Although a number of professional wrestlers have transcended the squared circle to become worldwide stars—Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson among them—few have captivated the public quite like André the Giant. Born André René Roussimoff in Coulommiers, Seine-et-Marne, France, on May 19, 1946, the towering grappler stood nearly 7 feet tall and weighed over 500 pounds shortly before his death in 1993 due to heart failure.
It’s fitting that André’s mythological proportions have led to a number of myths surrounding his life, from an exaggerated height (he was often billed as 7 feet, 4 inches) to his propensity for drinking hundreds of beers. We’ve sifted through some of the more sensational stories to separate fact from fiction. As it turns out, the Giant’s life needed no embellishment.
1. André’s childhood nickname was Dédé.
Before becoming a superstar in wrestling, André René Roussimoff grew up as the middle of five children. Throughout his childhood, André’s sister couldn’t pronounce his name, instead calling him “Dédé.” His family soon adopted it as André’s nickname growing up.
2. Samuel Beckett drove him to school.
In the 1950s, playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett took up residence in Ussy-sur-Marne in France and commissioned local laborers to construct a cottage. The property was just a few hundred yards from the Roussimoff residence and along a stretch of road where Andre and other school children started their walk to class. (There was no bus.) Like many of the kids, Andre would sometimes accept Beckett's invitation to hop on the back of his pick-up truck to get a ride to school. Over the years, the story has been exaggerated to the point where Beckett and Andre are the only occupants in the truck, though it's unlikely Beckett paid him any particular attention. Still, the unlikely pairing has inspired several plays, including the recent Sam & Dede, Or My Dinner with André the Giant.
3. He grew so fast his own parents didn’t recognize him ...
When Andre turned 14, he left home to seek employment and opportunities outside the boundaries of his rural farm community in France. At 19, he visited his parents for the first time, having already broken into the professional wrestling business. According to a 1981 Sports Illustrated profile, André had grown so dramatically in the interim, stretching to nearly 7 feet tall, that his parents did not recognize the stranger who knocked on their door. As André explained his career choice, they realized they had even seen him wrestle on television under an alias without ever knowing they had been watching their own son.
4. ... but he probably wasn’t as tall as you think.
Because wrestling promoters are prone to exaggerating a wrestler’s size, ability, and accomplishments, it didn’t take much for them to latch on to the idea of promoting André as the largest athlete on the planet. From his earliest matches in Montreal, he was billed as being 7 feet, 4 inches tall, enough to exceed the towering Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by two inches. But when André’s height was measured at the age of 24 in 1970, he stood exactly 6 feet, 9 and ¾ inches.
5. He enjoyed moving cars as a prank.
André’s dimensions were the result of acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland that causes uninhibited growth hormone secretion. Because his body was so generous in its strength, André rarely (if ever) lifted weights for additional power. His resistance training seemed to come in the form of moving his friends’ cars around during nights he was out drinking with friends. The smaller vehicles could be easily slid over to tight spaces or turned to face the opposite direction.
6. His fingers presented unique problems.
While André’s height and girth proved to be problematic when it came to traveling—most vehicles made for uncomfortable rides that required him to slouch—his hands and fingers posed special challenges. Said to have fingers so large that silver dollars could pass through his rings, André could never use a conventional rotary phone without sticking a pencil in the dial; learning to play the piano was also out of the question, since one finger would strike three keys at once.
7. One of André the Giant’s stage names was based on folk hero Grand Ferre.
André René Roussimoff is a fine enough name, but in the world of professional wrestling, you need more pizazz than that. To add some over-the-top flair to his persona, André took on a series of noms de guerre during his career, including Monster Roussimoff, Geant Ferre, Jean Ferre, and the masked Giant Machine. Geant Ferre and Jean Ferre are both references to Le Grand Ferré, a folk hero during the Hundred Years’ War. It’s said that Ferre possessed otherworldly strength and that he single-handedly killed 85 men during a battle while armed only with an axe.
8. He ran out of opponents.
By the early ‘70s, André was a huge attraction in both Japan and Montreal, where he would routinely sell out the popular Montreal Forum. After a while, though, the roster of wrestlers that could realistically square off against him began to dry up. That’s when World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) founder Vince McMahon, Sr. came in and set up a travel routine for André that saw him constantly going from territory to territory so he’d never wear out his welcome in any one market. He also got a taste of different opponents along the way.
9. Saddam Hussein told him to lose some weight to succeed as a wrestler.
In 1971, wrestler/promoter Adnan Alkaissy invited André to Iraq to take part in a wrestling event. Once there, he stayed in a custom-made bed at the Shara Hotel and was scheduled to wrestle a match where he would lose to Alkaissy, an Iraqi native, in a two-out-of-three-falls contest.
