411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2006: Andre The Giant
Andre Rene Roussimoff was born in Grenoble France on May 19, 1946. While his parents and siblings were healthy and of “normal” size, Andre was diagnosed with Acromegaly, a disease that causes an over production of growth hormones. Andre would leave home by the age of 12 and in 1964 at the age of 17 he was 6’7 and weighed in at 245lbs of solid muscle. He found work in a furniture store in Paris, little did he know this is where his trip into the world of professional wrestling would begin. Lord Alfred Hayes found him there and talked him into trying his hand at wrestling. He was then introduced to French Champion Frank Valois who took over his training.
His first match would occur at the age of 18. He would wrestle as Andre “The Butcher” Roussimoff or Geant Ferre (named after a mythical French Lumberjack.) After 6-years in Europe and capturing the IWA Tag Titles, Andre would set his sights high and move to Montreal. The story goes (partially kayfabed) that he was brought in by Edouard Carpentier who supposedly found the Giant in the French Alps. He now went by the name Jean Ferre and was billed as 7’4 and 385lbs. He would draw record crowds in the Canadian provinces and mostly wrestle 2 and 3 on 1-handicap matches, and occasionally team with Carpentier. When he had singles matches, he would against other large men such as Killer Kowalski and Don Leo Jonathan. In 1972 he and Jonathan would sell out the Montreal Forum, 16,000 paid in a billed “Battle of the Giants.” But seeing the same thing week in and out burnt out the territories and it was time for Andre to move on.
At this time, Andre hired former trainer and French star Frank Valois as his business manager. Valois quickly set a meeting with Vince McMahon Sr. McMahon understood the problems of Andre burning out territories and had a solution. In 1973 he debuted for the WWWF as Andre “The Giant. McMahon would set up dates for Andre all over the country. McMahon knew that he couldn’t overexpose Andre in his own territory, so he would “lend him out” for one night appearances to any and all territories affiliated with the NWA, WWWF and AWA willing to pay for the big man. These one night stop over’s would easily be that territories biggest drawing night of the year.
Wrestling lure is a funny thing, as over the years Andre was billed as “undefeated” even though he had lost matches. The local promoters were smart enough to play into this and would try to build up an evil heel that had a real threat to defeat the undefeated Giant. He would face such heels as Superstar Billy Graham, Big John Studd, Ernie Ladd and a young Terry Boulder/Sterling Golden; better known to modern wrestling fans as Hulk Hogan.
It was during this time that Andre started making trips to Japan, but unlike in the US he wasn’t the big lovable giant, he was the hated French monster. He would have many matches with AWA champion Nick Bockwinkle, a lot of those going to a 60-minute draw as well as matches with NWA Harley Race. In this time, Andre wasn’t the plodding and slow worker many remember in the 80’s, he was quick for a big man and had a wonderful grasp of in ring psychology. As in the US, he quickly became the biggest draw in Japan, and at the time the most successful wrestler in the world as far as making money.
In 1976 Andre stepped into another venue, television. He was cast in the part of Big Foot on the Six-Million Dollar Man show. This led to an appearance on the Tonight Show and once many full-page newspaper articles about Andre. Also in that year Andre took on boxer Chuck Wepner in a boxer vs. Wrestler match in Chicago Stadium and won by count out. After many successful years in Japan and the US, Andre split from Valois and in 1981 was managed by former referee Frenchy Bernard. It was at this time that Andre’s weight started to increase and neared 500lbs. Traveling became a chore for the big man as the weight started to grind down his weight and weaken his bones that were growing since he was at maximum height. He would become the first wrestler to have a full feature appear in Sport Illustrated as well that year.
But his career would start to take a down turn and one day stepping out of bed, his own weight broke his ankle. By 1982 Andre was replaced as the top draw by Hulk Hogan, who had gained a large amount of popularity thanks to runs in the AWA and Japan. In 1984 when Vince McMahon Jr. took control of the then WWF, he put a stop to Andre’s territory trips, making him almost WWF exclusive, but allowing Andre to work in Japan. Japan would set the scene for one of the most surreal and oddest events in wrestling for Andre.
