January 12, 2008
Andre the Giant
AKA: Jean Ferre, Giant Machine, the Colossal Connection (with Haku)
7'4", 380-520 pounds (varied considerably throughout his career)
BORN: In Grenoble, France
DIED: January 30, 1993 at 46
Though Andre The Giant was not a Canadian, we will lay claim to him because he was truly a citizen of the world. And because he made his North American debut in the province of Quebec and lived in Montreal in the early '70s. For a time, he was also co-owner of the Montreal promotion, and a restaurant in Montreal called Le Picher.
During his heyday, Andre The Giant was likely the second-most recognized citizen of Planet Earth, just behind Muhammad Ali.
He was born Andre Roussimoff in Grenoble, France to parents who were both over six feet tall. He suffered from acromegaly, which means in simple terms, that his growth hormones had gone haywire. His Bulgarian grandfather was a giant of a man, topping out at 7-foot-8. Andre's four siblings are all over six feet tall too.
At age 14, Andre left home measuring 6-foot-3, weighing 200 pounds. He worked moving furniture in Paris until age 17 when some wrestlers discovered him training in a gym. The rest, as they say, is history.
Andre hit the road and, in 1971, arrived in Montreal as Jean Ferre. He was a moderate success around Quebec, but it wasn't until he took on Vincent McMahon Sr. as a booking manager that he became a household name. McMahon realized that Andre The Giant needed to move around from circuit to circuit to make the most of his uniqueness. McMahon explained to Sports Illustrated in the Dec. 21, 1981 issue: "The whole world is his circuit. By making his visits few and far between he never becomes commonplace. Now, wherever he goes the gates are larger than they would be without him. I book him for three visits a year to Japan, two to Australia, two to Europe, and the rest of the time I book him into the major arenas in the U.S. The wrestlers and promoters all want him on their cards because when the Giant comes, everyone makes more money." It was a lesson McMahon's son was to ignore.
Some facts about Andre The Giant:
While it may not be the true highlight of his career, his last great moments came after a heel turn against Hulk Hogan. He eventually beat Hogan for the WWF World Title on a prime-time broadcast on NBC (with the help of Ted 'The Million Dollar Man' DiBiase and twin referees Dave and Earl Hebner). The title change was on the front page of the Toronto Sun the next day.
His match against Hogan at WrestleMania III was probably the highest peak that wrestling ever hit in North America. Hogan was such a star and Andre such a legend that the WWF swam in money after that event. The Silverdome was packed to the rafters -- 93,000 people is the oft-reported number -- and the place erupted when Hogan bodyslammed Andre, and dropped the patented legdrop.
After WMIII, Andre The Giant was never the same, and his deterioration before our eyes was painful to watch. Vince McMahon Jr., ignoring the precedent set by his father, booked Andre almost exclusively in the WWF. His appearances meant less and less. He slipped from a headliner to mid-card wrestler. Soon he couldn't carry solo matches on his own, and became a tag team wrestler.
So when remembering Andre The Giant, bring to mind the feeling you had when you first saw him, maybe even in person. He was a Giant alright, but a gentle Giant. The heel turn gave him a few extra years out of his career, quite similar to Hogan today.
And when remembering Andre The Giant, take to heart his words from the aforementioned Sports Illustrated article. It does the heart good, even knowing that he left us after a heart attack in January 1993
"I have had good fortune. I am grateful for my life. If I were to die tomorrow, 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. I have had everything in life but a family and I hope to have that one day." (He did later have one daughter.)
ANDRE THE GIANT STORIES
I knew him when he weighed 290 pounds or so. When I first got him. Then later on he went up to around 450. He'd be very sentimental. You had to handle him with discretion. If you got ugly with him, rude to him, you'd break his heart. He'd pout all night. A nice, big guy. I don't know how many people could actually whip him, either. You'd have to do a pretty good job just to get him onto the ground. If you hold him down, he could get up and walk off with 'ya. You didn't know where you were. You'd be on his back someplace. And if he got you tied in, and fell back on you, it'd be like a tree on your back.
Stu Hart from a Nov. 1997 interview with SLAM! Wrestling