In a Paris hotel room on January 27, 1993, Andre Roussimoff, known the world over as The 8th Wonder of the World, Andre the Giant, was found dead at the age of 46. Congestive heart failure finally did what so many men had failed to do in nearly 30 years as a professional wrestler – bring the Giant down.
Andre the Giant was born in Grenoble, France and developed gigantism early. By the age of 12, he was already 6’3″ and over 200 lbs. As a child, he had trouble fitting in and had to walk to school – his large frame made it impossible to share the school bus with his classmates. Luckily, his next door neighbour was Nobel Prize winning author Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot) who drove Andre to school most mornings, as the two bonded over their love for the sport of cricket.
At the age of 17, he moved to Paris where he began his professional wrestling career. He was spotted by French-Canadian promoter Frank Valois, who became his trainer and adviser. He began his career known as Géant Ferré, working around mainland Europe, the United Kingdom, before heading to Japan in 1970. The following year, Valois brought him over to his native Canada, where he began to work with Maple Leaf Wrestling in Toronto, as well as in the US with Verne Gagne‘s AWA in the US.
Throughout the 1970s, he would become the most famous wrestler in the world, on a level never again seen until Hulkamania would take hold in 1983-84. His stature and size made him a “must see” spectacle – rarely did men as large as Andre possess the athleticism he displayed early in his career, or the raw power he possessed. Giants were more often larger in the girth, like Haystacks Calhoun or Gorilla Monsoon, that gigantic in height. Andre truly became the 8th Wonder of the World.
Throughout the 1970s, Andre the Giant was one of the most in-demand freelance wrestlers in the world – he worked runs with promotions like the WWWF, NWA, NJPW, AWA, Stampede Wrestling, as well as in the vibrant Montreal wrestling scene. He began to call Montreal his second home (he even owned one of Montreal’s major promotions during the early 80s). But it was Vince McMahon Sr. in the WWWF who began to turn Andre the Giant into the monster he’s best remembered as today – McMahon Sr. changed his name to Andre the Giant and began to suggest changes to his character, such as removing the more athletic spots and focusing on his power moves.
In 1976, while the world was getting ready to watch boxing icon Muhammad Ali face NJPW’s Antonio Inoki, Andre the Giant faced boxer Chuck Wepner in the main event of the WWWF sponsored live event in New York that showed the Ali-Inoki match at the event’s closure on closed circuit television. It was Andre and Chuck’s match that would inspire Sylvester Stallone to add the Rocky vs Thunderlips, “boxer vs. wrestler” match into Rocky III.
When Vince McMahon Jr. took over the WWWF from his father in 1982 and rebranded it to the WWF, he worked to lock down Andre the Giant to an exclusive WWF only deal (although it still took several years – Andre worked with NWA territories and NJPW up until 1986). A perennial face for the majority of his previous two decade run, McMahon pulled the trigger on Andre’s first major heel turn in 1987 to set up one of the most important feuds in pro wrestling history – to go opposite WWF World Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan.
The main event of WrestleMania III, WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, on March 29, 1987, gained worldwide mainstream press coverage and made the WWF the undisputed “world wide leader in sports entertainment”. Hogan’s defeat of Andre was the ultimate passing of the torch to most viewers, as the greatest wrestling attraction of the 1970s was defeated by the next generation’s leader.
Andre rarely wore singles gold in his career. He had occasional runs in a tag team championship tandem, but Andre’s mystique was too great to have him win a title and then have to lose it without hurting his monstrous aura. In 1985, he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (although at the time, it was still an annual tournament instead of a belt), and in 1988, he would finally win his first singles championship, by defeating Hulk Hogan for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. But he would almost immediately vacate the belt and sell it to his benefactor at the time, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase – it was declared vacant shortly after. His health, however, was deteriorating quicker than ever, as his position as the WWF’s top heel shone. The gigantism never stopped and his body continued to fight increasing health problems as his body continue to grow and was failing to maintain the mass he was carrying.
He was put into the tag team division once again, in hopes to limit his ring work further – winning WWF World Tag Team gold with Haku in 1989 – but the travel and work was becoming more and more cumbersome for a man his size and with his health issues. His final WWF match was one that he usually always conquered – a battle royal at a House Show. But that night, on May 10, 1991, he failed to win, and Kerry Von Erich won the #1 Contendership to Mr. Perfect’s Intercontinental Championship. He would make sporadic appearances for the WWF, but his final appearance for Vince McMahon Jr. would be in British Bulldog‘s corner at a House Show in Paris, France that October. With Ted Turner now in control of several NWA territories amalgamated into WCW, he looked to add Andre the Giant to his roster, but he was limited to just appearances. His final TV appearance was being interviewed at a WCW special pre-Clash of Champions XX in 1992.
In early 1993, he travelled to Paris to attend his father’s funeral and decided to extend his stay in order to stay for his mother’s birthday. Unfortunately, Andre the Giant’s giant heart could take more, and he passed away in his sleep. And the world of professional wrestling lost one of it’s most beloved icons.
The anniversary of his death comes just days after the trailer for HBO‘s new documentary chronicling his life, Andre the Giant, hitting the internet.
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