Things were going smoothly—until Saddam Hussein met with Alkaissy before the match and told him he would shoot André if the giant won. Needless to say, Alkaissy was sure to make it crystal clear that he was booked to win in the second round. Once Alkaissy came out on top, thousands of spectators fired weapons into the air in celebration. Then, when André eventually met Hussein after the match, the future president of Iraq told him to lose weight if he wanted to win next time.
10. André the Giant was in the Guinness Book for being the highest paid wrestler.
Wrestlers weren’t always making in the six and seven figures like they do today, but then again, André was a rarity. He made big money at a time when that sort of thing was unheard of, thanks to his enormous size and his ability to draw fans all over the world. In the 1974 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, André was listed as the highest-paid wrestler on the planet, with a yearly wage of $400,000 (more than $2.6 million today).
11. The Washington Commanders met with him.
Who wouldn’t want a 7-foot-tall powerhouse on their football team? That’s what the Washington Commanders thought back in the 1970s when then-head coach George Allen sent scouts to see André the Giant’s physical prowess in person. There were even rumblings that the team was interested in making him a defensive end. In the end, the visit basically just resulted in a PR-friendly photoshoot where André lifted quarterback Joe Theismann like a bag of groceries. André never stepped foot on the gridiron, and plenty of people think the whole thing was just a publicity stunt. But still, nothing drums up excitement quite like a giant.
12. André the Giant fought a pro boxer.
On June 25, 1976, a unique exhibition bout took place at Shea Stadium when boxer Chuck Wepner, one of the main influences for the character of Rocky Balboa, faced off against André the Giant. The match ended when André threw Wepner outside of the ring, where “The Bayonne Bleeder” failed to make it back inside before the count of 20. As The New York Times reported, “Although [Wepner] was able to make it to the end of the 15th round against Muhammad Ali, Wepner was a baby against the Giant.”
13. A broken ankle became a part of an epic storyline.
One of André the Giant’s most notable wrestling feuds was against Killer Khan, a burly grappler from Japan who could believably give André a run for his money in the ring. But on the morning of their scheduled match in May 1981, André broke his ankle getting out of bed. (Acromegaly, the condition which led to his immense size, eventually began ravaging his body.) The injury was actually worked into the match during a spot when Khan came off the top rope and “broke” André’s ankle. This gave the giant an excuse to heal up, and it gave fans an excuse to pack the arena when he finally got his revenge on Khan during a “stretcher match” that November.
14. André the Giant had fun farting on opponents.
By most accounts, André was a jovial giant, content to play cards, socialize, and enjoy all the food and drink his success afforded him. During matches, he amused himself by stepping on an opponent’s long hair or wringing the sweat from his singlet into their face. In one bout, Jake “The Snake” Roberts recalled that André waited until Roberts was on the mat before he squatted down and unleashed his flatulence. “This went on for like 30 seconds,” Roberts said. “Giants fart for extremely long periods of time.”
15. He loved QVC ...
When he wasn’t traveling for his wrestling engagements, André largely kept to himself in his North Carolina ranch home, which featured a tree growing through the middle of each of its three stories. Because shopping could be a cumbersome experience, Andre grew fond of QVC, the home shopping channel that had launched in 1986. His friends recalled that André bought several steam cleaners and lots of porcelain butterflies from the channel.
16. ... and cribbage.
Cribbage is a card game that André loved and was known to play backstage at wrestling events. Wrestling legend Frank Dusek claimed that during one particularly rough game for the Giant when he was beaten by over 60 points, he easily ripped the deck of cards in half and told Dusek they could play more later.
17. Relatively speaking, André the Giant wasn’t an excessive drinker.
Nothing pours fuel on an André story quite like alcohol, with the Giant allegedly consuming over 100 beers in a single sitting. But most of his colleagues report that alcohol had surprisingly little effect on him, with no hangovers or slurred speech affecting his wrestling duties. There were only a handful of exceptions. According to Cary Elwes, his co-star in the 1987 film The Princess Bride, André once drank enough to pass out in a hotel lobby. As it was impossible to move him, hotel employees arranged a velvet rope around his slumbering frame so he wouldn’t be disturbed.