In 1986 Andre was signed to face Akira Maeda. Maeda was fresh off of being a part of the UWF promotion in Japan, where they staged worked “shoot matches.” Maeda hated the “fakeness” of professional wrestling and often would “shoot” on American stars. This is where it became interesting as a battle of egos took place. Andre being strong willed decided to “no sell” Maeda’s offense, which pissed off Maeda. Andre started to go for the eyes so Maeda retaliated with a series of shoot kicks to the battered legs of Andre. Andre no sold them for a while but eventually the stiffness of the real kicks took the giant down. Andre was dead in the water and Maeda knew it. He just circled the giant and would occasionally kick at him until Antonio Inoki ran to the ring and stopped the match in a moment that many will never forget.
During his time in Japan he had been suspended by WWF President Jack Tunney. He would undergo surgery to repair his injured back, forcing him to wear a pressure brace the remainder of his career. He would return under a mask as the “Giant Machine” with the Big and Super Machine to cause trouble for Bobby Heenan who said it was Andre all along. Needing more time off, Andre left TV again.
In January of 1987 Andre returned on Piper’s Pit with Heenan to confront Hulk Hogan. Andre was “undefeated” for all of his career and thought the trophy awarded to his was bogus and wanted a shot at the world title, something he had never been given in the WWF. With him ripping the cross from Hogan, the challenge was made for WrestleMania III. The two men would face off in front of 93,000+ in a match that saw Hulk Hogan defeat the Giant.
Almost a year later, now a charge of the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase, would challenge Hogan again on The Main Event, a special Friday Night prime time version of Saturday Night’s Main Event. This event would garner a 15.2 rating, a rating that has never been touched by another wrestling event. In the match, Hogan tried to slam Andre but failed and a quick count later but the evil twin of referee Dave Hebner, Andre the Giant was the new WWF Champion. As promised, Andre sold the WWF title to the Million Dollar Man, but that didn’t set well with President Jack Tunney so the title was held up for a special tournament at WrestleMania IV. Since Hogan and Andre were the last “recognized” WWF champions, they got byes into Round 2 of the tournament where they would face each other. The match ended in a double disqualification, and Andre said he did what he was paid for. This would be Andre’s last efforts in the main event scene as his body was continuing to break down.
Andre would take another small break form TV and appear again in 1989 managed by Heenan and now tag teaming with Haku. They would be dubbed “The Colossal Connection and defeat Demolition for the WWF Tag Team Titles. They would defend those titles at WrestleMania VI and lose the belts back to Demolition. After the match, Heenan blamed Andre for the loss and ordered Haku to attack him, but Andre fought the off and was once again the loveable baby face the fans loved.
1990 saw his last year in the WWF. He had that one last baby face run, but his health was deteriorated so badly that he would have to hold onto the ropes just to stay up, even in the shortest of matches. He would return to Japan one final time. Japan was a place where Andre ruled as the giant, but in the end he had to work comedy matches with Giant Baba in the mid-card. He stayed there for 3-tours over 2-years, and finally on December 4th, 1992 he had his final match. His last appearance on TV was on a celebration of 20 years of NWA/WCW wrestling on TBS for WCW. In early January 1993 he returned to France to bury his father and to be with his family. Little did he know this would be the end, as 12-days later he himself passed away of a heart attack in his sleep at age 46. The Acromegaly had caused so much havoc on his body that his heart couldn’t pump enough blood to keep the big man alive any longer. His funeral took place on his large ranch on Ellerbe North Carolina with over 200 friend and family. That year the WWF Hall of Fame was started. It was there that Andre was honored, being the first inductee into the WWF Hall of Fame.
Why Andre The Giant was selected…
Andre the Giant was one of professional wrestling’s greatest draws of all time. He drew everywhere he went and at times in the 70’s kept dying territories alive just by an appearance or two. He could have been a total tough man and brutalized people in the ring, but is considered by most a “gentle” giant. He was a legend in and outside of the ring and created mainstream buzz for wrestling with his appearance on the Tonight Show in the 70’s, which was one of the few big time appearances for a wrestler as well as when he appeared in the Princess Bride. Andre always called everyone he liked “boss” as a term of endearment when talking to them, but anyone that truly knew him would say that he was the one and only “boss” in the business. I tried to stray away from all of the Andre drinking stories, because that seems to be one of the few things that EVERYONE discusses when they talk about Andre, but that was only a small part of the man’s legend. No Hall of Fame is complete without the Giant.