The Tragic Life Of Andre The Giant

Many times when someone prominent passes away, people will posthumously praise that person as a "giant among men" — well, if they are male, that is ("giantess among women" isn't considered quite so flattering). Few, however, fit the accolade so well as the late André René Roussimoff, a Frenchman who literally towered above his peers at a colossal 7'4. Possibly there was a bit of hyperbole going (as per The Cold Wire, he may have been a mere 7'2), but you'd still get a crick in your neck trying to look him in the eye without a telescope. Not only was Andre the Giant outsized in body, but his personality, too, was larger than life.

Looking back on the life of one of wrestling's most beloved big men, you'd be hard put not to smile at some of his more outrageous antics such as car-tipping and farting on his opponents, but there's also a shadow that hangs over him. By now we all know his story's sad ending with him dying at only 46 years old. (If you're young enough to question the word "only," we'd like to point that Rey Mysterio and Edge are pushing 50, Chris Jericho's already hit the half-century mark, and Sting is over 60.) Even sadder than Andre's early death, however, is the fact that the very condition that made him a super-sized superstar was slowly and painfully killing him throughout much of his short life.

He was huge even as a child

André René Roussimoff was a sizable young fellow, even as un bébé — as the Orlando Sentinel notes, he was said to have a birth weight of 13 pounds. As Andre shared in a TV interview back in the '70s, his parents weren't outsized. His mom was just 5'2 and his dad a foot taller, but he did say his grandfather may have stood 7'8. As young Andre entered his teens, though, that's when his growth spurt really kicked in and he hit 6'6 before he was 16.

The reason for his growth wasn't just due to heredity, though, nor was it something he ate. Instead, he has a medical condition called gigantism. As the Mayo Clinic explains, the cause is an overactive pituitary gland that supplies way too much growth hormone in childhood. While many accounts speak of Andre's acromegaly, this related condition occurs when too much growth hormone is released in adulthood and in this case will only result in outsize hands, feet, and facial features rather then increased height. While gigantism is relatively rare, Andre the Giant isn't the only pro wrestler with this condition — Omos, who stands 7'3 and is another of the tallest wrestlers ever to enter the ring, has also been diagnosed with this disorder.

Nothing was made to fit him

One thing we've often wondered is, how did Andre the Giant ever find anything that would fit him? His outsize clothing woes have even become the punchline for a word jumble puzzle: "At 7'4" tall and 500 pounds, clothes shopping for Andre the Giant was a ..." (Answer: "Sizable problem.") While we don't know his exact clothes size, The Sportster says he wore a size 26 shoe and it seems likely that he must have had most of his clothing custom-made.

Clothes weren't the only thing that didn't fit the Giant, though. Biography relates how he had to use a pencil to dial a phone, while Bleacher Report says his North Carolina ranch was customized with high ceilings and extra-large furniture. The Selvedge Yard tells how he also commissioned a Lincoln Continental where the front seat was situated where a normal back seat might be in order to provide leg room. Prior to this purchase, he traveled in a special trailer built to accommodate him, since he couldn't be comfortable in any normal-sized car or on a plane. When he was forced to fly, he couldn't fit into those tiny airplane bathrooms so he had to use a bucket to empty his bladder. 

Andre could drink anyone under the table

Outside of the ring, the one area in which Andre the Giant achieved near-legendary status was his gargantuan capacity for booze. At a quarter ton or so, it would take nearly a dozen beers to put him at the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle, not that he was really counting. In fact, as Hulk Hogan shared with CBS, the Giant once put away 108 beers in 45 minutes. Gerald Brisco told the Tampa Bay Times how his extra-large friend regularly polished off six bottles of wine before each match and once knocked back two cases of tall boys en route from Sarasota to Tampa.

Haku once spoke to the "In The Room" podcast (via Listen Notes) about drinking with the Giant, something that was no spectator sport but more of a Last Man Standing match (that last man always being Andre). As the retired wrestler describes the ordeal, "If he drank 16 beers, you had to drink 16 beers with him. If he drank two or three cases, you had to drink two or three cases with him." Cary Elwes, however, shares a different perspective on his "Princess Bride" co-star's boozing, telling Vanity Fair that "Andre didn't drink for the sake of drinking — Andre was in a lot of pain, God bless him ... the only way that he could deal with the pain was to drink alcohol."

His non-marriage didn't work out

What with Andre guzzling bathtubs full of booze night after night, it comes as no surprise to find that his brief foray into domesticity didn't really pan out too well. He and Jean Christensen, a former model-turned-publicist, were together for a short while, although it's unclear whether they ever married. Some sources say that the two actually did go through some sort of marriage ceremony, although they never actually registered their supposedly solemnized vows with the proper authorities, but it's also possible there was never any marriage at all.

