Hell Raiser *13 André the Giant

André is our ultimate hell-raiser extraordinaire

André the Giant, or to give him his full name, André René Roussimoff, was the larger than life French professional wrestler that captivated audiences around the world in his all black and oh so tight looking singlet. …………but it wasn’t just inside the wrestling ring that he made a name for himself. He also appeared in the odd Hollywood movie, on TV shows and commercials, and had an amazing drinking prowess that is the stuff of legends, hence why he appears on ThisDrinkingLife’s hell raising hall of fame………

Born in the 19th of May 1946, in the small town of Coulommiers, in the Île-de-France in north-central France. André, the third of five children, to Boris and Marianne Roussimoff. His parents were immigrants to France; his father was Bulgarian and his mother was Polish. He stood out from the beginning, since he was a child he displayed symptoms of gigantism very early, reaching a height of 191 cm (6 ft 3 in) and a weight of 94 kg (208 lb) by the age of 12. What was unusual is that neither his father, mother nor siblings had any signs of this gigantism, they were all of average size.

Having grown up in a rural community André naturally gravitated to becoming a labourer on his father’s farm, doing the work of three men according to his brother Jacques. Later came some wood work and then a short stint in a factory, but there was no getting around it, he was a big lad and surely he just had to use his colossal frame to earn some money and a living.

One interesting thing about growing up in small town rural France, was that André built an unlikely friendship with Samuel Beckett. Yes that Samuel Beckett, the famous Irish playwright and Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature. Beckett lived in the same town (Ussy-sur-Marne in the 1950s) and often gave the local school children a lift to school, including André and his siblings. (more than likely an embellished story, but lets play with it!)

Standing at 224 cm in height, or over seven foot 4 in old money, and weighing in at 226 kgs (500 pounds), André was a big lump of a man, a result of the gigantism caused by excess growth hormone, and later resulting in acromegaly, a hormonal disorder that develops when your pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone during adulthood. He just kept getting bigger and bigger………..

So doing what a lot of young men did in France, the 18 year old headed for the capital, Paris, in search of fame and glory. Here he found Obert Lageat, a wrestling promoter who immediately saw the potential in the giant that had walked into his gym. Here he was taught the basics behind wrestling. Training hard he eventually got his first taste of the pro game, with numerous bouts in and around Paris, billed under the name “Géant Ferré”, a name based on a Picardian folk hero. Here he was spotted Frank Valois, a Canadian promoter and wrestler, who in 1966 became his business manager and advisor.

His first venture was in the land of the rising sun, in 1970’s Japan, where he was huge (both figuratively and literally!). Billed as “Monster Roussimoff”, wrestling for the International Wrestling Enterprise, André earned five figure payoffs for fights, such was his popularity. But Japan was tough for the big man, as everything was far too small in the country. Tiny beds, tiny rooms, tiny bathrooms, tiny meals, and so on. He was living in his own real life “Gulliver’s Travels”. Funny for us to laugh at but what must have been very tortuous for André. Enough to lead a man to drink!

After a short successful stint in Canada, at 27, André eventually ended up at the home of pro wrestling, the good old US of A, where he was signed up with Vince McMahon, Sr. at the World Wide Wrestling Federation’s (WWWF) headquarters. He had hit the big time and he had a new name to boot, he was now to be known as “Andre the Giant”.

André then embarked on a long promotional tour wrestling in the UK, Germany and as far as Australia, New Zealand and even appearances in South Africa. He also ended up in Iraq, of all places, losing to Adnan Al-Kaissie in Baghdad!

When wrestling took off in the 1980’s there were very few wrestlers that were in demand as André who drew the crowds in and his famous spats with Hulk Hogan propelled the World Wrestling Federation onto the TV screens of the globe. The two headlined WrestleMania III in 1987 and in 1988 he defeated Hogan to win the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, his sole world heavyweight championship win.

I can’t say I am an expert in American style wrestling. In fact it used to be known as WWF when I was small, but they have since changed that to WWE so as not to be confused with the World Wildlife Fund. Now I wasn’t immune to big time TV style wrestling, but I grew up in the era of The World of Sport on ITV and its British style of wrestling, which was much tamer than the Yank version but had as much fun and comedy. When I was a wee lad, the names of Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki (from Shropshire, naturally!) were known throughout the school yards of Britain and Ireland such was their draw on the young minds of the time.

Anyway back to the point, it was on the 26th of March in 1973 that André made his American debut defeating Buddy Wolfe in New York’s Madison Square Garden which was one hell of a way to start your stateside career. André was popular with audiences, selling out venues most places he went to. I mean who wouldn’t like a lovable giant with the baby face and the fat fingers. He went on a pretty impressive long unbeaten stretch, not been defeated in 15 years by pinfall or submission.

