Had you seen André René Roussimof in person, you might have thought you were staring at a character ripped right from the pages of a fairy tale. The man more commonly known as André the Giant stood at seven feet and four inches tall and weighed about 520 pounds. Still, numbers and descriptions could never truly capture the essence of this larger-than-life legend.
Luckily, numerous photographers chronicled the life of the man they called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Their photographs illustrated not just the sheer size and spectacle that was André the Giant, but also, what it meant to be the pro-wrestler turned entertainer—both the good and the bad.
1. At his largest, André the Giant stood at seven feet and four inches and weighed about 520 pounds. He was a pro-wrestler and an entertainer, but more importantly, he was a man who inspired awe wherever he went.
2. André the Giant had a disease called acromegaly, meaning his pituitary gland produced too much growth hormone. He grew so big that little kids couldn’t help but stare up at him in sheer amazement. Just look at that size difference!
3. By the time he was 12 years old, André the Giant (right) was already six-foot-three and 240 pounds. He grew so fast that his parents didn’t recognize him when he returned home from a five-year stay in Paris, where he lived from the ages of 14 through 19.
4. Even among his fellow wrestlers, André was huge. When he started his pro-wrestling career in Paris at age 17, he was nicknamed “Géant Ferré” after a French folk hero. And over his lifetime, he became the focus of several legends and folk tales himself.
5. André’s persona was shrouded in myth. One legend goes that, when a group of (very dimwitted) men harassed him one evening, he followed them to the parking lot and flipped their car… with all four of them in it.
6. Here, Vincent Kennedy McMahon—now the chairman and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment—interviewed the enormous André ringside. Throughout his career, André was seen as a special attraction in the wrestling world. People paid a lot of money to watch him perform.
7. André almost never lifted weights, yet he still had the superhuman strength necessary to hoist a grown man over his head and toss him out of a wrestling ring like he was Sunday morning trash. Yikes!
8. André the Giant feuded with Big John Studd in the lead-up to pro-wrestling’s first Super Bowl equivalent, Wrestlemania I. Their matches were so much fun for fans that they eventually met in a “Body Slam Challenge” in the main event of that show.
9. One of the most iconic moments in WWF history featured André the Giant showing the people watching at home just how big he was by palming the face of backstage interviewer “Mean” Gene Okurland like a basketball.
10. Given André’s size—and that promoters made sure to make him appear as strong and inhuman as possible—he rarely, if ever, left his feet in the ring. Until Hulk Hogan slammed him in front of 80,000 screaming Hulkamaniacs at Wrestlemania III, that is…
11. André the Giant’s awe-inspiring presence in wrestling earned him attention outside of the squared circle, too. Soon, he was one of the biggest celebrities in the world, posing for photo opportunities with other celebrities like Hulk Hogan (left) and Donald Trump (center).
12. On January 23, 1984, André made his first and only appearance on Late Night, hosted by a young David Letterman. He told Letterman he liked going home to North Carolina when he had time off and so he could “walk in the woods.”
13. In the 1970s and 1980s, André tried his hand at acting. While he may be best known for his role as Fezzik in The Princess Bride, he had 14 acting credits to his name. He made his acting debut in the States playing Bigfoot in an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man.
14. André was on the set of 1984’s Conan the Destroyer, making star Arnold Schwarzenegger look like an oddly puny little kid. In the film, he played Dagoth, a monstrous god of sorts that died by Conan’s sword.
15. In 1976, André the Giant allegedly drank 119 standard 12-ounce beers (the number varies depending on who tells the story) while visiting a pub in Pennsylvania. His hand—see it on the right—just absolutely dwarfed every one of those cans.
16. According to his friends, André drank about 7,000 calories in alcohol per day. But while that may have seemed like an awesome party trick, it actually belied the great torture André felt just navigating everyday life. He drank, in part, to manage his pain.
17. Surgery scars covered André’s knees. There was so much pressure on his lower joints and extremities at all times that the wear-and-tear damage added up. He did what he could to manage that pain with surgeries and the aforementioned drinking.
18. Sadly, because of that pain—caused by constant pressure on his knees and lower back—André struggled to walk in his later years. He rode an ATV just to get around his property. His joints simply couldn’t take his weight much longer.
19. The world just couldn’t accommodate the Eighth Wonder of the World to any level of comfort. This picture showed André coping with minimal space on a 1980 public flight to Japan. He detested flying and driving. It wasn’t hard to see why.
20. At the end of his wrestling career, André could barely function in the ring. During his infamous Wrestlemania III match with Hulk Hogan, Hogan actually had to support his weight and prop him up at points in the match.
21.”There was no level of comfort” for André, said wrestling legend Jerry “The King” Lawler in a documentary focused on André’s life. “It had to be an uncomfortable life.” Even catching a New York City cab looked like an uncomfortable experience for him.
22. “People would not leave him alone,” said another wrestling legend, Ric Flair. He couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized. He couldn’t disguise himself. Truly, André had little opportunity for peace and comfort.
23. Through his pain and discomfort, though, André the Giant never failed to entertain the public with an existence seemingly ripped from the pages of French folklore. He was, even after his death on January 27, 1993, the subject of endless fascination for a public who adored him.
André the Giant was a spectacular figure who attracted attention wherever he went; it brought him fame, but unfortunately, great pain, too. His life is a reminder that even the people we think have it all are only human.
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