Married or not, it seems the twosome had split up by the time their daughter was born — a daughter that came as a surprise to both of them. Jean spoke to a TV reporter in the early '90s, and she revealed that she thought her extra-large beau was sterile. At first Andre didn't even want to acknowledge the child as his and had to be compelled to take a blood test to prove it. Eventually he agreed to pay Jean $750 a month in child support, a sum that was eventually upped to $1,000. For context as to his earnings, Drunkard reports that he racked up a $40,000 hotel bar tab in a single month while filming "The Princess Bride."

Andre barely knew his daughter

In addition to being less than generous with his financial support, Andre hardly ever spent much time with his daughter Robin, either. Jean Christensen has said that by the time Robin was 12, he'd met up with his only child a grand total of 4 times, telling a TV reporter, "He has seen her once as an infant, he saw her when she was about 18 months old, he saw her again when she was four, and he saw her again in November of '91 for five minutes."

12-year-old Robin herself said of her dad, "He's like kind of a stranger in a way ... It's like he's my dad, but he isn't, you know?" The adult Robin has admitted to having mixed feelings about her famous father. She did try to learn more about him from some of his fellow wrestlers, but as she told CBS Sports in 2015, "If you're not part of the industry then it's really hard to get them to talk." (They were, after all, old school guys from the all-kayfabe, all the time era.) She admits, though, that "Maybe had he lived longer, I might have had a closer relationship with him" (via The Post and Courier). Andre, on his part, did not forgot about her, and he provided quite generously for her in his will. Even today, Robin Christensen-Roussimoff receives a cut of the proceeds from sales of his merch.

He struggled with chronic pain

Whether due to his size or to the bumps he took over 20+ years as a wrestler, by the time Andre was reaching the end of his career he was in so much pain he was barely able to move. By the late '80s, there were times he needed to use tag-team partner Ted DiBiase almost as a crutch to support him as we walked out to the ring. Opponents like Jake Roberts would help him out as well — in an interview with CBS Sports, Roberts said "it was really hard for him to get up and down ... I never knocked him on his ass unless it was near the ropes. That way he could pull himself up."

To make matters worse, Andre really wasn't one to seek medical care, although he did consent to undergo back surgery in 1986. As Dave Meltzer told The Detroit News, "It was a famous surgery where they had to get new tools because the tools you'd use on normal human beings wouldn't work for him." Even afterwards, the pain didn't let up much, but the Giant refused to treat it in any doctor-approved fashion. As DiBiase recalls to CBS Sports, "He hated pills, medicine, and painkillers and stuff, because he saw what it was doing to other guys." Instead, the Million Dollar Man confirmed what Cary Elwes had previously observed: "The way Andre killed his pain and medicated himself was with booze."

He could have been a movie star

Several wrestlers have gone on to be as successful on the silver screen as they were in the squared circle — Batista, for one seems to be carving out a decent career as a movie heel, while, go figure, it turns out you actually can see John Cena in his very visible movie roles. The Rock, of course, is by this point better known by the general public as an actor who used to wrestle than a wrestler who now acts. Could Andre the Giant, had he lived longer, joined the ranks of wrestlers-turned-movie stars? His show-stealing star turn in 1987's "The Princess Bride" indicates that he might well have done so.

While the IMDb resume for André René Roussimoff, actor, is heavy on WWE productions, he did have a few cameos in shows like '70s hit "The Six Million Dollar Man" and '70s not-such-a-hit "B.J. and the Bear." The one role he'll forever be remembered by, however, is that of Fezzik, the humongous heel with a heart of gold. While Fezzik may not have been meant to be the real star of "The Princess Bride" — wasn't there some kind of love story central to the plot? — he's by far the most lovable character and has all the best lines.

His wrestling career was cut short

Andre's last match, as per Biography, took place in Japan in December of 1992. Earlier that year, he'd made a final WWE appearance outside the ring at Clash of the Champions XX. Since he died in January of 1993, he did, in fact, extend his career right up to the end of his life. His actual days as a competitive wrestler with any kind of ring moves, however, were far behind him. When Gorilla Monsoon described his WrestleMania main event clash with Hulk Hogan as "The irresistible force meeting the immovable object" (via CBS Sports), it was true in a very tragic sense as the Giant could barely move himself by that time. In Dave Meltzer's book "Tributes II: Remembering More of the World's Greatest Professional Wrestlers," he says Andre had to wear a back brace and was almost without feeling below his knees.