One of Roussimoff’s feuds pitted him against the “Mongolian Giant” Killer Khan, a popular set of fights that filled arenas up and down the country, seeing the two big men argue and fight it out inside and sometimes outside of the mat……..Another feud involved a man who considered himself to be the “true giant” of wrestling: the Big John Studd. Throughout the early to mid-1980s, Roussimoff and Studd fought all over the world, battling to try to determine who the real giant of wrestling was.

But it was his rivalry with Hulk Hogan, WWF World Heavyweight Champion, that captivated the WWF audiences in their numerous spats in the many WrestleMania’s that were sold out around the USA. The two, initially allies, became sworn enemies and were often at his others throats, literally in Hogans case as André knocked out the big man in a choke hold once! In 1987, Andre drew the biggest crowd in WWF of that time. This was wrestling’s first million dollar gate, with a massive crowd and a then record of 90,000 screaming fans filled out the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan to watch Andre wrestle fellow legend Hulk Hogan in the main event of WrestleMania III. Andre’s 15-year winning streak was ended when Hulk Hogan slammed him to the mat, a movement that echoed in a new star in the world of WWF.

The rematch, two months later, attracted 33 million to tune in live to catch the fight on NBC TV, making it one of the most watched wrestling matches ever. These numbers give you an idea of how popular the big man was and the kind of drawing power he had. He also was getting a pretty penny for all this hard work. In one year during the 1970’s his earnings could reach as high as US$400,000, making him one of the highest, if not the highest, paid wrestlers of that era.

In total, Andre participated at six WrestleManias and faced some of the toughest opponents in the business. Aside from this sole WWF World Heavyweight Championship in 1988, he also held the WWF Tag Team Championship with Haku in 1990. In 1993, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in recognition as the first true global superstar of WWF. Proof of this was a main writeup in Sports Illustrated, at the time, the largest feature they had ever published.

Nearing the end of his wrestling career and with the hectic toll that wrestling had on his body, André decided to get into the lighter world of acting. He made a host of “memorable” appearances including when he played “Bigfoot” in the very popular television series “The Six Million Dollar Man”, marking his US TV debut in 1976. More TV work appeared where André was seen in shows such as “The Greatest American Hero”, “B. J. and the Bear”, “The Fall Guy” and “Zorro”. He was also slayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in his role as Conan in the not so famous movie “Conan the Destroyer”, the 1984 sequel to the more well known “Conan the Barbarian”.

But it was his role as the gentle-hearted giant Fezzik, in the 1987 film “The Princess Bride”, the fantasy adventure comedy film which although was moderately successful at the box office over time became a much loved cult classic. In his last movie appearance, he played a cameo role as a circus giant in “Trading Mom”, a 1994 comedy film, released, a year after his death. it is also worth noting that André made numerous appearances as himself in video games, from WWF WrestleMania, WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw, the various WWE yearly produces and the like that were and are popular all the time. He also appeared in a Cyndi Lauper music video “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” in 1985, and was in the odd advertisement down through the years, most notably for the Honeycomb cereal brand.

As he grew older unfortunately for Roussimoff’s his body size caused him frequent health issues, wearing him down, and making every battle in the ring a monumental effort since the effects of acromegaly never stopped with his body. In 1986, he had surgery to relieve pressure on his spine and was thereafter forced to wear a back brace under his black singlet when he wrestled. By 1992, he had undergone extensive knee surgery and became increasingly overweight and immobile. He continued to wrestle though, even in constant pain and able to perform only the most basic of maneuvers, appearing for the last time in Japan, the nation where he had first found fame and to which he had a special place in his heart. The love was reciprocated, he was massive in Japan with a huge following.

On the night of the 27th of January, 1993, Roussimoff died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack in his hotel room in Paris, where he was staying after the burial of his beloved father less than two weeks before. He was only 46 years old.

Roussimoff specified in his will that his remains were to be cremated and “disposed of” in the USA and that was what his family had done, flying his body to the US and scattering his ashes at his 200-acre ranch in Ellerbe, North Carolina. In addition, in accordance with his will, the never married André, left his estate to his sole beneficiary: his only child, daughter Robin.

Ok so you didn’t come here to read up on WWF of yesteryear and all that, let’s delve into some of those infamous drinking stories a little. André’s drinking escapades are even more legendary than anything he did in the ring. Well that’s my personal opinion! Since there were so many stories of André’s drinking superpowers it’s hard to know where to start ………….

