One of the most surprising experiences you'll see this year is the feature documentary Andre The Giant. For wrestling fans, Andre was legendary, but most of the rest of us know him mostly for his role in the classic fantasy film The Princess Bride.
This is a documentary that takes you into the extraordinary life of Andre - double the size of your average person, Andre found a career that took him from a small town in France to the US where he became a superstar. But, despite the fame and fortune Andre amassed, the very physical attributes that made him a star were what brought Andre considerable pain.
The Giant Ferry
Starting life in Molien, a small town in France, Andre started getting physically bigger than expected in his teen years. At the age of 16/17 is when he really started to grow, concerning his mother who feared he would never stop. As a teenaged rugby player, Andre was often found at the local gym where he encountered local wrestlers. He started training with them and they taught him how to wrestle.
When Andre started in the business, he adopted the identity of 'Jean Ferre', a lumberjack discovered in the middle of the woods chopping wood. The name translated to 'The Giant Fairy', with Andre then weighing in at 309 pounds as a 19 year-old.
Andre began wrestling in venues across Paris and at festivals across the country. In June 1971, wrestling took him to North America where, at 390 pounds and a 7'4" height, the wrestler discovered the identity that would soon bring him his fame. In the US, as one would expect, he could not wrestle as 'The Giant Ferry', so in Chicago they named him 'Andre The Giant'.
And a legend was born.
The 'Eighth Wonder of the World'
Andre was a big man with a big appetite for life. Throughout the documentary, you'll hear anecdotes about just how big that appetite was.
Here's just a sample:
"They were attracted to him like he was a magnet. I don't know about his personal relationships with women, but I know the girls loved him."
- Hulk Hogan.
"The stories about Andre's drinking are almost another level of mythology... Andre was certainly, one of if not the greatest, drinker that ever lived."
- David Shoemaker.
"He liked the wine. He'd have them bring in a case to start the day. A case of wine!"
- Gene Okerlund
"Brother, I was with him one night when he drank 106 beers."
- Ric Flair
Yeah, that's Andre holding a beer on the right of the picture.
Andre versus Hulk
It all came to a head with Wrestlemania III. Andre was not in a great place physically. There are all the stories about how much Andre drank, but he drank because he was in pain. His back, neck, and joints all continued to hurt him. Suffering so much pain, Andre believed that not only would his wrestling career be short, but so would his life.
Andre was coaxed into fighting against Hulk Hogan, the then All-American wrestling super hero.
Andre had been such a revered character, but when facing off against Hogan, Andre was positioned as the villain.
The match was highly anticipated by rabid fans, but what the fans never understood was how much Andre's health concerns loomed over the event. He had back surgery, which enabled him to wrestle in the event. But Hogan was sweating over what Andre was able to do in the ring right up to the time of the event.
From that point on, Andre would always be positioned as the villain. For a man who loved to be cheered by crowds as he entered the stadium, being booed by the audience, combined with his declining health, it was going to very soon be over for the big man.
Andre The Giant is a documentary filled with heart and passion about a man with the biggest heart. You can stream it now at SBS On Demand: