his career, most notably as Fezzik in the 1987 film The Princess Bride, which was André's favorite role. He had an uncredited appearance in the 1984 film Conan the Destroyer as Dagoth, the resurrected horned giant god, who is killed by Conan, the character portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. 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.

World Championship Wrestling (1992)

His last U.S. television appearance was in a brief interview on WCW's "Clash of the Champions XX" special that aired on TBS on September 2, 1992.

Personal life

Roussimoff had one daughter, Robin Christensen, who was born in 1979. Robin's mother is Jean Christensen. WWE referee Tim White mentioned in Roussimoff's A&E Biography episode that she lives somewhere in the Seattle area.

In the A&E documentary, 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.

In the A&E Biography episode, Arnold Skaaland tells the story of when André was in a bar one night, four men came up to him and began harassing him about his size. At first, André attempted to avoid confrontation, but eventually he proceeded to chase the hecklers until they locked themselves in their car. André then grabbed the car and turned the car over with the four people trapped inside. André was never arrested for the incident, presumably since local police officers had a hard time believing four inebriated men's story about an angry giant having overturned their car.

André was arrested by the Linn County, Iowa sheriff in August 1989 and charged with assault after the 540-pound wrestler allegedly roughed up a local TV cameraman. The Smoking Gun

As a child, he was referred to by his parents as Dédé and showed no signs of being the size that he would end up being.

Actor Cary Elwes explains in his video diary of The Princess Bride that Samuel Beckett was a neighbor of the Roussimoff family while living in France. The Nobel Laureate would sometimes drive André to school.

Screenwriter and author William Goldman once said that André loved going out for dinner, but regardless of who extended the invitation, he would always pay for the meal. One time, when one of his friends slipped away to give his credit card to the maître d', the friend felt himself being lifted off the ground, carried back to the table, and deposited back in his chair "like a little boy". Concluding, Goldman added that the friend in question was Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Andre: Heart of the Giant is a movie about André's life and struggles in and out of the wrestling ring. Actors will play real life wrestlers, managers, promoters, and legends.

Death

André died in his sleep on January 27, 1993, in a Paris hotel room. He was in Paris to attend the funeral for his father. It was later concluded that he died of congestive heart failure, a by-product of the growth hormone-secreting pituitary tumor he had much of his life and chose not to have treated.

André's body was cremated in accordance with his wishes and his ashes scattered at his ranch in Ellerbe, North Carolina. According to his A&E Biography, André's wish to be cremated was almost not carried out, since a crematorium in France could not be found that could handle his large frame.

In wrestling

Filmography

Championships and accomplishments

  • All-Star Pro-Wrestling

*NWA Australian Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Ron Miller

*NWA Florida Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Dusty Rhodes

*IPW World Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Michael Nader

  • NWA Tri-State

*NWA United States Tag Team Championship (Tri-State version) (1 time) - with Dusty Rhodes

  • Stampede Wrestling

*Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame

*WWF Championship (1 time) (Shortest Reign)
*WWF Hall of Fame (Class of 1993) (posthumous) First inductee
*WWF World Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Haku

*PWI Most Popular Wrestler of the Year (1977, 1982)
*PWI Match of the Year (1981) vs. Killer Khan on May 2
*PWI Most Popular Wrestler of the Year (1982)
*PWI Most Hated Wrestler of the Year (1988)
*PWI Match of the Year (1988) versus Hulk Hogan - The Main Event
*PWI Editor's Award in 1993
*PWI ranked him #3 of the 500 best singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003.

*Feud of the Year (1981) vs. Killer Khan
*Most Embarrassing Wrestler (1989)
*Worst Feud of the Year (1984) vs. Big John Studd
*Worst Feud of the Year (1989) vs. The Ultimate Warrior
*Worst Worked Match of the Year (1987) vs. Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania
*Worst Worked Match of the Year (1989) vs. The Ultimate Warrior on October 31
*Worst Tag Team (1990, 1991) with Giant Baba
*Worst Wrestler (1989, 1991, 1992)
*Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996)

  • Broadcast Radio

*Inductee into the Wrestling-Radio.com Hall of Fame class of 2007

DVD

On January 25, 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 battle with Big John Studd, with an option to hear no commentary at all.

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. The following matches are featured on the DVD:

  1. André the Giant vs. Moondog Rex — (August 8, 1981)
  2. 18-Man Battle Royale including Sgt. Slaughter, Big John Studd, Jimmy Snuka, Pat Patterson, Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, the Iron Sheik, & Tito Santana (circa 1984).
  3. André the Giant vs. Black Gordman & Great Goliath (January 12, 1976)
  4. André the Giant vs. Jack Evans, Johnny Rodz, & Joe Butcher Nova (circa 1979)
  5. André the Giant vs. Gorilla Monsoon (early 1970s)
  6. André the Giant & Jimmy Snuka vs. the Wild Samoans (February 18, 1983 at Madison Square Garden, New York City)
  7. André vs. the Masked Superstar (February 20, 1984 at Madison Square Garden)
  8. André the Giant & S.D. Jones vs. Big John Studd & Ken Patera (December 15, 1984). Studd and Patera beat André into unconsciousness and — with help from Bobby Heenan — cut his long locks of hair
  9. André the Giant vs. Ken Patera (January 21, 1985 at Madison Square Garden)
  10. André the Giant vs. Big John Studd ("$15,000 Bodyslam Match" March 31, 1985, WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden)

Video games

Legacy and appearances in pop culture

  • Largely to honor André the Giant, the WWF created the WWF Hall of Fame later in 1993 and made him the first inductee.
  • In the "Code Monkeys" episode "Wrassle Mania", Mr. Larrity hires 4 professional wrestlers (all based on popular wrestlers of that era, set in the 1980s) to compete against their rival videogame company. The four wrestlers were Bulk Brogan (Hulk Hogan), "Manly Man" Ricky Ravage ("Macho Man" Randy Savage), Sergeant Murder (Sergeant Slaughter), and André the Giant's counterpart, Sergei the Giant.
  • 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 and the most similar in body structure to Andre than any other wrestler since Andre'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 Andre, Wight did get surgery on his pituitary gland in the early 1990s, which successfully halted the progress of his condition. Former wrestler Giant González (currently suffering from similar problems that Andre had near the end of his life).
  • The 2004 made-for-television film Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Charlie's Angels includes a scene recreating the filming of the Six Million Dollar Man episode in which André appeared as Bigfoot. The recreation included Ben Browder, who was portraying Lee Majors while Canadian character actor John DeSantis portrayed André (although de Santis was only credited for playing Bigfoot).

References

External links

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