André drank six bottles of wine before a wrestling match

André often used to drink before matches, that was no big deal to the man,

Fellow wrestler, Gerald Brisco via the Tampa Bay Times: “There are a lot of crazy stories about Andre that sound fake but most are true, especially his drinking. Andre used to ask me to get him six bottles of Mateus wine and ice them down. He would drink those before we went to the ring and no one could tell.”

André drank 108 beers in 45 minutes before a flight

Hulk Hogan also shared another story in which he visited Andre at the airport during a layover: “I get a call. ‘Hey boss I’m at the Tampa airport. I’ve got a one-hour layover.’ I was like okay, it’s fifteen minutes or so from my mom’s house. So I drive over the airport and I met him at the Delta Crown Lounge. By the time we sat down we had about 45 minutes before he had to walk to the next gate. He drank 108 12-ounce beers.”

When asked how that was even possible, Hogan replied, “You’ve got to realize that a 12-ounce beer he can put in his hand and hide it. You can’t see the beer in his hand.”

André downed pitchers full of “liquors” and ran up a $40k bar tab

André and his two “The Princess Bride” co-stars Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes, often drank together quite a bit and at the end of a shoot. Well I say drinking but it was mostly Elwes and Patinkin drinking their small set (small in comparison) and watching in amazement at their big friend drinking a gazillion pitchers of a concoction of 40 ounces of various liquors that he had provided to the busy bar man to keep up with him. “It was forty ounces of alcohol, which he nicknamed “The American” — usually some combination of hard and soft liquor and whatever else he felt like mixing it with that day.” Elwes said that Andre would drink several of these in a single sitting. “I’ve never tasted airplane fuel, but I imagine it’s very close to what that must taste like. It’s very potent indeed, and I remember coughing a lot. But to him, it was like chugging water.” Elwes wrote in his book “As You Wish”.

Andre reportedly had a $40,000 bar tab during his month of fun in the Hyatt hotel bar during the shooting of the movie.

André drank 12 bottles of wine on a bus ride in Japan

Hulk Hogan, who traveled extensively with Andre, speaking on the Toucher and Rich CBS radio show in 2014: “I went down to this little karaoke bar right down the street from the hotel and I bought a case of Pouilly-Fuissé wine — 12 bottles of this very powerful, powerful, strong white French wine…. All of a sudden we left the hotel about 8 in the morning for an eight hour bus ride. About three hours later he shakes the seat. He says, ‘Boss. Bossss. I need pit stop.’ Three hours on a bus he drank 12 bottles of wine.”

André’s unofficial record is 156 beers in one sitting

Many have tried, Olly Reid hit 106 and Wade Boggs 107 respectively, but André with 156 takes some beating.

Considered to be the world record for the most beers in a sitting, apart from the fact that Guinness dont list this for obvious reasons, but the professional drinkers out there all agree that André has it in the bag. There are different numbers attributed to this record. I have seen 127, 119, 117 and 108. It could be that he occasionally drank over the 100 number, either way it’s still pretty impressive, or mad.

The 117 number came up in an interview on the David Letterman show where André confirmed he drank that amount in one night, and passed out in a hotel hallway.

On an episode of WWE’s Legends of Wrestling, ex pro Mike Graham said André once drank 156 beers (about 14.6 gallons or 1872 ounces of beer!) in one sitting, this was later confirmed by, fellow wrestler, Dusty Rhodes, who was also present for this feat of human endurance and strength.

It has to be said that for André one sitting could mean literally a whole day, or at least something over 7 hours…………

André responded to a last call by ordering 40 drinks, vodka tonics and drank them all

Last orders can always be a pain, just when you are settling into a long night and in the mood the fucker at the bar rings the bell and yells out those barren words. For André though he was lucky that the bar man didn’t know his drinking ability. The bartender foolishly told André he could stay on the condition if he was only buying for himself, imagining, surely, that he would soon be rid of the big fella. André, gracious, thanked the man, and then proceeded to order 40 vodka tonics drinking them one after the other until he finished the last one at about four in the morning. This story was told by wrestler Bobby Heenan In his memoir “Bobby the Brain: Wrestling’s Bad Boy Tells All”

Unofficially crowned “the greatest drunk on Earth” for once consuming 119 (350 ml) beers over 41 litres (72 imp pt)) in six hours.

In just six short hours André drank 119 12-oz beers, that’s a beer every three minutes without a break for six freaking hours! That’s unimaginable!

The unmovable giant

According to Cary Elwes, André ducked out for a quick break in filming, and got himself shitfaced so much that he drank enough alcohol to pass out in a hotel lobby. Since it was impossible to move him, hotel employees decided the best course of action was to place a big velvet rope around his slumbering frame so as not to disturb the sleepy giant.

