Andre The Giant was quite simply the most famous wrestler of them all. He put professional wrestling on the map in the early 1970s and was quickly signed up by Vince McMahon and his son Vince Jr. The man was a giant in every sense of the word, a novel attraction for wrestling fans and almost impossible to beat. He was also the boss of the locker room, and was not shy about making his feelings known to colleagues he wasn’t overly fond of.
But it’s the life and times of Andre The Giant outside the ring that live longest and dearest in the memories of wrestling fans and those who knew him. He was born weighing more than 10 pounds into a small farming community in France. By 12 he was roughly 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds - so large he couldn’t fit in the school bus and instead relied on Irish poet Samuel Beckett to drive him in his convertible every day.
As he grew, so did the daily challenges of integrating into a society with his immense and ever-expanding frame. Hotel rooms and toilets were too small, as were buses and planes. Sitting as a table was almost impossible, not to mention using a knife and fork to eat with his enormous hands. His hands quickly became the stuff of legend – he could pick up a car battery with one hand, and they were big enough to completely conceal any can of beer he was drinking at the time.
It’s perhaps these cans of beer that contribute most to his fame. Andre could polish off more than 100 beers in a single session, and did so frequently. He also didn’t mind wine, cognac, and any hard liquor he found behind the bar at whatever establishment was lucky enough to have him sitting on one (more likely two) of their stools. Everyone who knew Andre before his death in 1993 has a story to tell about the gentle giant. Here are 15 of the best of them.
15 Andre’s back surgery
Andre’s condition, known as gigantism, meant he never stopped growing. By 1983 the strain on his body was really starting to take its toll, but he refused to curtail his wrestling schedule. Three years later he opted for surgery in England to hopefully reduce the stress on his back. A huge operating table was built along with custom-made tools for the surgeons.
The biggest challenge was that for his anesthesiologist to sedate a man capable of handling more than 100 beers at any one time. If he gave him too little, Andre would wake up during the operation with his back opened up. If he went overboard with the anesthetic, it would kill him. Luckily he got the dosage just right.
14 Human car jack
Brother Jacques looks back fondly at his childhood with Andre on the family farm. One of their cars had a flat tire one day, but there was no jack to lift up the vehicle. Jacques unscrewed all but one of the lug nuts, Andre lifted the car off the ground, and they were able to change the tire. It turned out to be very handy having someone of Andre’s strength and stature on the farm, and the work he would get through was often that of many men. This wouldn’t be the first time Andre would overpower an automobile.
13 Excessive beer drinking
Most of us start to wobble fairly substantially after a dozen cans of beer. Andre never seemed to have this problem. As far as we know, his record is 156 beers in a single sitting, or six and a half large cases worth. For Andre, one gulp of beer usually meant an entire can, so it wouldn’t take him too long to get through an entire case. He’d drink the stuff like water, and would often get through 100-plus beers in a night. As outrageous as it sounds, every wrestler that knew Andre is happy to instantly substantiate these numbers.
12 It wasn’t just beer
Andre made friends with plenty of barmen who knew exactly what to do when he asked for ‘the usual’. He wasn’t talking about beer but a drink he referred to as the American’s. The bartender would grab an empty beer pitcher and fill it to the brim with a splash of any and every hard liquor they could find, resulting in a concoction of vodka, brandy, gin and whatever else was available.
When Andre went out to dinner, often he’d indulge in another alcoholic routine. Friends and colleagues say he’d drink bottles of brandy before dinner, wine during the meal and then cognac for dessert, although these are often very hazy recollections because Andre was usually the only one left conscious. That also meant he was the one who’d drive everyone home.
11 Almost throwing Mulligan off a hotel balcony
Ex-wrestler Smash (Barry Darsow) tells the story of a night of drinking between Andre and another big bopper, Blackjack Mulligan. They were in a hotel room after both downing a couple of cases of beer and Mulligan decided it’d be a good idea to beat up Andre once and for all to prove he was wrestling’s top dog. He went over to Andre and whacked him as hard as he could. Andre asked him why he did it, then picked up Mulligan's 350-pound frame and tossed him through the sliding glass hotel window, leaving Mulligan hanging from the balcony five floors up. Concerned by Mulligan’s precarious situation, Andre went out and brought him back inside. Andre was still the toughest man in wrestling.
10 Locker room boss
Unsurprisingly, Andre commanded respect in the WWE locker room and if he didn’t like you, he’d happily let you know about it. Sometimes that was in the ring, as a big-talking Bam Bam Bigelow found out one night at Madison Square Garden where Andre beat him senseless for half an hour. Other times it was backstage, like when The Fabulous Freebirds turned up drunk to a show one day, and Andre fired them all on the spot. They argued back saying Andre didn’t actually have that authority, but sure enough the following day they were given their marching orders from the WWE. Who was going to argue with Andre?
