The year: 1985; the location: The Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York; the event: a World Wrestling Federation (Now World Wrestling Entertainment) house show; but more importantly, my father was taking me to see The Eighth Wonder of the World, Andre the Giant. Sadly, Andre never made it to the ring that evening. He was set to face off against a wrestler called The Missing Link, who did little more than paint his face green and wear his hair in a crazy style. I can distinctly remember how utterly disappointed I was when the ring announcer let the sold out crowd of Long Island fans know that Terry Funk, (a legendary wrestler) was going to step inside the squared circle to do battle (pre-scripted) with The Missing Link. But as heartbroken as I was at the time, Andre was still one of my heroes, so I didn’t hold it against him. I would have felt especially bad if I had held a grudge because I found out, along with the rest of the wrestling fans around the world, when it became public knowledge less than a decade later, that Andre was dying from acromegaly, a rare genetic disorder. Most people who have it don’t live to see forty years of age. I still watch Andre’s DVD and several of my old wrestling VHS tapes in order to relive some of the moments from his storied career, but this blog doesn’t deal with his wrestling attributes because I have nothing new to contribute on that subject since countless others before me have already written about it. No, this blog primarily deals with Andre the Giant’s activities outside of the ring. But before I get into that, just some brief background information…
The first inductee into World Wrestling Entertainment’s Hall of Fame, Andre the Giant was born André René Roussimoff on May 19, 1946, to French parents of Bulgarian descent in Grenoble France. He attended school until eighth grade when he dropped out. Even though he was a good student, he didn’t feel working on his parents’ farm required him to get a high school degree. In addition to farming, he was a woodworker’s apprentice and also worked in a factory that made engines for farm equipment. But none of those career paths held much appeal to him…he wanted something more for himself. He found his ticket out of what he considered to be a mundane existence in the person of Lord Alfred Hayes, a wrestling promoter who discovered Andre when he was still a teenager and brought him to Paris where he began to train for the profession that he would one day dominate. The rest, as wrestling fans know, is history; but Andre’s life wasn’t just about wrestling. Trivia buffs take note that in 1974, which was early on in Andre’s wrestling career, and before he ever branched out into other entertainment mediums — such as commercials, film, and television — he was offered a contract to play for the Washington Redskins football team. Rumors abound that he seriously considered it before turning it down for financial reasons.
On January 18, 1974, the very popular television show The Six Million Dollar Man based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin (Marooned), began the first season of its five year run on ABC. The show centers around a former military officer named Steve Austin, played by actor Lee Majors (The Fall Guy), who after a terrible accident is literally rebuilt by the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence), a government organization that implants him with bionic parts thereby equipping him with super strength, hearing, and sight. The two part episode, The Secret of Bigfoot, is perhaps the best known storyline of the entire series. The first of the two episodes aired on February 1, 1976. It is where Austin first comes face to face with the mythical Bigfoot, played to monstrous perfection by Andre the Giant. Rather than taking the ho-hum approach as so many films, faux-documentaries, and stories have taken regarding Bigfoot and his existence, script writer Kenneth Johnson took a different approach. Bigfoot, in this instance, is a robot who is in a remote area of the California mountains in order to protect alien visitors to our planet. This particular episode of the show was so popular that an action figure, that was more than 12 inches tall, of Andre the Giant as Bigfoot, was made available to happy children of the 70s everywhere. Andre’s performance left such an indelible mark on audiences that were metaphorically thirsting for more Bigfoot that his character returned for three more episodes during the show’s run: The Return of Bigfoot, The Return of Bigfoot Part II, and Bigfoot V.
Although he never recaptured the television magic that was created from the Bigfoot episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, Andre went on to guest star in other popular shows of the 1970s and 80s such as B.J. and the Bear, The Fall Guy (where he was reunited with Lee Majors), and The Greatest American Hero. He also appeared in a well received commercial for Honeycomb Cereal which used his size and intimidating appearance to create a wonderful effect. Andre had roles in movies such as his non-credited appearance in the 1984 film, Conan the Destroyer, where he played Dagoth, the horned giant god. He had a cameo as a circus performer in the Sissy Spacek (Carrie) comedy, Trading Mom, as well as an appearance in the Dudley Moore (Arthur) comedy, Mickey and Maude. In the part documentary and part fiction film, I Like to Hurt People, Andre plays himself, but the footage that is shown in the movie is from a time when wrestling was territorial and is must seeing viewing for Andre’s fans, as well as for the fans of other wrestling superstars of the 70s and 80s, for example a young Dusty Rhodes. But the role he is best known for, and the one in which his iconic status was solidified, is the character of Fezzik in the 1987 film directed by Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally), The Princess Bride.
In the movie Andre’s character, who starts out as one of the “bad guy’s” henchmen but ends up being one of the heroes, is touted as having superhuman strength; but due to nagging back problems brought on by his exorbitant weight, the real life Andre was unable to lift anything that contained any sort of heft to it. There is a particular scene in the film when the character of Buttercup, played by actress Robin Wright (Forest Gump), jumps from the castle window into Fezzik’s waiting arms, but what was unseen to movie patrons and those who have watched the film on DVD and VHS was that, Wright was attached to wires and lowered into Andre’s arms because sadly, as just previously stated, Andre couldn’t even hold the thin framed actress in his massive arms without feeling physical pain. Trivia buffs again take note: In the 1970s author William Goldman (Marathon Man) was trying to get his novel, The Princess Bride, made into a movie, and being considered for the role that Andre the Giant would later wind up playing was none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The only reason the then unknown Schwarzenegger was being given consideration was because Goldman’s first choice, Andre, was unavailable to read for the role. Years later when the project was re-visited, Arnold’s stardom, thanks to a multitude of films most especially the Terminator, had made the cost to attach him to the film too prohibitive, so in the end Goldman got his wish, and, subsequently, Andre was cast in what he considered his favorite role.
In another interesting ‘footnote,’ if you will, it is said that Billy Crystal, (actor, comedian, writer, producer and director) who played the character Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, wrote his movie script My Giant (1998) based on meetings and discussions he had, had with Andre about his life as a giant while they were working together on the set of The Princess Bride.
On January 27, 1993, the 7’0” giant passed away in his sleep, thus ending his interesting life. In a sad irony, Andre was in Paris, France to attend his father’s funeral when he died. Andre had bucked the odds given to him by medical experts by living almost a full six years past his fortieth birthday. Per his wishes, he was cremated and his ashes were spread out over the ranch he lived on in Ellerbe, North Carolina during the brief periods of time in his life when he was not working. Andre the Giant may be gone, but to this blogger, and millions of fans worldwide, he is anything but forgotten. Besides one’s own personal memories of seeing him in action, one needs to just pop in any of the first six Wrestlemanias, his DVD or old WWF Best of VHS tapes, read any of the books and articles written about him, or watch a whole plethora of clips of the Eighth Wonder of the World on youtube.com Rest in peace Andre…I hope you’re in your own version of the afterlife where perhaps you’re bear-hugging, body-slamming, and giving the big boot to all those foolish opponents who dare enter the ring with you.