Andre the Giant was a professional wrestler who at 7′ 4″ and 520 pounds, won the World Wrestling Federation individual championship and World Tag Team Championship. He was also an actor in several Hollywood films. His huge size was caused by a pituitary gland brain tumor that produced huge amounts of human growth hormone. The tumor, combined with his unhealthful lifestyle, caused him to develop diabetes and die of heart failure at the very young age of 46.
Early Years and Diagnosis
Andre Rene Roussimoff was born in Grenoble, France. By age 12 he was 6′ 3″ tall and weighed 240 pounds. He left school at age 13 to work on a farm, and then went to work in a plant that manufactured engines. At age 17, he moved to Paris where he worked days as a furniture mover and trained nights to become a professional wrestler. At age 20 he was wrestling all over Europe and Africa. At age 24, he became a major wrestling attraction in Japan and found out for the first time that he had a brain tumor that caused him to be so large. He was told at that time that he needed an operation on his brain to remove the tumor, but that it would end his athletic career. If he didn’t have the operation, he would never live to old age as the brain tumor would kill him. He chose to avoid the operation and continue his wrestling career.
How He Became Famous
At age 27, Andre was advised by Vince McMahon, Sr., founder of the World Wide Wrestling Federation, to:
• change his stage persona from a huge, very athletic wrestler to a huge immovable object,
• change his name to “Andre the Giant” and
• wrestle around the world to get his name better known.
It worked. The 1974 Guinness Book of World Records listed him as the highest-paid wrestler, at $400,000 per year. At age 30, he became famous throughout the world in a match that was televised just before the Muhammad Ali-Antonio Inoki boxing match. In a boxer-vs-wrestler match, he threw boxer, Chuck Wepner, out of the ring, over the ropes and into the audience.
Throughout his wrestling career he gained additional fame as an actor in television series and movies. His directors and co-stars describe him as “a natural” and “a really nice guy”. He is best remembered as the giant Fezzik in the 1987 film “The Princess Bride”.
He became even more famous for a series of supposed “hostile feuds” with other wrestlers. He and Hulk Hogan had a series of “life-and-death“ feuds. Before each match, Hulk Hogan was told to be very gentle and not hurt Andre because by that time, Andre was beginning to show the ravages of the disease called acromegaly that would eventually kill him. His “feud” with “the Mongolian Giant”, Killer Khan, was reported to have broken Andre’s ankle. The truth is that Andre had already had his joints weakened by acromegaly. He broke his ankle just by twisting it after he got out of bed on the morning of the match. The next match between the two giants was at Madison Square Garden and was billed as a chance for Andre to get even with Killer Khan. It ended with no winner as both were disqualified for un-sportsmen-like conduct. Four months later, Andre beat Khan who had to be taken to his dressing room on a stretcher.
Another “feud” was with Big John Studd who, at 6′ 10″ and 364 pounds, claimed that he was “the true giant of wrestling”. He claimed that Andre the Giant was not a real giant. Andre the Giant was huge because he “naturally” had a brain tumor. The truth was that John Studd was “unnaturally huge” and died of liver cancer which is often the result of taking anabolic steroid pills and shots to make an athlete bigger and stronger. Studd offered $15,000 to any wrestler who could “body slam” him to the mat. Andre accepted his challenge and was about to slam Studd when Studd’s manager grabbed Andre from behind. In 1983, Andre body slammed Studd so hard that the entire ring collapsed. They also fought inside a steel cage, where Andre jumped from the ring rope onto Studd’s chest and knocked Studd out cold. In 1984, Studd got even in a tag team match. He and his partner Ken Patera knocked out André and cut off Andre’s hair. In 1985 Andre slammed Studd to collect Studd’s offer of $15,000. Then Andre threw the cash into the cheering crowd.
