To say that Andre the Giant was larger than life would almost be an understatement. Billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” in his days with WWE, the man born Andre Rene Roussimoff was perhaps the most beloved professional wrestler in history, selling out arenas around the world for more than two decades, a run that includes arguably the biggest and most important match in WWE history against Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III.
But Andre the Giant was just as big outside the ropes. His role as Fezzik in The Princess Bride confirmed his status as a pop culture icon and the tales of his eating and drinking are legendary. Sadly, he passed away in 1993 at the young age of 46.
Here’s a look back on the life, career, and heartbreaking death of Andre the Giant.
The early days of Andre the Giant
Born in France in 1946, Andre the Giant suffered from a form of gigantism known as acromegaly, a disorder in which excess growth hormone causes one to grow at an extremely rapid rate. By the time he was 12 years old, Andre was already more than six feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds. He opted to use his size to his advantage and began training for a career in professional wrestling at the age of 18.
Originally known in the ring as Geant Ferre, Andre went by many different names in his early years in the business, working mostly in Europe and Japan before making his way to North America in the early 1970s. In 1973, he met then-WWE owner and promoter Vince McMahon, Sr., who gave him the name Andre the Giant. While Andre worked mostly for WWE, McMahon allowed him to work in other promotions in exchange for a sizable booking fee.
Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Andre the Giant became the biggest professional wrestling star in the world. Standing more than seven feet tall, he was surprisingly agile in his prime, even using a dropkick as part of his arsenal, and wowed crowds with his unbelievable strength. When Vince McMahon, Jr. bought WWE from his father in the early 1980s, he urged Andre to focus more on his power moves and built him up as an unstoppable force, which would lead to the biggest match of all time.
The WWE career of the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’
In 1984, Hulk Hogan won his first WWE Championship and Andre the Giant, who had never won the title, was right there in the locker room to congratulate his good friend. Andre had worked as a babyface throughout his career but agreed to turn heel in 1987 to set up a match with Hogan for the title at WrestleMania III. Andre had agreed to lose but on the day of the match, nobody, not even Hogan or Vince McMahon, knew if he would actually go through with it. But Andre the Giant was a man of his word and in front of 93,173 at the Pontiac Silverdome, the “bodyslam heard around the world” took place and Andre officially passed the torch to Hogan, who had taken over as the most popular wrestler on the planet.
The two met again in February 1988 on an episode of “The Main Event,” which to this day is still the most-watched wrestling match of all time as 33 million people tuned in to NBC for the highly-anticipated rematch. Andre the Giant won his first and only WWE Championship that night, defeating Hogan in controversial fashion before handing the title over to “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase. The title was then vacated and won by “Macho Man” Randy Savage at WrestleMania IV, where Andre and Hogan again battled, resulting in a double disqualification. Hogan and Savage teamed up to defeat Andre the Giant and Ted Dibiase later that year at SummerSlam.
With his condition worsening, Andre the Giant continued to wrestle over the next few years but certainly couldn’t perform at the level he would have liked. He engaged in feuds with the likes of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and The Ultimate Warrior, and won the WWE tag titles with Haku before turning on the Heenan Family at WrestleMania VI, turning face for the first time in three years. He made his final appearance for WWE in 1991 and his final American TV appearance for WCW in 1992. He wrestled his final match the same year in Japan and officially retired from professional wrestling.
Andre the Giant tragically passed away in 1993 at the age of 46
In early 1993, Andre the Giant traveled to his home country to attend the funeral of his father. He stayed in Paris to visit with friends and family but on the night of January 27, 1993, he went to sleep and simply never woke up, the result of congestive heart failure. For years, he’d declined medical care that could prolong his life as he felt it would hinder his wrestling career. And his body simply couldn’t take anymore. His body was cremated and the ashes were spread at his ranch in North Carolina. He is survived by his daughter, Robin. Andre the Giant was just 46 years old at the time of his death.
In 1993, WWE created a Hall of Fame and Andre the Giant, the most beloved professional wrestler in history, was the inaugural member.