Business Wire/WWE
Business Wire/WWE

10 Larger-Than-Life Facts About André the Giant

Business Wire/WWE
Business Wire/WWE

Although a number of professional wrestlers have transcended the squared circle to become worldwide stars—Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Jesse Ventura among them—few have captivated the public quite like André the Giant. Born André Roussimoff in Grenoble, France on May 19, 1946, the towering grappler stood nearly 7 feet tall and weighed over 500 pounds shortly before his death in 1993 due to heart failure.

It’s fitting that André’s mythological proportions have led to a number of myths surrounding his life, from an exaggerated height (he was often billed as 7 feet, 4 inches) to his alleged propensity for drinking hundreds of beers. HBO's new documentary, which just premiered, may resolve some of those urban legends. In the meantime, we’ve sifted through some of the more sensational stories to separate fact from fiction. As it turns out, the Giant’s life needed no embellishment.

1. SAMUEL BECKETT DROVE HIM TO SCHOOL.

In the 1950s, playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett took up residence in Ussy-sur-Marne in France and commissioned local laborers to construct a cottage. The property was just a few hundred yards from the Roussimoff residence and along a stretch of road where Andre and other school children started their walk to class. (There was no bus.) Like many of the kids, Andre would sometimes accept Beckett's invitation to hop on the back of his pick-up truck to get a ride to school. Over the years, the story has been exaggerated to the point where Beckett and Andre are the only occupants in the truck, though it's unlikely Beckett paid him any particular attention. Still, the unlikely pairing has inspired several plays, including the recent Sam & Dede, Or My Dinner with André the Giant.

2. HE GREW SO FAST HIS OWN PARENTS DIDN’T RECOGNIZE HIM.

Andre the Giant is interviewed ringside by Vince McMahon
Business Wire/WWE

When Andre turned 14, he left home to seek employment and opportunities outside the boundaries of his rural farm community in France. At 19, he visited his parents for the first time, having already broken into the professional wrestling business. According to a 1981 Sports Illustrated profile, André had grown so dramatically in the interim, stretching to nearly 7 feet tall, that his parents did not recognize the stranger who knocked on their door. As André explained his career choice, they realized they had even seen him wrestle on television under his alias, Jean Ferré, without ever knowing they had been watching their own son.

3. HE ENJOYED MOVING CARS AS A PRANK.

André’s dimensions were the result of acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland that causes uninhibited growth hormone secretion. Because his body was so generous in its strength, André rarely (if ever) lifted weights for additional power. His resistance training seemed to come in the form of moving his friends' cars around during nights he was out drinking with friends. The smaller vehicles could be easily slid over to tight spaces or turned to face the opposite direction.

4. HIS FINGERS PRESENTED UNIQUE PROBLEMS.

While André’s height and girth proved to be problematic when it came to traveling—most vehicles made for uncomfortable rides that required him to slouch—his hands and fingers posed special challenges. Said to have fingers so large that silver dollars could pass through his rings, André could never use a conventional rotary phone without sticking a pencil in the dial; learning to play the piano was also out of the question, since one finger would strike three keys at once.

5. HE HAD FUN FARTING ON OPPONENTS.

Andre the Giant poses with several models
Business Wire/WWE

By most accounts, André was a jovial giant, content to play cards, socialize, and enjoy all the food and drink his success afforded him. During matches, he amused himself by stepping on an opponent’s long hair or wringing the sweat from his singlet into their face. In one bout, Jake “The Snake” Roberts recalled that André waited until Roberts was on the mat before he squatted down and unleashed his flatulence. “This went on for like 30 seconds,” Roberts said. "Giants fart for extremely long periods of time."

6. HE LOVED QVC.

When he wasn’t traveling for his wrestling engagements, André largely kept to himself in his North Carolina ranch home, which featured a tree growing through the middle of each of its three stories. Because shopping could be a cumbersome experience, Andre grew fond of QVC, the home shopping channel that had launched in 1986. His friends recalled that André bought several steam cleaners and lots of porcelain butterflies from the channel.

7. RELATIVELY SPEAKING, HE WAS NOT AN EXCESSIVE DRINKER.

Nothing pours fuel on an André story quite like alcohol, with the Giant allegedly consuming over 100 beers in a single sitting. But most of his colleagues report that alcohol had surprisingly little effect on him, with no hangovers or slurred speech affecting his wrestling duties. There were only a handful of exceptions. According to Cary Elwes, his co-star in the 1987 film The Princess Bride, André once drank enough to pass out in a hotel lobby. Since it was impossible to move him, hotel employees arranged a velvet rope around his slumbering frame so he wouldn’t be disturbed. 

8. HE WORE A BACK BRACE UNDER HIS SINGLET.

Andre the Giant poses for a publicity photo in his singlet
Business Wire/WWE

As years of wrestling and his acromegaly condition conspired to affect his health, André underwent spinal surgery in late 1986. When he returned to wrestling, his signature black singlet helped hide a back brace that provided support for his ailing frame. His physical condition was reportedly so diminished at this point that André spent his remaining years in wrestling in pain and able to perform only basic maneuvers. According to his peers, some of Andre's most famous matches—like the bout with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III in 1987—were nowhere near what he had been able to do earlier in his career.

9. BABY OIL REALLY ANNOYED HIM.

For reasons known only to André, his genial demeanor didn’t apply to opponents in the ring who would use baby oil to make their muscles stand out more. André reportedly despised baby oil, and extended that enmity to “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who was disliked by the Giant simply because he used a lot of the stuff while wrestling. “André hated baby oil," Randy’s brother, Larry Poffo, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2017. “But Randy wouldn't stop wearing it. He stubbornly said 'André's gimmick is being a giant and mine is baby oil.' He never backed down from André and they never got along because of it."

10. HE PROBABLY WASN’T AS TALL AS YOU THINK.

Because wrestling is prone to exaggerating size, ability, and accomplishments, it didn’t take much for promoters to latch on to the idea of promoting André as the largest athlete on the planet. From his earliest matches in Montreal, he was billed as being 7 feet, 4 inches tall, enough to exceed the towering Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by two inches. But when André’s height was measured at the age of 24 in 1970, he stood exactly 6 feet, 9 and ¾ inches.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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