Friday January 27th marks the 19th anniversary of the death of pro-wrestling’s greatest giant Andre “The Giant” Roussimoff. Andre was one of the industry’s most recognizable stars ever and became a world-wide attraction. Andre was a larger than life personality both inside and outside of the ring. His tales of alcohol consumption are legendary.
Andre was born in Grenoble, France on May 19th 1946. As a child, Andre’s parents learned that he was very different than other kids his age. Andre suffered from the medical condition known as acromegaly, which is the result of the pituitary gland overproducing growth hormones. By the age of 12, Andre already stood roughly 6’4″ and weight about 240 pounds. He would soon drop out of school in the 8th grade to focus on his farm work.
At the age of 18, Andre moved to Paris, France and would soon be introduced to the world of professional wrestling. Andre was trained by a local promoter and took the wrestling name “Giant Ferre”. Around the age of 20, Andre met a Canadian promoter who helped to get Andre more bookings throughout Europe and Africa. By the age of 24, Andre made his first appearance in Japan under the name “Monster Roussimoff”. During his time in Japan, Andre was officially diagnosed with acromegaly and informed of his inevitable physical problems.
By 1972, at the age of 26, Andre had made a few appearances in the AWA after a successful run in Montreal, Canada where Andre vanquished every opponent. However, it wasn’t until Vince McMahon Sr. got a hold of Andre that he became wrestling’s true giant. In March 1973, Andre made his debut with the WWWF, now referred to as the WWE, and quickly became a star. From this point forward, Andre would wrestler all of the top stars that every promotion had to offer. Andre would spend a short time in each territory and was a box office hit.
In June 1976, Andre The Giant took on boxer Chuck Wepner in the undercard of a match between Antonio Inoki and Muhammad Ali. Andre eventually grew tired of Chuck and decided to end the fight by picking him up and throwing him over the ropes. This incident would inspire Sylvester Stallone to use a similar scene in his “Rocky 3” film.
During the mid to late 70’s, Andre would have great feuds with other big men like Blackjack Mulligan, Big John Studd and Ernie Ladd to name a few. However, it was his feud with Studd that carried over into the WWF after Vince Sr. sold the company to his son Vince Jr. In 1982, at the age of 36, Andre signed a contract to return to the WWF and was arguably the company’s top attraction.
He would quickly engage in a feud with Big John Studd that led to a match at the first WrestleMania in March 1985, roughly 12 years after his first appearance for the promotion. Andre would go on to feud with Studd and other members of the Heenan Family like Ken Patera and King Kong Bundy.
By 1986, at the age of 40, Andre’s health had deteriorated greatly as he suffered with agonizing pain in his body. His back was so bad that he had a hard time filming his role as Fezzik in the popular movie “The Princess Bride”, which ushered in a whole new crop of fans. It was also during this period that Andre would reunite with Blackjack Mulligan to form “The Machines” along with Bill Eadie, who later became Axe in the tag-team Demolition. However, the trio disappeared by late 86 and Andre would soon return to make a huge impact.
In February 1987, Andre shocked the wrestling world with one of the most significant heel turns in the history of pro-wrestling as he joined up with Bobby Heenan and demanded a title shot from his friend and WWF champion Hulk Hogan. They would wrestle each other in the main event of WrestleMania 3 with Andre symbolically passing the torch to Hogan. Over 93,000 fans packed the Pontiac Dome and smashed world records. Hogan vs. Andre was easily one of the top 5 most influential matches in the history of pro-wrestling.
After his feud with Hogan had ended, Andre would go on to feud against other top stars of the company like Randy Savage, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and The Ultimate Warrior. However, by 1990, at the age of 44, Andre began to curtail his appearances due to his bad health. Andre’s last major appearance in the WWF was at SummerSlam in 1991 where he accompanied The Bushwhackers. Andre needed assistance to get out to the ring as his back had deteriorated to the point where he had a hard time just walking.
Andre spent the remaining few years touring with All Japan Pro Wrestling as he teamed up with another legendary giant in Giant Baba. In January 1993, Andre was in Paris to attend his father’s funeral when he died in his sleep due to congestive heart failure. Andre was cremated and had his ashes spread across his ranch in North Carolina. He’s survived by his daughter Robin. Andre was 46 years old.
Few wrestlers have ever reached the level of Andre The Giant in terms of being a global attraction. Shortly after his death, Andre became the first wrestler to be inducted into the WWE HOF in 1993. Andre is well remembered for his wrestling career, cherished for his role as Fezzik and worshipped for his incredible feats of drinking alcohol.
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