Andre Rene Rousimoff was born in France in 1946. Andre suffered from a growth hormone disorder known as acromegaly. By his teens, Andre was well over six feet tall. He left school to enter the world of professional wrestling.
Andre was trained by the legendary Edouard Carpentier and Frank Valois. It was Vince McMahon, Sr. who first called Andre by his ring name of Andre the Giant. Andre worked the European corridor before coming to the United States in the late 1960’s.
History of Andre: The Journeyman Giant
Before wrestling became the worldwide entity it is today, wrestling was regionalized. The U.S. was divided into numerous “territories” who would have their own base talent and would from time to time employ “free agents” who plied their trade in multiple territories. Andre was the most requested “free agent” of his time.
Andre was one of the highest paid wrestlers of that era. He was a unique entity that was guaranteed to draw crowds. Kids loved the big man and Andre almost always portrayed the gentle giant that adored small children and elderly people. Andre would only fight when necessary. His arsenal of moves was quite limited, but he didn’t need a slew of moves. His size was his biggest weapon. Andre’s height has always been questioned. The WWE claimed that he was 7’4″ tall. Other promotions claimed that Andre’s height ranged from 6’10” up to 7’8″ tall. His weight also varied. Andre was billed as being between 310 and 550 pounds. While his physical size may have been exaggerated for marketing purposes, Andre’s ability in the ring were never questioned. Andre possessed great strength and, early on, amazing agility. Andre rarely lost a match during his journeyman days. On the rare occasions when he lost, it was almost always due to a cheating opponent. Andre would soon return to avenge the injustice. The crowd loved Andre.
By the mid 1980’s, wrestling had begun to change. The emergence of cable TV made wrestling available to the entire country at once. Vince McMahon came to Andre and offered him a lucrative offer to have him work for the then-WWF. Andre had worked for the McMahon in the past. In 1973, Andre first entered the WWE as a competitor. His first opponent was Buddy Wolfe. Over the next 19 years, Andre would face every heel (bad guy) in the federation and quite a few of the faces (good guys) after his heel turn in 1987.
By 1987, Hulk Hogan had held the world title for over 3 years. Hogan needed to face someone who could dominate him and end his first title run. Andre squared off against Hulk Hogan in the main event of Wrestlemania III. Andre actually pinned Hogan in the match, but the referee made a bad call. The crowd erupted with anger. Many in the crowd wanted to see Hogan knocked off his position as champ. Sadly, Andre would end up on the losing end of that match. Revenge would be sweet for Andre on February 5, 1988. Andre finally beat Hogan for the belt after months of trying. Sadly, Andre (by story design) made a foolish choice and sold the championship belt to Ted DiBiase. WWF president Jack Tunney said that the selling of a championship belt was not allowed and that Andre had forfeited the belt by relinquishing it. Since Andre accepted DiBiase’s offer within seconds of winning the title, Andre still holds the dubious honor of “shortest title reign in WWE history”. Even the rapidly changing Hardcore title never changed hands as fast as Andre’s loss of the WWE title.
Over the next 3 years, Andre would have one more championship run, as 1/2 of the tag team champions. The Colossal Connection teamed Andre with Haku. The two men unseated Demolition on December 13, 1989. The match wasn’t shown on WWF TV until December 30th. This pairing was done to try and extend Andre’s wrestling career. Andre’s health had started to fail and Vince McMahon wanted to use Andre for as long as possible.
Andre would be given a final run as a face, thanks to Haku and manager, Bobby Heenan’s, attacking Andre following the loss of the tag belts at Wrestlemania VI. Andre was scheduled to feud with Haku and the other members of the Heenan family, but he was unable to continue in the ring. He retired in 1991 and made only one other appearance, at a WCW Clash of the Champions show in 1992.
Andre’s first foray into acting came in 1968 in a French film called Casse Tete Chinois Pour Un Judoka. It was a small role in the film, but Andre knew that he wanted to do more acting.
His next run at acting would come with a two-episode arc on the Six Million Dollar Man. Andre played a sasquatch. These two episodes would lead to several TV guest spots over the next few years. He usually portrayed non-speaking monsters, due to the difficulty that most people had understanding him. He showed up on BJ and the Bear and the Greatest American Hero.
Andre’s second big screen acting role came as an uncredited Dagoth character in the 1984 sequel to Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer. Later that year, Andre would portray Dudley Moore’s acquaintance in Micki and Maude. In 1985, Andre would appear in the film, I Like to Hurt People. He would take a 2 year break from acting to focus on wrestling before taking his most famous role.
In 1987, Andre was cast as the giant, Fezzik, in The Princess Bride. Reports from the set claim that Andre was a wonderful person to work with. He would receive praise from the reviewers for his performance.
Following The Princess Bride, Andre focused totally on his wrestling career.
After retiring from wrestling, due to his declining health, Andre accepted a part in the film, Trading Mom. In his last film, Andre came full circle. He had begun his career as a wrestling giant in the carnivals of Europe. In Trading Mom, he played a circus giant. The film was released after his death.
Passing on and passing the torch
Andre’s father died in January of 1993. Andre returned to France for his father’s funeral. On the following morning, January 27,1993, Andre was found dead by his driver. Andre’s official cause of death was congestive heart failure. The heart problems that Andre suffered were a by-product of his acromegaly. Andre’s body was returned to the United States for cremation. Because of his large size, no funeral parlor in France was able to perform the cremation. Once cremated, Andre’s ashes was scattered, per his request, on his farm in North Carolina.
Later that year, Vince McMahon created the WWF/E Hall of Fame so that he could honor the man who had done so much for the business.
In 1995, Paul Wight began wrestling in WCW. His original character, The Giant, was a tribute to Andre. In fact, Paul’s first storyline had him portraying the son of Andre, which he wasn’t. Paul attacked Hulk Hogan, claiming the Hogan had “killed his father”. The angle was quickly dropped after requests from the family of Andre. Wight wore a black singlet wrestling outfit for many years, to pay tribute to his idol.
The Great Khali character is also somewhat of a tribute character to Andre. The chops that Khali uses are very similar to those used by Andre. Andre would often uses translators during interviews, as does Khali.
Interesting facts about Andre
- Andre is the shortest reigning champion: approximately 5 seconds.
- Andre was the first WWE Hall of Fame inductee.
Andre was the first wrestler to utilize the Tombstone Pile-driver.
- Andre has a daughter, born in 1979, who lives near Seattle, Washington.
- Andre would not attend plays or films because he had difficulty fitting into the seats and felt his size would prevent others from seeing.
Andre the Giant is still, to this day, the most popular wrestler of all time. He eclipses even Hulk Hogan. The Gentle Giant was generous to a fault and was always willing to help a charity, if needed. While his arsenal of moves was limited, Andre created exciting everywhere he went.
Close to 15 years after his death, there are still several web site dedicated entirely to Andre. While there are many legends in wrestling, none will ever achieve the level of fame that Andre the Giant did. He is a legend’s legend.