ANDRE the Giant was larger than life in more ways than one.
In professional wrestling during the 1980s there was no bigger star — both physically and in terms of popularity — than the loveable Frenchman.
Raised in a village about 65km east of Paris, Andre’s fame exploded after he played Fezzik in the film The Princess Bride. He transcended the sporting realm but life wasn’t always a smooth ride for the man mountain.
A new documentary by American TV network HBO, to be released on April 10, will dissect the life of the wrestling icon who tragically passed away of heart failure aged 46 in 1993. Born Andre Roussimoff, he was 180cm tall at age 12, more than 210cm when he was 18 and wore size 26 shoes.
His ultra-deep voice and athletic prowess — coupled with his size — made him an ideal candidate for a professional wrestling career.
Now, new interviews with former colleagues and those who knew him best will provide an insight into the powerful impact he had on the sport and the constant struggles he faced in a world where he was as much a walking tourist attraction as he was a human being.
Described as the “eighth wonder of the world”, wrestling legend Hulk Hogan — who enjoyed a famous feud with Andre — was in awe of his comrade’s ability to command attention.
“It’s almost liked the whole room moved when he walked through the crowd. I was hooked immediately,” Hogan said in a preview of the new documentary.
“How do you replace someone that big? He transcended wrestling. He was the guy. He knew how to create emotion, energy, drama — there was just something magical about him.”
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger — once the man with the biggest biceps in Hollywood — was made to look small by Andre.
“He grabbed me up out of a chair and he holds me up like a little doll,” Schwarzenegger recalled.
But fame came with a price for Andre as the public constantly gawked at the oversized star. The cause of his stature was a condition known as acromegaly, which results in the anterior pituitary gland producing excess growth hormone.
Andre was first told of the syndrome in Japan in the 1970s and while he had fluid drained to relieve pressure on his heart in the early 1980s he refused to have an operation to reverse his condition.
“If this is the size that God wanted me to be, I’m going to be this size,” he reportedly said.
Officially, Andre was listed as weighing 240kg during his time with the WWE but Hogan swears he tipped the scales past the 300kg mark at his heaviest.
Andre was a physical specimen impossible to ignore. Fans flocked to get a glimpse of the man who always knew his unique condition would cut his life short — a point noted by actor and comedian Billy Crystal in the HBO documentary.
“He had this wonderful sense of humour about himself but he had a sadness too. He knew he wasn’t going to live long,” Crystal said.
Others knew of this sadness too.
WWE boss Vince McMahon — whose father signed Andre in the early 1970s after he started his career touring in Japan under the moniker Monster Roussimoff — said: “He was hurting, he was really, really hurting.”
Andre was uncomfortable in the spotlight and turned to the bottle to ease his pain. Tales of his drinking capacity are legendary with several people witnessing him knock back 100 beers in a sitting, but he could never truly escape the mocking.
“People would not leave him alone,” wrestler Ric Flair told HBO, while former pro Jim “The Snake” Roberts lamented the microscope Andre was always under.
“People would make fun of him and point at him and the size of his rear-end, and s*** like that,” Roberts said several years ago. “It makes you sick that people are so shallow. I don’t know, man. It’s just messed up that they would laugh at this guy.”
But for the tragic turns Andre’s life took, there were also plenty of positives. HBO executive producer Bill Simmons, who described the wrestler as “a true legend”, is happy this latest documentary will be able to tell the stories Andre will be remembered for most fondly.
“Everyone who ever crossed paths with him has an Andre story — and usually four or five,” Simmons said. “I’m delighted to join forces with (director) Jason Hehir and WWE so we can capture Andre’s amazing story once and for all.”