In the lives of virtually every person, there are moments when decisions are made based on our lesser virtues. During these moments, we forego what is traditionally right and do what we believe is right for us. Propelled by jealousy, anger, shame or a sense of personal emptiness, people do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons on a near daily basis.
These ‘bad’ acts do not always reflect the entirety of the person. Not all people who let their lesser angels prevail are truly evil. We are not and cannot be perfect and expecting a person to act perfectly is typically a fool’s errand.
There are those we hold to a higher standard, however, and when these people fail, it reveals the humanity of those we thought to be superhuman. Those who tower above all others. Even one man who came to be known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Act One: The Globetrotting Giant
Before he received his most famous moniker, Andre Roussimoff had travelled across the globe while honing his craft. He travelled from his native France across Europe in the mid and late 1960s and headlined shows wherever he went. His travels took him to lands as different and disparate as New Zealand and Iraq and in the early 1970s, he moved to Montreal with his friend and business manager, Frank Valois. In early 1970, he debuted in Japan for IWE as Monster Roussimoff and would continue to make regular trips there for various promotions throughout the rest of his career and life.
1973 proved to be the turning point in Roussimoff’s career. Having been presented as an unstoppable force in Montreal and elsewhere, Andre’s drawing power as a long term presence began to wane once it became clear that no heel could match him. In March 1973, Valois arranged for Andre to meet with a promoter he had never worked for, Vince McMahon Sr. In his excellent obituary for Andre, Dave Meltzer (Wrestling Observer Newsletter, February 8, 1993) described the changes Vince Sr. proposed for Rousimoff:
“McMahon Sr. changed his name from Jean Ferré to Andre the Giant, debuted him in Madison Square Garden where he became an immediate sensation, and realizing the mistakes that had been made in booking him in Montreal because of overexposure, sent him on the road around the world doing one night stands working every territory that was affiliated with the NWA, WWWF and NWA, which in those days meant just about everywhere, and not only North America.”
McMahon began sending his newly minted attraction across the country and the world to spread the word about this new sensation. Promoters would bring Andre in and feature him in specialty matches like battle royals and handicap matches where he would regularly beat multiple wrestlers at a time. He would also be used to team with local babyfaces to face off against a promotion’s biggest heels. Everywhere he went, people came in droves to see Andre.
In McMahon’s own promotion, he built a legendary reputation for never being pinned and rarely being taken off his feet. The few times he was made to look vulnerable were when the promotion wanted to build up a monster heel such as Killer Kahn or to groom a future star like in his matches with a young heel Hulk Hogan in the early 1980s.
His fame extended well past the wrestling industry. He appeared as Bigfoot on the popular TV show “Six Million Dollar Man” in the mid-70s. He made numerous appearances on TV shows, both as himself and as fictional characters and was featured alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the second Conan movie. Andre was indisputably the most famous and the best-paid professional wrestler in the world throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s.
Act Two: National Expansion, Opportunity Contraction
In 1982, McMahon sold his promotion to his son, Vincent K. McMahon, and over the next two years, the junior McMahon went about changing his newly bought company and the entire wrestling landscape. With cable television allowing regional companies access to national audiences, the WWF would begin expanding into cities and regions previously off limits to his father. The age of cooperation between his family and other promoters came to a screeching halt.
This change directly affected Andre more than most wrestlers as the travelling attraction became exclusive to the WWF in the United States. Andre would continue to travel abroad (most notably making regular tours with New Japan Pro Wrestling), but by mid-1984, Andre started wrestling exclusively for the WWF in North America.
The years Andre had spent in and out of the McMahon territories caused him to remain one of the top stars in the world despite this change. Behind Hulk Hogan, he would pushed as the second biggest babyface in the company and his feud with Bobby Heenan and his family became a key part of the WWF programing as it expanded into new markets.
At the first WrestleMania, Andre’s feud with Big John Studd culminated in a body slam match with Andre continuing his dominance. He would continue to feud with Heenan’s men including Studd, Ken Patera and King Kong Bundy throughout 1985. In 1986, he won a wrestler/football player battle royal that main evented the Chicago portion of WrestleMania II. No one besides Hulk Hogan himself stood out quite as much as Andre.
His fame outside the ring continued as well. He appeared in cartoon form on Hulk Hogan’s Rock and Wrestling and was one of the many WWF stars who would appear in Cyndi Lauper’s music videos. In perhaps his most famous non-wrestling role, he appeared in the Rob Reiner film The Princess Bride as the giant Fezzik. His exclusivity to the WWF didn’t seem to affect his fame in anyway. But by 1987, something had changed.
Act Three: What About Andre?
January 23, 1987 marked the third anniversary of Hulk Hogan’s WWF title victory and to honor the occasion, WWF president Jack Tunney appeared on Piper’s Pit to present Hogan with a trophy. Video clips were shown of Hogan’s victory as well as his post-match celebration where Andre gleefully poured champagne on Hogan’s head. Andre would appear again before the live crowd to congratulate Hogan on his anniversary and gave his best friend an extremely firm handshake.