18. André the Giant lost 90 pounds in 14 months.
André the Giant’s prolific drinking is the stuff of legend, even if most of the stories are a touch overblown. So it must have come as a surprise when André revealed during an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman in 1984 that, after years of legendary booze prowess, he’d stopped drinking beer 14 months earlier. After cutting down on suds, André lost around 90 pounds, going from 560 pounds to 470. But he didn’t stop drinking completely; he simply switched to two or three bottles of white wine at a time.
19. He had an unparalleled appetite.
While André could drink far more than the average man, the extent of his enormous appetite for food was also without compare. Although he didn’t order excessively big meals on a regular basis, his friend Tim White revealed the true extent of André’s ability to eat. Apparently, André could walk into a restaurant and consume up to 12 steaks and 15 lobsters in a single sitting. While he no doubt enjoyed himself, gorging on food was also a professional obligation: His massive frame was part of his appeal in the ring.
20. André the Giant once played Sasquatch on The Six Million Dollar Man.
André secured a number of acting roles, the most notable being Fezzik in 1987’s The Princess Bride. But he had been seen much earlier in a dramatic role, though this one was for the small screen. In 1976, André appeared in costume as the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, in a two-part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man starring Lee Majors. In a plot twist, André wasn’t a creature at all but a cyborg protecting an alien race.
21. He once threw $15,000 in cash to the crowd.
The first WrestleMania in 1985 is still regarded as one of the most important shows in the history of pro wrestling. It helped propel the WWF (now WWE) into the mainstream, thanks to appearances by Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in the main event. But André the Giant played just as big of a role on the inaugural card.
That night, André was involved in a “$15,000 Body Slam Challenge” against Big John Studd. As the name suggests, the first man to body slam his opponent would win $15,000. André, of course, came out on top, and when he got the bag of money, he proceeded to toss the cash into the audience until Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Studd’s manager, ripped it out of his hands.
22. André the Giant was in a Cyndi Lauper music video for The Goonies.
As a tie-in to The Goonies, Cyndi Lauper made a two-part, 12-minute music video where she played the daughter of a struggling gas station owner. And, as luck would have it, her father is also being bullied by WWF stars like The Iron Sheik and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. This leads to her finding treasure in a secret cave along with The Goonies. Money woes solved, right? Well, her family’s creditors don’t accept the treasure as payment, so Lauper just summons André the Giant to scare them all away.
23. He was “suspended” from the WWE for filming The Princess Bride.
André’s role in The Princess Bride, along with his nagging injuries, kept him out of the ring for a bit after WrestleMania 2 in 1986. But because of kayfabe (which most wrestlers of that era still tried not to break), the WWE didn’t want to reveal that one of their main stars was off filming a movie, so instead they opted to make a storyline out of it. To explain the absence, André was booked in a tag-team match against King Kong Bundy and Studd, but when the giant “no-showed” the event, he was “suspended” as punishment.
24. He briefly wore a mask to wrestle in.
André didn’t disappear for the entire length of his on-screen suspension. He briefly made appearances in the WWE as “The Giant Machine” and performed under a mask—though when you’re built like André the Giant, a mask isn’t exactly going to fool anyone.
André wasn’t the only wrestler to partake in this silly gimmick. Hulk Hogan also appeared as the Hulk Machine at one point, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper even showed up as the Piper Machine. No one was fooled; some may have been entertained.
25. Rob Reiner helped him learn his Princess Bride lines phonetically.
André the Giant’s native language was French, and while he spoke English well enough, it was something he still struggled with. And since his role as Fezzik in The Princess Bride required him to have a few lines of dialogue, audiences needed to understand what he was saying. Director Rob Reiner came up with the solution: He would record all of André’s lines for him. Then, André would listen to them over and over on a pair of headphones so he could memorize the sounds of every word.
26. André the Giant was lifelong friends with Fred Savage.
André’s closest friendship from The Princess Bride might have been with an actor who didn’t even appear in any scenes with him. Actor Fred Savage recalled that he was a WWE superfan at the time the film was shot and that André made a special visit to the set to see Savage even though his part was already completed. Savage also said that André sent him Christmas cards every year from that point on.
27. He was once arrested by some very nervous police officers.
André’s behavior rarely escalated to the point police were needed, but there was an exception. On August 21, 1989, he was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when he confronted local KCRG cameraman Ben Hildebrandt for filming him wrestling without his permission.
According to Hildebrant, André slapped him upside the head and broke his camera, prompting the cameraman to press charges. Police officers confronted André and told him he needed to be arrested for assault and criminal mischief. The Giant initially refused before officers talked him into going voluntarily, using leg shackles as handcuffs. He was booked and released on bail. He paid a $100 fine and the cost of the camera.
