Wednesday, March 21, 2012

André the Giant

André René Roussimoff (19 May 1946 – 27 January 1993), best known as André the Giant, was a French professional wrestler and actor. His best remembered acting role was that of Fezzik, the giant in the film The Princess Bride. His size was a result of acromegaly, and led to him being called "The Eighth Wonder of the World".

In the World Wrestling Federation (now known as WWE), Roussimoff was a one-time WWF Champion and a one-time WWF World Tag Team Champion. In 1993, he was the first inductee into the WWF Hall of Fame.

André Roussimoff was born in Grenoble, France to parents of Bulgarian and Polish ancestry. As a child, he very early displayed symptoms of his acromegaly, reaching a height of 6'3" (190.5 cm) and weight of 240 pounds (110 kg) by age 12. Unable to fit on the school bus, he was driven to school by playwright Samuel Beckett, a friend of his father. Roussimoff was a good student, but he dropped out after the 8th grade since he did not think having a high school education was necessary for a farm laborer. He then worked on a farm, completed an apprenticeship in woodworking, and next worked in a factory that manufactured engines for hay balers. None of these brought him any satisfaction.

On March 26, 1973, André debuted in the World Wide Wrestling Federation (later World Wrestling Federation) as a fan favorite, defeating Buddy Wolfe in New York's Madison Square Garden.

André was one of professional wrestling's most beloved "babyfaces" throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. As such, Gorilla Monsoon insisted that André was never defeated for 15 years by pinfall or submission prior to WrestleMania III. This, however, is not true. André actually had lost cleanly in matches outside of WWF parameters; a pinfall loss in Mexico to Canek in 1984 and a submission loss in Japan to Antonio Inoki in June 1986. He also went sixty-minute time limit draws with the two other major world champions of the day, Harley Race and Nick Bockwinkel.

In 1976 Andre fought professional boxer Chuck Wepner in an unscripted Boxer vs Wrestler fight. The wild fight was shown via telecast as part of the undercard of the Muhammad Ali vs Antonio Inoki fight and ended when Andre threw Wepner over the top rope and outside the ring.

In 1980, he feuded with Hulk Hogan, fighting him at Shea Stadium and in Pennsylvania. The feud would continue in Japan in 1982 and 1983.

In 1982, Vince McMahon, Sr. sold the World Wrestling Federation to his son, Vince McMahon, Jr.. As McMahon began to expand his newly acquired promotion to the national level, he required his wrestlers to appear exclusively for him. McMahon signed André to these terms in 1984, although he still allowed the Giant to work in Japan for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW).

One of André's feuds pitted him against "the Mongolian Giant" Killer Khan. According to the storyline, Khan had snapped André's ankle during a match on May 2, 1981, in Rochester, New York by leaping off the top rope and crashing down upon it with his knee-drop. In reality, André had broken his ankle getting out of bed the morning before the match. The injury and subsequent rehabilitation was worked into the existing André/Khan storyline. After a stay at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, André returned with payback on his mind. The two battled on July 20, 1981 at Madison Square Garden in a match that resulted in a double disqualification. Their feud continued through the summer and fall as fans filled arenas up and down the east coast to witness their matches. On November 14, 1981 at the Philadelphia Spectrum, the feud culminated when André decisively defeated Khan in what was billed as a "Mongolian Stretcher Match", in which the loser must be taken to the dressing room on a stretcher.

Another feud involved a man who considered himself to be "the true giant" of wrestling: Big John Studd. Throughout the early to mid-1980s, André and Studd fought all over the world, battling to try to determine who the real giant of wrestling was. In December 1984, Studd took the feud to a new level, when he and partner Ken Patera knocked out André during a televised tag team match and proceeded to cut off André's hair. After gaining revenge on Patera, André met Studd in a "Body Slam Challenge" at the first WrestleMania, held March 31, 1985 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. André slammed Studd to win the match and collect the $15,000 prize, then proceeded to throw cash to the fans before having the bag stolen from him by Studd's manager, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.

The following year, at WrestleMania 2 on April 7, 1986, André continued to display his dominance by winning a twenty-man battle royal which featured top NFL stars and wrestlers. André last eliminated Bret Hart to win the contest.

After WrestleMania 2, André continued his feud with Studd and King Kong Bundy. At about this time, Andre requested a leave of absence to tend to his health—effects from his acromegaly were beginning to take their toll—as well as tour Japan; he had also gotten a part in the film The Princess Bride). To explain Andre's absence, a storyline was developed to have Heenan—suggesting that Andre was secretly afraid of Studd and Bundy, whom Heenan bragged were unbeatable—challenge Andre and a partner of his choosing to wrestle Studd and Bundy in a televised tag-team match. When Andre failed to show, WWF President Jack Tunney indefinitely suspended Andre. Later in the summer of 1986, upon Andre's return to the United States, he began wearing a mask and competing as the "Giant Machine" in a stable known as The Machines. (Big Machine and Super Machine were the other members.) The WWF's television announcers sold the Machines—a gimmick was copied from New Japan Pro Wrestling character "Super Strong Machine", played by Japanese wrestler Junji Hirata) – as "a new tag team from Japan," and claimed not to know the identities of the wrestlers, even though it was obvious to fans and the television audience that it was Andre competing as the Giant Machine. Heenan, Studd and Bundy complained to Tunney, who eventually told Heenan that if it could be proven that Andre and the Giant Machine were the same person, Andre would be fired. Andre thrwarted Heenan, Studd and Bundy at every turn. Then, in the fall of 1986, the Giant Machine "disappeared," and André was reinstated. Foreshadowing Andre's heel turn, Heenan expressed his approval of the reinstatement but did not explain why.

André branched out into acting again in the 1970s and 1980s, after a 1967 French boxing movie, making his USA acting debut playing a Sasquatch ("Bigfoot") on the 1970s television series The Six Million Dollar Man. He appeared in other television shows, including The Greatest American Hero, B.J. and the Bear, The Fall Guy and 1990's Zorro.

Towards the end of his career, André starred in several films. He had an uncredited appearance in the 1984 film Conan the Destroyer, as Dagoth, the resurrected horned giant god who is killed by Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger). That same year, André also made an appearance in Micki + Maude (billed as Andre Rousimmoff). He appeared most notably as Fezzik, his own favorite role, in the 1987 film The Princess Bride. Both the film and Andre's performance retain a devoted following.

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