“Andre the Giant” was hugely entertaining for casual wrestling observers. Conversely, for avid fans, the HBO documentary provided few little-known insights or accounts regarding the colossal Frenchman. The 1993 WWE Hall of Famer was born André René Roussimoff on May 19, 1946, in Molien, France. Jason Hehir’s feature initially concentrates on André the Giant’s upbringing in Western Europe. Prior to adolescence, André was an average size boy for his age.
“He was a beautiful baby,” said Andre’s older brother, Antoine Roussimoff. “He was normal.”
However, Andre suffered from a disorder called acromegaly and he ultimately matured into a (billed) 7-foot-4, 520-pound breathing skyscraper. As defined by the Mayo Clinic, “Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder that develops when your pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone during adulthood. When this happens, your bones increase in size, including those of your hands, feet and face.” André’s massive frame made him an indelible attraction and he decided to pursue a career as a professional wrestler. André transcended the industry’s territorial format and became a global megastar.
“André never needed costuming – he never needed to paint his face or wear strange robes,” journalist Terry Todd said.
“He was absolutely unique. He was a figure of the imagination come to life.”
Vincent Kennedy McMahon assumed control of the WWF from his ailing father at the age of 37 in 1982. Upon becoming the federation’s owner, chairman and CEO, McMahon dismissed decades of tradition and raided other wrestling promoters’ territories to expand his company. McMahon formally withdrew from the National Wrestling Alliance in 1983 in an effort to firmly establish his promotion as the world’s preeminent rasslin’ brand.
McMahon’s next priority was to obtain a charismatic, Herculean-like figure to elevate his organization to prominence. Somewhat ironically, McMahon’s father, Vincent J. McMahon, fired the ideal person to play that role because he portrayed Thunderlips in Sylvester Stallone’s 1982 movie “Rocky III.” This individual, Hulk Hogan, quickly rebounded from getting terminated and starred in the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association (AWA). Consequently, McMahon began to aggressively lure the 6-foot-7, 300-pound Hogan away from Verne Gagne’s outfit. McMahon’s ingenious maneuvering worked and Hogan deserted the AWA and rejoined the WWF in December 1983.
While Hogan was McMahon’s marquee figure, André the Giant remained an indomitable performer inside the squared circle. To capitalize on the duos’ star power, McMahon envisioned Hogan defending the WWF Championship against André at WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. However, in the years preceding one of the biggest matches in professional wrestling history, “The Eighth Wonder of the World” was battling an array of physical ailments. In particular, André’s back was in terrible condition. McMahon offered to let André train at his home to rehabilitate and strengthen his large posterior area.
“Obviously, going into WrestleMania III, and I don’t know if lots of people know this or not, but André was in not-so-great health,” recalled McMahon’s son, Shane.
“His back was really messed up and André was shooting a movie with Billy Crystal called ‘The Princess Bride.’ He basically came to our house every day. My dad, obviously being very heavy into fitness, had a huge gym and André came there every day and trained and rehabbed and got stronger and stronger and then was able to, obviously, get in very good physical shape and prepare for that one amazing match.”
Although generally gregarious and lovable, André didn’t like fellow wrestlers “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Big John Studd and the Iron Sheik. André’s dislike could be problematic because his size allowed him to dictate the outcome of every bout.
“If he wanted to show you who was the boss, it was very easy for him to do that,” said McMahon.
The evening before the “Showcase of the Immortals,” Hogan created an entire blueprint for his bout versus André. Still, André never promised Hogan or McMahon that he’d follow the script. After the bell rang, it became evident that André was going to give Hogan the push that McMahon wanted. Toward the scrap’s conclusion, André told Hogan: “Slaaaam! Leg drop!” Hogan followed André’s instructions and then pinned him to retain the belt.
The loss to Hogan signified that André’s career as a grappler was nearing its end. During one of the feature’s most poignant moments, McMahon tearfully recounted how his relationship with André deteriorated in the ensuing years.
“(André) was special,” McMahon struggled to say.
Hehir’s story also detailed André’s fabled ability to consume incredible amounts of alcohol. Sadly, the Frenchman primarily drank to reduce his physical and emotional pain.
“He drank because he was in pain,” said André’s co-star in “The Princess Bride,” Cary Elwes.
The film also presented the everyday difficulties that André encountered as a gargantuan human being. Furthermore, it recounted André’s sensitivity and how badly he was hurt by the words of cruel tormentors.
“He would cry,” Gene Okerlund remembered. “You never think a guy like that would cry, but he would cry.”
Most wrestling aficionados know that André could routinely slam 100 beers and that he refused medical treatment for his condition. For knowledgeable onlookers, Hehir’s work was thoroughly unspectacular and simply regurgitated common information. Nevertheless, as noted from the outset, this was surely a riveting documentary for half-hearted fans. Overall, “André the Giant” can be considered an enjoyable and entertaining biopic.