Professional wrestler and actor, born Andre Rene Roussimoff, on May 19, 1946, in Grenoble, France. Roussimoff suffered from acromegaly, or “giantism,” a endocrynological disorder that causes the body to secrete excessive amounts of growth hormones and produces continual growth, especially in the head, hands, and feet. He reportedly inherited the disease from his grandfather. One of five siblings, Roussimoff left his family’s small farm at age fourteen. After training with the French wrestling champion Frank Valois, he wrestled in Montreal under the name Jean Ferre and in Japan as “Monster Roussimoff.” He became known for his baby face and intimidating physique, and soon proved virtually unbeatable in Canada’s wrestling circuits. Valois, acting as his manager, set up a meeting with the wrestling promoter Vince McMahon, Sr. In 1973, Roussimoff debuted at Madison Square Garden as “Andre the Giant.”
During the 1970s, he wrestled more than 300 days a year and became one of the world’s most famous professional athletes. Though he never lifted weights, he was thought by some to be the strongest man in the world. He remained dominant into the late 1980s, defeating Hulk Hogan for the World Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Title on February 5, 1988.
At his largest, Roussimoff was probably six feet eleven inches tall, though he was advertised as seven feet four inches. He weighed close to five hundred pounds and was famous for his immense capacity for alcohol and food–it was once estimated that he consumed 7,000 calories a day in alcohol alone. His phenomenal stature led to a movie role as Fezzik, the gentle giant in Rob Reiner’s 1987 film, The Princess Bride. Roussimoff also appeared in several other films and television shows, but Fezzik remained his most cherished role–he was known to carry a videotape of The Princess Bride with him when he traveled and hold frequent screenings at home and on the road. Roussimoff, who never married, lived most of the year on a 200-acre ranch in Ellerbe, North Carolina.
Unfortunately, as he grew older Roussimoff’s size caused him frequent health problems. In 1986, he had surgery to relieve pressure on his spine and was thereafter forced to wear a back brace when he wrestled. By 1992, he had undergone extensive knee surgery and became increasingly overweight and immobile. He continued to wrestle, however, appearing for the last time in Japan??the country where he had always been celebrated the most??in December of 1992. On January 27, 1993, Roussimoff died of an apparent heart attack in his hotel room in Paris, where he was staying after the burial of his father less than two weeks before.