When André René Roussimoff burst into the public forum in the 1970s, the Frenchman, born in Grenoble, France, had operated under several pseudonyms. This gargantuan man had been previously known as Jean Ferre and Monster Roussimoff, before eventually settling with the appropriate moniker of ‘André the Giant’ at his debut at Madison Square Gardens in 1973.
And he was giant. Born on May 19, 1946, the hugely popular wrestler weighed in at an unfathomable 500(ish) pounds and a towering 6ft 11in (apparently his hailed measure of 7ft 4in was something of an exaggeration). The gentle giant (although not quite so gentle in the ring) suffered from a rare condition named acromegaly which, by way of excessive hormone production, caused him to grow to supersized proportions. According to Grunge, André was technically big enough to exceed the weight limits of some mid-range sports car!
So, How Strong Was He?
In reality, the colossal Grenoblois possessed a strength that is almost impossible to quantify. His superhuman strength even surprised the man himself, when he, according to a Sports Illustrated interview from 1981, realized he could lift a car. A car. Like, a massive chunk of metal. Even a mid-sized car weighs in at around 3,500 pounds. Apparently, he was overjoyed that he would now be able to reposition his friends’ cars and place them in amusingly inconvenient positions, such as wedged between lamp-posts and buildings.
The evidence of his strength is largely anecdotal, based on hearsay and accounts from the era. He was famously reluctant to partake in many forms of physical exercise (preferring to prank his friends, it seems!). Although, according to Men’s Health, he did dabble in weightlifting following a debilitating back injury. According to Men’s Health, in some old WWE footage, Andre “deadlifts” a 2000lb weight with “apparent ease”. Diagnosed with gigantism in his early 20’s, André had a mixed bag. God-like strength is not a typical symptom of the disease, and he reportedly never “saw a day in a public gym in his entire life.”
A Mixed Blessing
Had André been born a hundred years earlier, he would have perhaps been subjected to a life of exploitation and humiliation in one of the many traveling circuses which were vastly popular at the time. Instead of fighting in the ring, and becoming one of the most renowned fighters of the ’70s, he may have been displayed like a chained elephant, at the mercy of gawping spectators.
While his end was not a fortuitous one, (he died of heart failure in 1993), he did at least avoid that particularly ghastly situation. The real-life Atlas suffered a mixed reception. While widely reported as being rather affable and friendly, he was known to openly cry after being on the tail-end of relentless teasing, often by other adults. He also stated that children would “run from me even though they’ve seen me on television”.
Terry Todd from SI described elements of the giant’s life that were far from enviable. “Going through a revolving door, he must bend and take tiny shuffling steps to make the door revolve. He is unable even to consider learning to play the piano because he would strike three white keys with one finger.” Hypothetical musical endeavors aside, simple tasks such as bathing, walking through regular-sized doors, and having to hunch under low roofs must have been an intolerable struggle.
Big Friendly Giant
Heartbreakingly, André has been quoted as saying “I would give much money to be able to spend one day per week as a man of regular size”. He has never known any other existence but was forced to walk tall among society as a giant among pygmies.
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