You know Andre the Giant from his wildly successful wrestling career or, let’s be honest, solely but extremely memorably from The Princess Bride. Underneath all 500-plus lbs. of muscle, though, America’s favorite fighting Frenchman was just Andre Roussimoff, a lonely guy with chronic pain, a childhood acquaintanceship with a famous playwright, and a love of the Home Shopping Network.

He Was Befriended By Samuel Beckett As a Child

Samuel Beckett

(Bibliothèque nationale de France/Wikimedia Commons)

Wrestling and theater may have more in common than they appear, but it’s still rare that the two worlds collide, which is what happened after the Irish playwright moved to the tiny French village where Roussimoff lived in the ‘50s and Roussimoff’s father helped him build his cottage. After Beckett learned that the 12-year-old Roussimoff had to walk to school because, already more than six feet tall and 200 lbs., he couldn’t fit in the family car, Beckett volunteered to drive him in his truck. Even then, they didn’t have much in common -- Roussimoff said they almost never talked about anything besides cricket.

He Was Too Big for the Army

French Army headquarters

(Guilhem Vellut/Wikimedia Commons)

When Roussimoff was 18, it was mandatory for young men to enlist in the army in France, so even though he was already on his way to a successful wrestling career, he did his duty. He was turned away, however, and not for any medical reason. They simply didn’t have any uniforms that would fit him and apparently couldn’t get any made? Had the French army not been such cheapasses, the world could have been very different.

He Probably Wasn’t as Tall as You Think

According to the WWE, Roussimoff was a staggering 7’4, but they’re an organization whose sole purpose is to fake stuff. In reality, Roussimoff was actually a hair shy of 6’10. So, you know, still not a guy you wanna try to dunk on.

He Refused Medical Treatment

For about half his life, Roussimoff’s size was a mystery, but after he was diagnosed with acromegaly in the ‘70s, he refused treatment because he was afraid of losing his strength in the ring, even though his baffled and exasperated doctors warned him it would mean he would likely die by 40. By his mid-thirties, he started having breathing problems due to fluid buildup around his heart, and even then, his friends had to drag him to the hospital, if emphatically metaphorically.

He Was Constantly in Pain

Acromegaly isn’t a fun condition, party tricks notwithstanding. Joints are joints, no matter how big they are, and carrying all that weight left Roussimoff in constant knee, back, and neck pain, on top of all the standard health risks of enlarged organs. By the time he wrestled his final match, he could barely stand, relying on the ropes and his opponents to hold him up. That’s part of the reason why… 

His Drinking Was Literally Legendary

Beer

(Jon Parry/Unsplash)

Roussimoff was wary of pain medication, so he self-medicated with booze -- a lot of it. A 12-pack for him was like a dainty sip for you. By his own admission, his record was 119 beers in a single sitting, but others remember witnessing him throw down up to 156. His Princess Bride co-stars filmed most of the movie hungover after trying to keep up with him, and according to Cary Elwes, he once passed out in a hotel lobby, where employees simply placed a velvet rope around him because they couldn’t move him.

He Was a Prankster

Cars parked on grass

(Christian Wiediger/Unsplash)

Discovering he was strong enough to move small cars was a big day for Roussimoff, though not for any practical reason. From then on, he amused himself by moving his friends’ cars when they weren’t paying attention, “placing them in a small space between a lamppost and a building, or turning them around to face the other way.” He also enjoyed getting his opponents to break character by farting on them and stepping on their hair and asking why they weren’t getting up.

He Was a Lonely Guy

Roussimoff on the late '80s

(John McKeon/Wikimedia Commons)

Despite his fun-loving and generous nature, Roussimoff was suspicious of anyone who wanted to be his friend because so many people used him for his fame and money, so he didn’t have very many. He disliked going out in public because people stared at or were frightened of him (and besides, you try maneuvering around a Walmart built for people half your size), and children often screamed and ran away at the sight of him, which was always disappointing because he loved children. He was so overjoyed to find out about QVC and other home shopping channels, which allowed him to shop without being seen, that he started buying everything “from Green Machine carpet steamers to porcelain butterfly sets from the Franklin Mint.”

He Had a Daughter (He Didn’t See)

Although his condition reportedly left Roussimoff without much of a sex drive, he did have a child with a woman in the wrestling industry in the ‘70s, though his relationship with the mother was so tense that he decided it was better for everyone if he wasn’t a physical presence in his daughter’s life. It was his deepest regret, and when he died, he left almost all of his money to his daughter, who has “mixed emotions” about her famous father these days.

He Died Just After His Father’s Funeral

Roussimoff was in impressive shape at the age of 46, meaning he was alive at all. He was in terrible health, but he was well enough to fly to Paris to attend his father’s funeral in January 1993, after which he spent time with his family and playing cards with old friends before his heart gave out in his hotel bed on January 27.

He Survives in Pop Culture

My Giant

(Warner Bros.)

Billy Crystal was so moved by meeting Roussimoff on the set of The Princess Bride that he wrote an unfortunate bomb about befriending a gentle giant, and the Street Fighter character Hugo Andore is based on Roussimoff. Documentaries and dramatizations of his life have been produced as recently as 2018, and in 2014, the WWE established the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale as part of Wrestlemania. Isn’t that nice?

He’s the Reason the WWE Hall of Fame Exists

WWE Hall of Fame ceremony in 2009

(Mark Hodgins/Wikimedia Commons)

Two months after his death, the WWE announced the creation of their Hall of Fame and that Roussimoff was the first and only inductee that year. Let this be the inspiration you need to become so good at something that they have to create entire halls of fame just to honor you.

Top image: 20th Century Fox

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