When I told my boyfriend that I was writing about André the Giant for today, he asked me if he’d done anything other than The Princess Bride. As far as acting? Not really. Oh, he did a few other movies and some TV, mostly playing “fighter” or “giant” or “Andre the Giant,” but the vast majority of his credits are from his wrestling career—and he would never admit that any of it was faked. Cary Elwes speculates that he wasn’t aware of how much it was, because other wrestlers didn’t feel they needed to hold back against a man who was 7’4″ and over 500 pounds. On the other hand, the gigantism and acromegaly that left him that size also caused him severe medical problems, including the heart issues that eventually killed him.
As it happens, I don’t like wrestling. Never really have. So pretty much the only thing I know him from is The Princess Bride. Apparently, Rob Reiner was a wrestling fan and knew that, in André, he had the best Fezzik you could ever hope for. Okay, so André was French and Fezzik was Turkish. So what? Actually, André René Roussimoff was born of Slavic parents, which still isn’t, you know, Turkish. But he looked different, in part because of his acromegaly, and more to the point, he was huge, the way Fezzik is described in the book, even if his medical issues left him incapable of Fezzik’s feats of strength.
It’s a little disheartening to read his backstory and realize that everyone assumed that André was assumed by his size to just be fit for life working with those (admittedly enormous) hands. It seems he was a good student and skilled in math, but he dropped out after eighth grade, because he didn’t think you needed a high school education to work on a farm. He also seems to have drifted a while because he didn’t find his early jobs satisfying. But maybe if he’d been encouraged to stay in school, he would’ve discovered a passion for, say, engineering. I would sacrifice having the perfect Fezzik for that, if the choice were mine.
On the other hand, he did seem happy in his adult life as a wrestler. He by all accounts enjoyed what he did, and that’s great for him, and I don’t mean to claim that I would know better than he what he should be doing. I just kind of lament that there are doubtless other large young men who’ve been driven away from education because they don’t need it to do a job they then won’t be happy doing. At least he completed an apprenticeship in woodworking, which is definitely a skilled trade, although he wasn’t happy at that, either.
The two things I know about André other than his size and his role as Fezzik are his sweet nature and his prodigious capacity for alcohol. The alcohol seems to have been largely used because painkillers didn’t work on him; someone once unfriended me for being no fun because I saw it as tragic rather than awesome. And while I admit that I don’t know enough about wrestling to know if this is true of, say, Hulk Hogan, to my knowledge, no one who knew André had an unkind word to say about him. Cary Elwes loved him. Everyone who is quoted in As You Wish loved him. William Goldman talked about loving him in one of his own books. And Billy Crystal wrote My Giant because of how much he loved him after working with him for only a couple of days. I wouldn’t mind being that beloved myself.
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