The next week, Tunney appeared again in the Pit to present Andre with a trophy for his years of being undefeated. Andre began to address the crowd, but before he could speak, Hogan appeared to sing Andre’s praises. Andre listened for a few moments, but soon left the trophy and Hogan behind. The intrigue grew the following week as Jesse Ventura began questioning Andre’s recent reinstatement to the WWF and his relationship with long time enemy Bobby Heenan. He also questioned the WWF’s treatment of Hogan and Andre. As Ventura and Piper seemed ready to come to blows, the men agreed that they would bring Hulk and Andre back together for a one-on-one confrontation.
Hogan, Andre, Piper and Ventura all appeared the following week, but it was the presence of Bobby Heenan entering alongside Andre that shook all involved. Hogan pleaded with Andre to not align himself with his hated rival, but Andre had decided that he had tired of waiting for a shot at the WWF title. And with Hogan as champion, the only way to get that shot was to join forces with Heenan. After 15 years of working for the McMahon family, Andre would get his first world title match at WrestleMania III.
Through most of his time working for the McMahons, the WWF/WWWF title has been held by babyfaces. Although babyface vs. babyface matches had happened, Andre was not needed in that role. He did have several title shots at the AWA and NWA world titles against Nick Bockwinkel and Harley Race respectively, but a match for the biggest title promoted by McMahons had always eluded him.
WrestleMania III would be his moment and either he would become champion or his undefeated streak would end.
On March 29,1987, before the then largest live crowd in wrestling history, Hogan and Andre would finally meet. In reality, they had wrestled many times in the past including in the WWWF earlier in the decade. Regardless, for the crowd in the Pontiac Silverdome and the many more watching on pay-per-view, this was a truly a historic clash. Gorilla Monsoon dubbed it “The irresistible force meets the immovable object.”
Hogan quickly went to slam Andre, but collapsed under Andre’s weight. Andre covered him and thought he had gotten a three count despite the camera angle clearly showing Hogan’s shoulder lifting well before three. Andre disdainfully toyed with Hogan, alternating between beating the champion down and absorbing Hogan’s best shots while remaining on his feet. But while Andre kept cutting off every Hogan comeback, he clearly lost a step each time.
The two men went to the floor and again Andre cut Hogan off. But after returning to the ring, Andre went for a boot and missed. Hogan rebounded off the ropes and finally knocked Andre off his feet. Moments later, the crowd exploded as Hogan bodyslammed Andre, dropped his patented legdrop and pin the Giant to end the 15 year unbeaten streak.
Andre would not wrestle a televised match again for nearly eight months as his health had begun to worsen due to the very disorder that has made him a giant. However, Andre and Heenan would continue to appear on WWF TV and claim Andre had gotten a three count at the start of the match. Andre would get his next opportunity against Hogan at the inaugural Survivor Series show later that year. The two would have a short exchange before Hogan was counted out and eliminated. Andre would go on to win the match, but Hogan returned to the ring and laid out Andre, ruining his victory celebration.
What had started as a perceived slight by Andre had grown into far more than that. Andre would soon face a major opportunity that came with great potential rewards and perhaps an even greater cost.
Act Four: Andre Sells His Soul
Andre’s victory at Survivor Series offered him no solace and the Giant continued to stalk Hogan at every turn. Two days after his victory, Andre stared down Hogan at ringside during a title defense against King Kong Bundy on Saturday Night’s Main Event. After the rematch in January 1988, Andre attacked Hogan and choked him out until Hacksaw Jim Duggan used his 2×4 to force Andre to release Hogan. It was clear that only a one-on-one rematch would finally resolve this bitter rivalry.
While the Andre-Hogan feud continue to simmer, a new star had begun to make waves in the WWF. Known now as “the Million Dollar Man,” Ted DiBiase had quickly become one of the most hated men in the promotion by flaunting his wealth at the expense of wrestlers and fans alike. Believing ‘everybody had a price,’ DiBiase attempted to purchase the WWF title from Hogan. Hogan refused and told DiBiase in no uncertain terms that the only way he could get the title was beating Hogan in the ring.
DiBiase’s desire for the title and Andre’s desire for revenge converged when Heenan and Andre agreed to deliver the title to the Million Dollar Man after Andre beat Hogan. At the inaugural Royal Rumble show, Hulk and Andre agreed to meet on February 5th in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dubbed The Main Event, it would be the first professional wrestling show to air on prime time network TV in decades. It would draw approximately 33 million viewers, a record audience for professional wrestling that is unlikely to ever be surpassed.
The Andre who stood across from Hogan that night was not the same man who faced the champion nearly a year prior. At WrestleMania III, Andre had the confidence of a man who many believed had never been beaten. This night, Andre’s face was not that of a man who truly believed he could not lose. This Andre appeared desperate to prove that he could win.