Acromegaly Takes its Toll
In 1986, at age 40, Andre was so weak and fragile from his brain tumor that opposing wrestlers had to be very gentle with him or they could kill him. Andre took a leave of absence from professional wrestling and Studd repeatedly appeared on television claiming that Andre was not there because he was afraid of him. Finally Andre agreed to wrestle him, but failed to show up for the televised match against Studd. He was suspended by the WWF. Near the end of 1986, Andre appeared on television wearing a mask and using the name “The Giant Machine” . Andre’s body size and shape were so unique that the entire wrestling world new that “The Giant Machine” was Andre. Studd complained to the WWF, and the WWF replied that if Andre was really “The Giant Machine”, they would fire him. Soon afterwards, “The Giant Machine” disappeared and Andre returned to the ring. However, his disease was really weakening him. In one scheduled tag team match, his tag-team partner, Haku, had to wrestle alone against the other team’s two wrestlers.
From 1990 onward, Andre’s health was failing and his appearances on the WWF became more irregular. On December 1992, he wrestled for the last time. On January 27, 1993, he died in his sleep of congestive heart failure in a Paris hotel room. At that time he lived on his ranch in North Carolina but was in Paris to attend his father’s funeral. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at his ranch in Ellerbe, North Carolina.
Giantism occurs when a tumor in the pituitary gland at the base of your brain produces huge amounts of human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), that cause:
• excessive growth of everything in the body except the brain because the tight skull limits how much the brain can grow.
• large muscles that fill up with salt that makes them larger, but also weaker.
• diabetes (HGH and IGF-1 block insulin)
• high blood pressure.
• heart attacks and strokes from the diabetes and high blood pressure
• colon cancer (HGH causes precancerous polyps to form in the colon)
• sexual problems including impotence
• vision problems
Diabetes: The HGH and IGF-1 produced by the brain tumor prevent cells from responding to insulin to cause diabetes. Diabetics are not supposed to
• eat and drink sugar-added foods and drinks because they cause very high blood-sugar levels,
• eat red meat because it blocks insulin receptors, or
• be overweight because fat inside cells block insulin receptors.
Andre would walk into a restaurant and easily eat 12 steaks and 15 lobsters in one sitting. He ate incredible amounts of food and his body was loaded with excess fat.
Impotence: Acromegalics are usually asexual and impotent. Andre was not interested in dating and never married; he was far more interested in eating and drinking. He was not homosexual. He had one daughter, Robin Christensen Roussimoff, who was born in 1979.
Heart Failure: Alcohol directly damages the heart muscle to increase risk of heart failure. Andre would drink huge amounts of alcohol without getting drunk. He would drink more than 5 bottles of wine before a wrestling match and there is documented evidence that he once drank 119 12-ounce cans of beer at one sitting. His diabetes and high blood pressure both increased his risk for heart attacks and heart failure.
He Chose Not to Prolong His Life
Andre was diagnosed at age 24 as having acromegaly caused by a brain tumor, and chose not to have it treated because he was told that the operation would end his wrestling career. His entire life was governed by the fact that he knew that he was going to die at a young age and chose to live doing what he wanted to do most. Another professional wrestler, Paul Wight, also suffered from acromegaly. He was just as massive as Andre the Giant. Promoters called him “The Giant” and billed him as the son of Andre, even though he was not. However in 1991, unlike Andre, he did have the brain surgery to remove his pituitary gland tumor, but had to give up wrestling as a result. Another giant wrestler, “Giant Gonzalez” also had acromegaly and in September 2010, died of diabetes caused by his brain tumor.
He Was a Very Nice Guy
In spite of the fierce looks he would give in the ring, he was a gentle and generous person to his friends. He always insisted on paying for drinks and food and once ran up a $40,000 alcohol bill for just one weekend in Toronto. Once Arnold Schwarzenegger snuck out from the table and paid for a meal. In response, Andre and Wilt Chamberlain picked Schwartzenegger up and carried him from the table and placed him on top of his car in the parking lot.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com