The giant named André Roussimoff who towered among wrestlers

To wrestling fans, André the Giant appeared larger than life. They weren't wrong in what they were seeing.

French-born farm boy became a world-famous wrestler

'They don't build anything for a giant'

37 years ago
In 1985, André the Giant talks to CBC about life as a giant. 0:30

To wrestling fans, André the Giant appeared larger than life.

But outside the ring, the man otherwise known as André Roussimoff could attest to the fact he did, in fact, find himself too large for various parts of day-to-day life.

"They don't build anything for a giant," said Roussimoff, when speaking to CBC News back in March of 1985.

As Roussimoff explained, he found himself living in a world where cars were too compact, beds too small and ceilings too low for the 7'4" and then-480-pound wrestler to navigate.

The 7'4" wrestler André Roussimoff is seen exiting a taxi in the 1980s. (Newsday/CBC Archives)

"As I say, I have to live in your world," he said.

By that point in his career, Roussimoff had spent half his life in the wrestling ring, thrilling fans in Canada and the United States, as well as in his native France — where he was born to a farming family on May 19, 1946 — and other countries around the globe.

A condition known as acromegaly made Roussimoff the giant he became. And that size gave him a natural advantage when grappling with opponents during the many years he spent in the ring.

Big opportunity

How Andre the Giant started wrestling

46 years ago
In 1975, Andre the Giant talks to CBC about how he got into the wrestling game. 0:42

In 1975, Roussimoff told the CBC's Les Stoodley what drew him into the wrestling ring in the first place.

A translator explained that Roussimoff had grown up in France and seen occasional wrestling matches there. 

"Then he got watching wrestling on TV and from there he got interested in coming into the sport because he was a big man and he thought he could do good in that sport," the translator said.

That brought him to the attention of local promoters and eventually into the world of wrestling.

"How long have you been in the game?" asked Stoodley.

"Ten years," Roussimoff said in English.

Hitting the big time

André the Giant is seen taking on Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI in Atlantic City, N.J., on March 27, 1988. (Jeffrey Asher/Getty Images)

Roussimoff, of course, would eventually find big-time fame as a featured member of the World Wrestling Federation.

He also landed some occasional acting work, such as when he played the role of Fezzik — a giant, of course — in The Princess Bride. He also appeared in guest roles on various TV shows including The Six Million Dollar Man and The Fall Guy.

André The Giant's best-known role outside of wrestling may be when he played Fezzik in 1987's The Princess Bride. He appeared alongside actors Mandy Patinkin (centre) and Wallace Shawn (below) in the film. (The Canadian Press)

He was even a pitchman for Labatt at one point — appearing in at least one French-language commercial for the Canadian brewer.

According to what CBC reported, Roussimoff was making a reported annual salary of $750,000, as of the mid-1980s.

His income allowed him to maintain a home at a ranch in North Carolina, where he stayed when he was not wrestling.

'I still love to get in the ring'

André Roussimoff's wrestling career took him to arenas all over the world. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

His work as a wrestler took him travelling around the world to challenge opponents and dazzle fans and from what he told CBC, he liked what he did.

"I love my profession. I know what I'm doing, I love travelling," said Roussimoff, who was 38 at the time of the 1985 interview.

"Maybe if I retire now, I don't think I would feel good. I could retire if I wanted ... but I still love to get in the ring every night."

In this June 26, 1976, file photo, professional wrestler André the Giant tosses heavyweight contender Chuck Wepner out of the ring at Shea Stadium in New York. (The Associated Press)

In January 1993, Roussimoff travelled to France to attend the funeral for his father. He died that same month in the country where he was born at the age of 46.

"He just went to sleep and never woke up," his friend Frenchy Bernard told The Canadian Press in the wake of Roussimoff's death.

In death, Roussimoff left behind a daughter, in addition to his friends and family.

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