Hogan quickly went after Andre while also keeping DiBiase and Virgil at bay. Hulk battered Andre, but could not take him off his feet. Andre capitalize on a Hogan mistake and slammed him from the top rope. But, seconds later, he collapsed to the mat. Clearly hurt, Andre nevertheless pounded the champion even as exhaustion and pain was evident on his face. Using his massive hand and the strap of his singlet, Andre choked Hogan intermittently until he was forced to stop. Hogan mounted a comeback and finally took Andre off his feet with a flying clothesline. Hogan dropped his legdrop and got a visual pin, but Virgil distracted the referee. Andre used the distraction to attack Hogan and toss him to the mat. Hogan lifted his shoulder at two, but the referee missed this and counted three. After four years and just under two weeks, Hulk Hogan’s title reign had ended.
Regardless of the circumstances, this was the moment that Andre had longed for. He was champion. He had beaten Hogan. And he was on top of the wrestling world…for all of three minutes. He announced he was surrendering the title to DiBiase, a decision that would be overturned by WWF president Jack Tunney shortly thereafter.
A tournament to crown a new champion was announced for WrestleMania IV was announced and Hogan and Andre would face off again in a second round match. During the match, DiBiase and Virgil got involved and both men were disqualified. Andre had been reduced to a pawn in DiBiase’s quest to become WWF champion, a quest that would he would again fail at with Randy Savage defeating the Million Dollar Man in the tournament final.
Andre joined forces with DiBiase at the inaugural SummerSlam in a losing effort against Savage and Hogan. Andre would then get a series of title shots against Savage, but was unable to wrest the title from him. No longer of value to him, DiBiase went on to create his own Million Dollar Belt while Andre reunited with Bobby Heenan. The Eighth Wonder of the World had gotten his moment, sold it to another man and had nothing left to show for it but the indignity of the shortest WWF title reign in history.
Act Five: An Inglorious End
In the aftermath of the Hogan feud, Andre’s standing in the WWF began to diminish. Even before the final match at SummerSlam, Andre had begun feuding with Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Duggan, incredibly popular as he was, was always slotted below the top level babyfaces and represented a major step down for Andre. The Duggan feud was followed by an even larger indignity when the once towering world wonder cowered in fear to a slithering snake. In an infamous moment, Andre suffered what appeared to be a heart attack when Jake Roberts unleashed Damian on the petrified Giant.
Roberts and Andre would continue to feud well into 1989 and ended with Jake beating Andre by disqualification at WrestleMania V. Andre’s former rival, Big John Studd, served as referee of that match and Andre and Studd renewed their rivalry before Studd abruptly left the WWF. By the late summer, Andre would be routinely squashed by then Intercontinental Champion, The Ultimate Warrior, often in matches that lasted less than a minute. This would prove to be the Giant’s final singles feud in the WWF.
By the fall of 1989, Andre was paired with his fellow Heenan Family member, Haku, as the Colossal Connection. The duo won the WWF Tag Team Championship from Demolition in December of 1989 and would hold them for over three months. It was Andre’s longest title reign in the WWF and through much of it, Andre barely involved himself in his team’s matches.
By the time WrestleMania VI came about, Andre’s body has deteriorated greatly and his ability to contribute to a match became less and less. During the rematch with Demolition, Andre mostly slumped on the apron while Haku tried in vain to stave off his team’s eventual defeat. It was a burden Haku could not carry and Demolition easily won their third WWF Tag Title that night in Toronto. Sensing that Andre was of little use to him anymore, Heenan lashed out at the Giant and blamed him completely for the loss. After all he had been through, after all he had given up in his pursuit of his goals, Andre could take no more and ragdolled Heenan. He may have been on his last legs, but he was still a giant.
As Andre left the ring by himself, the fans once again cheered the Eighth Wonder of the World. He had cast the fans aside for his own ambition, but despite showing no contrition, the crowd was quick to forgive and forget. It would be the final time Andre would wrestle on a WWE televised match and he went out to the applause of the crowd.
Andre would wrestle three more non-televised matches for the WWF over the next thirteen months. He would continue to wrestle in multi man matches for All Japan during his numerous tours with the company and in 1992, he wrestled his final North American matches in Mexico for the UWA. In September 1992, he appeared on WCW’s Clash of Champions XX, the final time he would appear on a US wrestling program.
In December, he wrestled his final match, a six-man match in All Japan. A little over a month later, he would be found dead by his chauffeur in a Paris hotel.
When discussing the legacy of Andre the Giant, the final years of his career are often discussed with reference to his deteriorating physical state and reduced mobility. His physical limitations notwithstanding, the tale of his moral decline from a beloved attraction to a broken down goon for hire may be the more intriguing tale.
This story had no happy ending. There was no true final redemption. Just a larger than life man fallen by his all too human desires.