28. André the Giant’s mischievous side knew no limits.
Known for playing practical jokes on his friends, André also enjoyed causing mayhem among the general population. One such example came on a night in 1977 when André and fellow wrestler “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes decided to get into a little bit of trouble.
Unwilling to cram into a tiny cab along with their friends after a night of drinking, André and Dusty chose to walk back to their hotel. On the way, they came across a pair of horse-drawn carriages that they then decided to race 15 blocks. Apparently, by the time the police arrived, the wrestling duo were already back at the hotel and denying any involvement.
29. He refused surgeries.
André the Giant didn’t even realize his size was caused by a disease until he was 23, when doctors in Japan discovered he had acromegaly. Surgery was an option, but André declined—without it, doctors told him he’d only live to 40. Doctors tried to convince André to have the surgery again, this time after he had heart surgery at Duke University in the 1980s. But again, André refused. His friend Jackie McAuley claimed that he said at the time, “If this is the size that God wanted me to be, I'm going to be this size.”
30. He wore a back brace under his singlet.
As years of wrestling and his acromegaly condition conspired to affect his health, André underwent spinal surgery in late 1986. When he returned to wrestling, his signature black singlet helped hide a back brace that provided support for his ailing frame. His physical condition was reportedly so diminished at this point that André spent his remaining years in wrestling in pain and able to perform only basic maneuvers. According to his peers, some of Andre's most famous matches—like the bout with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III in 1987—were nowhere near what he had been able to do earlier in his career.
31. Baby oil really annoyed him.
For reasons known only to André, his genial demeanor didn’t apply to opponents in the ring who would use baby oil to make their muscles stand out more. André reportedly despised baby oil, and extended that enmity to “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who was disliked by the Giant simply because he used a lot of the stuff while wrestling. “André hated baby oil,” Randy’s brother, Larry Poffo, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2017. “But Randy wouldn’t stop wearing it. He stubbornly said ‘André’s gimmick is being a giant and mine is baby oil.’ He never backed down from André and they never got along because of it.”
31. André the Giant once tossed Arnold Schwarzenegger out of a restaurant.
As a famous wrestler in the WWE, André encountered an array of A-list celebrities. Two of his more recognizable friends were basketball player Wilt Chamberlain and actor (as well as the future governor of California) Arnold Schwarzenegger. Out to dinner with the two of them one night, André insisted on picking up the check. When the other men protested and said that they wanted to pay, André convinced Wilt to help him carry Arnold out of the restaurant and away from the bill.
32. André the Giant was upset that he scared children.
Because of his massive size, André could cause almost anyone in the world to do a double-take. While he was used to adults staring at him, it bothered the Giant when kids would grow visibly nervous or scared in his presence. “Often when I go to home of people who have small children, the children will run from me, even though they have seen me on television,” he said. “I understand why they do this, but it is a sad feeling for me, even so.”
33. André the Giant was named Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Most Popular and Most Hated wrestler.
Throughout his career, André the Giant was portrayed as both the most beloved wrestler in a given company, and the most despised. And he was wildly successful as both: As a performer, André landed on the top of Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s lists as both the Most Popular Wrestler (1977 and 1982) and Most Hated Wrestler (1988).
His biggest run as a villain, or “heel,” came at WrestleMania III, when he wrestled Hulk Hogan for the World Heavyweight Championship. Most fans who grew up during wrestling’s ‘80s boom period likely remember his feuds with other top good guys (a.k.a. babyfaces) like the Ultimate Warrior.
34. André the Giant died while visiting France for his father’s funeral.
In early January 1993, André traveled to France for his father’s funeral. After the services, his mother convinced him to stay for a few days to celebrate her birthday. André agreed and stayed in a hotel outside of Paris and spent time with old friends and family.
35. He was at the heart of the establishment of the WWE Hall Of Fame.
When the WWE established its Hall of Fame in 1993. André the Giant became their first-ever Hall of Fame inductee, as well as the sole inductee in the class of 1993. A video reel of André’s highlights was shown during Monday Night Raw to announce his posthumous induction. It was a fitting tribute to a wrestler that had left a huge mark on both wrestling and popular culture.
36. André inspired the movie My Giant.
The 1998 film My Giant was partly inspired by André the Giant. In the film, Billy Crystal’s character, a talent agent, becomes friends with a towering man named Max, who he’s drawn to because of his potential in the movie industry. Max was played by the 7-foot-7-inch Gheorghe Mureșan, a former NBA player. Max becomes a real positive force in the life of Crystal’s character before the giant succumbs to heart failure. The film echoes much of André’s life, including his passing.
A version of this story was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for 2024.