WWE legend Andre The Giant drank 106 beers in just 45 MINUTES and had a remarkable but tormented life outside the ring – The Sun
IN THE RING, it was like watching the Incredible Hulk himself, albeit without the green hue.
Huge, bulking chest, tight pants and a gargantuan strength that saw wrestler after wrestler flattened to the ground or flung over the top of ropes, each of them crying out for mercy as they tried – and invariably failed – to land him a blow.
Yes, in the days before The Rock, John Cena and Hulk Hogan, there was a wrestling superstar that towered above all his opponents and dominated the world of wrestling in a way that no one has quite achieved since – his name was André the Giant.
But a HBO documentary about his career softened even the hardest of hearts as it revealed the tortured side to the life of this legendary 7ft 4in, 520lb wrestling superstar, originally called André René Roussimoff.
Born on a farm in the small village of Molien in the French Alps, André started growing abnormally large at the age of 16, though he was never taken to a doctor, and decided to make use of his natural talents "to be something and make money."
At his size, a career in pro-wrestling was inevitable, and he was soon travelling the world as The Friendly French Giant, Jean Ferré, drawing crowds of up to 4,000 people at least three nights a week, everyone happy to pay to see this gigantic mammoth of a boy defeat his opposing wrestlers as a horse swats a flea.
Eventually he cracked North America and was dubbed by wrestling commentators as the "Eighth Wonder of the World" and "a God" and invited onto guest shows as André the Giant so people could marvel at his unique physical shape.
The vast hands that made a can of fizzy drink look like it was plucked from a children’s toy box, the size 24 boots that elicited innuendos about his sexual prowess and the strength that had him lifting 200lb weights without breaking into a sweat.
In the ring, he was just as awesome.
He’d famously throw 19 wrestlers over the top rope in a multi-competitor Battle Royal with the last wrestler trembling and begging for mercy.
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He pulled in crowds everywhere he went, earning a fortune, becoming the only undefeated superstar in pro-wrestling.
Hulk Hogan, an up and coming wrestler at the time, was in awe. "He had great emotion, energy and drama," he tells the documentary maker. "There was something magical about him."
Hogan became a friend as well as fan and talked of André’s kindness offstage, taking care of all the performers he worked with and trying not to hurt them.
But to those wrestlers he didn’t like – such as Randy Savage – he was less kind, happily humiliating him in the ring by sitting on his head or pulling his hair.
"He was strong and bigger than all of us," recalls Hogan. "He kept everyone in line."
His notoriety in the wrestling ring crossed over into other areas of entertainment.
He had a starring role in The Six Million Dollar Man, was a guest on Late Night With David Letterman and became friends with another beefcake, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who spoke of them going out for dinner one night and André grabbing the not-so-small star and lifting him up "like a doll" when Schwarzenegger insisted on paying. "It just showed how strong he was," recalls the actor.
But it wasn’t just André’s size that was legendary.
Friends called him one of the greatest drinkers who ever lived, with him reportedly getting through 106 beers in one night, having a case of wine delivered before a match and easily downing four bottles of wine, 25 beers and a handful of mixer drinks on average after it was over.
In the documentary, fellow WWE wrestler Pat Patterson recalls taking André back to his hotel one night after a big session, and the giant collapsing into a heap by the hotel lift where he then had to sleep the entire night because no one could move him.
What is gigantism?
Gigantism and acromegaly are both conditions that affect the pituitary gland – a pea-sized gland in your brain.
They aren't the same disease but are both linked to a surge in the growth hormone, produced by the pea-size "master gland".
Both are caused by a benign – non cancerous – tumour on the pituitary gland.
Acromegaly is rare and tends to happen between the ages of 30 and 50 – after normal bone growth has stopped.
It's caused by an overproduction of the growth hormone, but because growth plates fuse after puberty, it doesn't cause sufferers to be abnormally tall.
But if it happens before this time, around 15 to 17 it can lead to gigantism.
The surge in the growth hormone causes bones to grow longer, causing abnormal growth spurts, and sufferers to be very tall. Acromegaly is very rare with around four to six new cases per million people every year. Early signs include tiredness and swelling of the hands and feet.
Other signs include: enlarged lips and tongue, deeper voices, thicker, coarse, oily skin, aching joints, excessive sweating, loss or lack of libido, erectile dysfunction in men, abnormal menstrual cycles and nipple discharge in women and headaches.
Sufferers will be prone to serious long-term health conditions, and as a result tend to have shorter life expectancy – dying up to ten years earlier than their peers.
They include: high blood pressure, diabetes, adult onset of type 1 or type 2, heart disease and cancer
To find out more visit The Pituitary Foundation
Tim White, his WWE handler, spoke of André’s childish sense of humour and his love of farting: "He’d lift his leg and it sounded like a deep roar. Big man, big fart."
André became the stuff of legends. People said he had 82 teeth and one of his rings could fit around a normal person’s wrist. Women loved him, drawn to him like a magnet.
But behind the fame, smiles and bravado, there was different, sadder story. André was a man in pain, his size causing him to live a very uncomfortable life and the drinking simply his way of masquerading it.
He was always travelling – spending $67,000 in aeroplane tickets in just one year alone – but no hotel bed, car or aeroplane seat was ever big enough and he couldn’t fit into the bathroom on a plane, having to relieve himself into a bucket behind a curtain on long-haul flights.
He had a daughter too, but his lifestyle meant he rarely saw her and was absent as a father.
His size also precluded him from a disguise so everywhere he went people would recognise him, some making fun of him and calling him a freak of nature and others bugging him for his autograph or to compare their hand to his.
"I wish I could be you for one weekend," he once told his handler, Tim, obviously tiring of his celebrity.
An ankle injury led to his first visit to a doctor – Dr Harris Yett – who could see, by the shape of his forehead and size, that André was suffering from acromegaly or giantism and would be lucky to live until he was 40.
André refused to be helped medically, resigned to his fate, claiming God made him the way he was and no one should intervene.
He went onto star as Fezzik in The Princess Bride, with the director Rob Reiner very happy with the casting: "I didn’t understand a single word he said but he was perfect for the part. He was a giant."
His co-stars were also impressed, Robin Wright noting, "the size of his hands were startling" and Billy Crystal saying there was a poetry about André, who spoke often about his ranch in North Carolina where he could be himself and no one looked twice at him.
The giant was suffering, though.
He drank on set because he was in pain – reportedly 20 bottles of wine by 9am – and in one scene where Robin Wright was meant to fall into his arms from a great height, invisible cables had to be used to bear her weight as Andre didn’t have the strength to catch her.
After Wrestlemania III in March 1987, when Hulk Hogan famously defeated him in a scripted fight, André’s physical health deteriorated and his career ended.
He disappeared from public sight and in 1993, at the age of 46, he was found dead in a hotel room in Paris from a suspected heart attack, his short – but incredible – life over.
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