9 WrestleMania III
Andre fought Hulk Hogan for the title at WrestleMania III, and for the first time in the WWE it was decided the Giant would be pinned. For years Andre and Hogan had fought in the ring, and Andre used to dish out monumental beatings. But Andre’s career was now beginning to twilight after he’d recently broken his ankle, and it was time to hand the reins to Hogan as the leading superstar in the business.
Hogan feared Andre wouldn’t listen and just pin him anyway, but the Giant did what he’d been instructed to do, even letting Hogan body slam him in front of more than 93,000 fans. Hogan did just that, tearing a lat muscle in the process, then finished things off with his trademark leg drop.
8 Andre’s insatiable appetite
When Andre was alive, there was possibly no man on Earth who could eat as much as he did. Andre’s friend Tim White, who spent a lot of time traveling with the Giant happily confirms his appetite was second to none. Andre didn’t always eat ridiculous amounts of food, but he was capable of doing so if he was in the mood for a bit of fun. It wasn’t entirely uncommon for Andre power through 16 steaks, 12 lobsters, a case of beer and 10 bottles of wine in one sitting, usually topped off with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
7 Hotel bathrooms
A man of Andre’s stature was always going to struggle in hotel bathrooms, particularly in Japan where everything is just that little bit smaller. Sometimes he would rip the bathroom door from its hinges and sit on the toilet sideways to give himself more legroom. Other times he wouldn’t even bother instead opting to use the bathtub, a much more agreeable option for such a giant of a human. Now imagine for just a moment that you were a cleaner in one of those Japanese hotels, and discovered the bathtub had been mistreated in such brazen fashion by a man capable of eating 15 steaks and chugging more than 100 beers in one sitting. Pretty gruesome stuff.
6 Farting in an Elevator
Former wrestler Ted DiBiase charmingly recalls one incident with Andre when the pair were in Japan. They’d only just landed from a 14-hour flight and after arriving at their hotel room, Andre decided it was time to go and grab something to eat. The elevator they were on kept stopping at every floor, picking up more people and becoming very claustrophobic, something Andre never enjoyed. DiBiase remembers “The giant cuts the loudest, longest fart. It just kept going. The poor guy who is standing directly behind him…he is getting it full force. When the elevator stopped those people couldn’t get off the elevator fast enough, it was like the exodus.”
5 Flatulence on set
It wasn’t the first time Andre had let one rip in public. Actor Cary Elwes can vividly remember the first day he shot with Andre in The Princess Bride. “There emitted from Andre the most monumental fart,” Elwes said in a subsequent interview. “Fifteen seconds, the sonic resonance, I can’t overestimate the sonic resonance of this thing. And we all thought it was an earthquake, cause everyone grabbed this plastic set that was shaking and I looked over at Andre and he had like this beautiful, he always had this smile on his face, but he had this look of bliss.”
4 Velvet roping a giant
Andre suffered chronic back pain later in life, and his doctor told him alcohol was the best way to dull the agony, suspecting no amount of medication would be enough. The diligent patient listened closely and on one particular evening while filming The Princess Bride in England, Andre indulged in almost everything behind the bar of his hotel before passing out in the lobby. A staff meeting was hastily convened on what to do, since security were unable to move the 450 pounds of human flesh and police were avoided to evade bad publicity. The solution? Fence Andre off with a velvet rope until he came to, and that’s exactly what they did. He was woken the next morning by vacuuming housekeepers.
3 Dinner with Arnie and Wilt Chamberlain
Andre’s heart was just as big as his hulking frame, and he’d always pay for dinner when he was out with friends. One night he was out with Arnold Schwarzenegger whom he’d acted with in a film, and superstar basketballer Wilt Chamberlain who had also appeared in the movie. After the meal, Arnie decided that his credit card would take care of the bill and tried to pay while Andre ducked off to the toilet. Just as he was about to pay, he felt himself being lifted from behind and carried outside. With the help of Chamberlain, Andre sat Arnie on the roof of his car and demanded as usual that he be allowed to pay.
2 Stealing horse drawn carriages
One night in 1977 after an event at Madison Square Garden, Andre went out drinking with The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes. After roughly 100 beers between them, the majority of which went to Andre, they decided to walk home given the Giant couldn’t fit into a taxi. This idea soon became tiresome so Andre and Dusty accosted two horse-drawn carriages. Dusty threw a handful of cash at one driver while the other was lifted one-handed from his post by Andre. The pair raced through Manhattan for 15 blocks, ditching the horses near their hotel. By the time police arrived to question the assailants, they were sipping brandy and denying all knowledge and involvement.
1 Tipping a car over with four men inside
Probably Andre’s most legendary story, and one that has been stretched and modified no doubt over the years. Depending on who tells it, Andre was drinking with a few mates in a bar in either Montreal or New York. He was hassled incessantly by a few unsavory gentlemen, one of who decided to slap him on the back. After a while Andre was sick of the harassment and leaped to his feet as the four rogues sprinted outside into their car to escape. Before they could drive away though, an enraged Andre took hold of the car in his hands and flipped it over with all four men still inside.