Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Remembering Andre' the Giant May 19, 1946 - January 27, 1993

The name Andre' Rene' Roussimoff may not be familiar to you but his wrestling name of "Andre the Giant" will probably strike a familiar note to anyone who has enjoyed the wrestling circles.  He was born with acromegaly (gigantism.)

Andre was born in Grenoble, France to a Jewish couple of Bulgarian and Polish ancestry.  His size first became noticeable as a child  when he reached 6 ft. 3 inches and weighed 240 pounds by the age of 12.    Because of his size, he was unable to take the school bus as a child but had to be driven to school by a neighbor.  It has been said that he was a good student in school but dropped out of school after the 8th grade because he didn't see its importance.  He began working on the farm and also did woodworking that would eventually lead him to a job working on engines for hay balers.

He took up wrestling at the age of 17 at the advice of a promoter who could see that Andre would be successful.  For some time, he worked as a mover during the day and trained for a future wrestling career at night.    He first took the name of "Geant Ferre ( a mythical French giant.)  He traveled throughout the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and New Zealand and reached Japan in 1970.  In Japan, he was known as "Monster Roussimoff" where he wrestled singles and tag team matches.  His next move was Canada where he performed to sell out crowds.  Soon Vince McMahon, founder of the World Wide Wrestling Federation noticed him and agreed to promote him.  Promoters had to guarantee Andre a certain amount of money, as well as pay the WWF booking fee.

Andre the Giant became known as "The Eighth Wonder of the World."    He debuted in the WWF on March 26, 1973.  He became loved by virtually all wrestling fans.  He stood  7 ft. 4 inches and usually weighed in at about 500 lbs.

His film career began when he took on the character in a French boxing movie.  He also had the role of "Fezzik" in the film "The Princess Bride" and "Sasquatch ("Bigfoot") on "The Six Million Dollar Man" tv series.  He also appeared in "The Greatest American Hero" "B.J. and the Bear" and "The Fall Guy."  He also made a cameo appearance as a circus giant in "Trading Mom"

Andre the Giant was the highest paid wrestler in history in 1974 where he earned $400,000 in one year.  He also enjoyed his beer and was known to  consume 119 12 oz. beers in 6 hours.

Andre received numerous honors for his wrestling.  Among them, he was the inaugural inductee into the  WWF Hall of Fame.

Andre made his home in Ellerbe, North Carolina.  He raised long horn steer on his ranch just outside of Ellerbe.  His father died in 1993 and Andre traveled back to France to attend his funeral.  On the evening of January 27, 1993, while in his Paris Hotel room, Andre died in his sleep from congestive heart failure.

Andre was cremated.  Following the cremation, Andre's cremated remains were returned to Ellerbe.  A memorial service (program pictured) was held at his AFJ ranch and Andre's cremated remains were scattered around the pond at his farm.  Among those who paid tribute to Andre during the service was William Goldman, author of the novel and screenplay "The Princess Bride" who said of Andre "he was one of the gentlest and most generous people I have ever known.  Whenever Andre treated someone to a meal in a restaurant, he would pay but would always insist on paying when he was a guest.  It is said that one day following dinner Arnold Schwarzenegger had quietly moved to the cashier to pay the check but found himself being physically lifted, carried from his table and deposited on the top of his car."  Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage
Andre the Giant's memorial service program
also spoke at Andre's tribute and following the service a "Parade of Flags Ceremony " took place.

His memorial program includes the poem  "A Traveler Coming Home."

A couple of years ago while returning from Myrtle Beach, we stopped in Ellerbe.  I spoke with a police officer about Andre.  The officer said that "Andre was a legend.  When walking down the street, hundreds of kids would flock to Andre.  He always treated the kids with kindness and everyone in Ellerbe loved him."  A nice way to be remembered.

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