André: A Giant among Men
André René Roussimoff was born on May 19th, 1946 in Grenoble, France. As a child, it was clear to André’s parents that he was suffering from Gigantism. At the age of twelve, he was already six feet, three inches tall and he weighed two hundred and forty pounds.
That’s insane. Can you imagine having a twelve-year-old kid who towers above not just you, but everyone? He was so big he couldn’t fit on the school bus. He was driven to school every morning by future Nobel Prize winning playwright Samuel Beckett. Upon recalling the drives, André said they never talked about much more than the sport of cricket. I’m not even into his teenage years and André’s life is already fascinating.
At the age of seventeen, André moved to Paris and was recruited by a wrestling promoter there who saw the advantage of his massive size. He worked as a mover during the day to pay living expenses. From then on, the storyline father of Paul Wight’s WCW character, The Giant made his name as a monster, traveling all over Europe and eventually making his way to Japan. He wrestled there under the incredibly appropriate name Monster Roussimoff. All it took for André to capture people’s imaginations was for him to show up. Just a glimpse of the man was enough. Picture him in Japan, a place where almost every single citizen would have to look up to him.
It was this massive size that caught Vince McMahon Sr.’s attention, leading to him bringing André over to the World Wide Wrestling Federation. He debuted on March 26th, 1973 at Madison Square Garden. He was the fan-favorite and beat Buddy Wolfe. It was during this time that The Giant began to get over as one of the top baby faces in the world, not just the WWWF. Gorilla Monsoon, in response to this, began to push André as undefeated. It wasn’t true, but it helped sell him as a constant threat, not just a gigantic dude who you could probably duck and dodge long enough to tire out.
NOTE: I am by NO MEANS claiming I could accomplish that. André The Giant would have torn me to piece in a physical altercation, because I would’ve frozen right the f—k up at an angry André coming at me with malice at heart.
One of the most legendary wrestling spectacles was Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki, which I will cover in depth in time. How could I not? It was one of the greatest wrestlers ever versus, arguably, the greatest boxer to step foot inside a ring. However, on the undercard that night was André vs. the inspiration for Rocky Balboa, Chuck Wepner. Chuck and André went for a while, eventually ending when the massive Frenchman picked real-life Balboa up and tossed him over the top rope. It was a wild, unscripted fight between two very tough men.
In 1982, Vince Sr. sold his company to his son, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, who in turn changed the name to the WWF. A bigger part of the younger McMahon’s plan was requiring his wrestlers to appear exclusively for him; effectively going against everything the wrestling world had been about. Before then, it was a boys club, where a bunch of dudes sat together at a table and decided, by committee, what they could do to keep their pockets lined. After Vince, it became a world fit for visionaries. Thankfully, VKM (the language of the lazy, means Vincent Kennedy McMahon; will save me time in the future) knew the importance of cross promotion and continued to allow André to work in Japan with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
It made André a worldwide icon. Think about it. There are not really many places you can go where people won’t know the name André The Giant. His image was used in a street art campaign based on a design by Shepherd Fairley in 1989. It started among the skater communities on stickers and just spread, with stickers showing up all across our Fifty United States. I love the design, myself, and I really love what it did to his legacy. It brought André The Giant to a generation of kids who really wouldn’t have had much exposure to him, otherwise.
André Roussimoff died on January 27th, 1993 in a Paris hotel room. It’s comforting to know that he died in his sleep. His legendarily big and warm heart finally gave out on him. He’s left behind a legacy of universal appeal. Tales of his Gigantism have become legend for my generation, discussed amongst many a drunken frat boy the world over.