The saddest part is, Andre the Giant quite literally sacrificed his health and even his life for the sake of his career. As the HBO documentary "Andre the Giant" (via the Hollywood Reporter) depicts, he refused to seek treatment for the gigantism that caused so many health problems as he felt that the treatment might cut short his career. Instead, it was the lack of treatment that did so. When Andre wrestled his last match, he was just 46 years old, an age that wouldn't even get him close to the being one of WWE's oldest wrestlers.

He and Vince McMahon didn't always see eye-to-eye

WWE as an organization holds Andre the Giant in the highest esteem — he was the first Hall of Fame inductee and he's the eponym of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale, as well as the model for its extra-large golden trophy. Vince McMahon, too, has had nothing but praise for the late superstar, calling him "A titan of stature, strength, athleticism, and heart" in a tweet for what would have been Andre's 75th birthday. The early days of their relationship, however, were a little rocky. As wrestling historian Pat Laprade explains on the "Talk is Jericho" podcast (via WrestlingNews.co) the Eighth Wonder of the World liked the way the way Vince Sr. ran things as he got to wrestle all over the world. When Vince Jr. took over, he was mostly stuck stateside and wasn't too happy about it.

While Andre eventually seemed to accustom himself to the new regime, Vince McMahon himself admits that their relationship headed south once more during the final days of the Giant's career. In the HBO documentary "Andre the Giant," McMahon revealed "Andre, more or less, wanted to blame me and resented me a bit because he knew the [sports entertainment] business was going on without him." Sadly, he admitted "No longer when I was in André's presence was it a warm admiration that we had for each other. It wasn't there."

His last trip home was for his dad's funeral

In January of 1993, as Uproxx tells the story, Andre got a phone call from his family back in France informing him that his elderly father was in poor health and didn't have much longer to live. The Giant forced himself to squeeze into a plane seat one last time for that long flight back to France and shortly thereafter he attended his father's funeral.

Once the funeral was over, the Giant decided to stick around for a while to visit with family, plus his mom had a birthday coming up on the 24th and he wanted to stay for the celebration. Jackie McAuley, former wife of his close friend Frenchy Bernard, told CBS Sports, "I saw pictures of him at his mother's birthday party and I was shocked. His skin was gray and powdery and his eyes were so deep." By this point, Andre only had a few days left to live.

Andre the Giant died just as he'd feared he would

On the last day of his life, as per Uproxx, Andre spent the day with his friends and family in his hometown of Molien, then returned to his Paris hotel room that evening where he lay down in bed and never woke up again. Two days after his mother's birthday, he quietly passed away in his sleep of congestive heart failure. Eerily enough, his friends say this is exactly what the Giant had been dreading all these years. His friend Paul "The Butcher" Vachon recalled to Bleacher Report that the reason Andre liked to party all night was because "He never wanted to go to sleep."

The big man's passing may have been peaceful, but his funeral arrangements were a bit tricky. He'd wanted to be cremated, but there were no facilities in France capable of handling a body of his size. Andre's friend Jackie McAuley told CBS Sports that she flew out to retrieve his body and accompany him home, with the Giant riding in a jumbo-sized custom casket that she thinks may now be owned by WWE. Andre himself was cremated, with his ashes weighing in at 17 pounds. The considerable amount of cremains was then scattered over the grounds of his North Carolina ranch by former wrestler and referee Frenchy Bernard, who was mounted on one of the resident horses.

He shares his final resting place with another wrestler

Sadly enough, the AFJ ranch — the Star News states that the "A" was for Andre, the ""F" for Frenchy (Bernard), and the "J" for Jackie (McAuley) — is the site where yet another wrestler's funeral took place some 17 years after the Giant's. Luna Vachon, a star of the Attitude Era, died of a drug overdose in 2010 and Wrestling Edge says her ashes were also scattered over the grounds of the Ellerbee, North Carolina ranch.

The reason why Luna and Andre's ashes are commingled in death is because in life they'd been very close in a father-goddaughter kind of way. Her adoptive father was Paul "The Butcher" Vachon, and in an interview with SLAM! Wrestling, Luna recounted how her father's friendly giant of a friend once took her on a trip to Paris. Andre did, however, try to dissuade her from a career in the squared circle, telling her that wrestling was "not good for ladies." Vachon wasn't having any of it, though, as she told him "I'm going to make it different for women." Unfortunately, the original anti-diva may have been a bit ahead of her time, but we feel sure the Giant would have been very proud of her if he'd lived long enough to see her sign on with WWE.

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