“They decided that there was no shifting him. There’s no shifting a 550-pound, 7-foot-4 giant, so they had a choice: either call the authorities, and they didn’t want that kind of publicity, or wait for him to wake up, which was the wiser decision.”

The Anesthesiologist

As the back was acting up, André required major surgery to fix it up, but for the anesthesiologist looking over him there was a small problem. Well no, actually a large problem. How to put someone so large under anesthetic. Obviously the doctor never had a giant to work on before, so asking André how much he drank and how much it took him to get drunk, he could figure how much dosage to give him before his surgery. André told him that “two litres of vodka before he feels warm” should do the trick. Enough for most people stay under I think, lol!

That famous photo

The famous photo of André holding an average 12-oz. can of beer pretty much sums up how easy it was for him to down a lot of beer. The cans fit well easy into the palm of his hands, and it’s no wonder he could down a 100 of them or so in a short period, like drinking a small cup of tea for the big man!

A lot of people thought this photo that appeared in the December 1981 issue of Sports Illustrated in an article entitled “To the Giant Among Us.” was fake or cropped to make the Giant’s hands appear much bigger than they were. But no, it is actually a real untouched photo. The original picture also featured a shot of Terry Todd, the author of the article, holding a glass of beer for comparison.

André once “quit drinking”

Well he says “quit”, but in reality he still drank three to five bottles of wine at dinner everyday. His reasons for wanting to cut down on the booze was in an effort to make good weight for his fights. He told David Letterman, how he reduced his alcohol intake to get to a solid 475 pounds. I am not quite sure that counts as going “dry”!

Horses of the Dawn

André and, fellow wrestler, Dusty Rhodes, went out for the night to hit the town, after their successful bout at the Madison Square Garden. A 100 beers or more so, it was time to call it a night or early morning or whatever ungodly time they finished up. Walking back to their hotel which was some distance from them, and knowing that André and taxis were not an ideal fit, they decided the next best thing was to grab a pair of horse-drawn carriages. Throwing money at the drivers, they took control of their carriages and proceeded to have a chariot style race through the streets of downtown Manhattan, whizzing by cars and the unfortunate pedestrians who had to jump out of the way or get hit. Fifteen blocks later, they lost the carriages and lathered the horses within walking distance from the hotel.

When the police arrived it wasn’t too hard to find the culprits. They were to be found at the bar enjoying strong brandies with not a care in the world. Not too worried either about their sell out fights back at the Madison Square Garden the next day………

Drinking Analysis!

Let us hardcore drinkers ponder for a bit how André could have pulled off these amazing feats of endurance and skill. I’d imagine for the normal amongst us, regularly drinking anything over 20 beers in a day/night out is considered impossible, never mind anything over a 100, so how is this even possible?

Most of André’s colleagues said that alcohol had little effect on him, with no hangovers or slurred speech hampering his wrestling duties. It was only when he did the all nighters was when he passed out or got the hangovers from hell, but overall he could hold it all well, a tolerance built up from many years.

It has to be mentioned that André drank a lot of alcohol as a coping mechanism for the vast amounts of pain he encountered throughout his life. His gigantism made him a career, but the payoff was immense joint pain and the everyday annoyances of living in a small world. Ted Dibiase, the Million Dollar Man, explains why Andre drank so much. “He hated pills, medicine, and painkillers and stuff, because he saw what it was doing to other guys. So the way Andre killed his pain and medicated himself was with booze.”

Back to actor Cary Elwes, Elwes revealed that because of his size and his job as a wrestler, the late star was in great pain, and drinking was a way to numb it. “Andre didn’t drink for the sake of drinking — André was in a lot of pain, God bless him. His back was injured from carrying all that weight around, and from having other wrestlers breaking chairs over his back. He was due to have an operation right after the shoot, and his doctor didn’t know what kind of pain medication to give him because of his size, so the only way that he could deal with the pain was to drink alcohol.”

But that wasn’t the only reason he loved drinking. A giant of a man with a big heart, he loved socialising and playing cards, and bars with their wide open spaces and generous opening times were the perfect place for André to relax in. Remember there were not a whole lot of places he could hang out and chill, he was gigantic after all. André was a social drinker and wanted people to drink with him, and always insisted on picking up the bill in the end, such was his kind and fair character. William Goldman, the author of the novel and the screenplay of The Princess Bride, wrote that André was one of the gentlest and most generous people he ever knew. Whenever André ate with someone in a restaurant, he would pay, but he would also insist on paying when he was a guest.

Ok so back to the tales………….he was a big man, a fucking giant, with a big liver and a good appetite, but one wonders if some of the stories are embellished. I mean most of the yarns come from his wrestler friends, who all love a good spiel. I mean its pro wrestling for crying out loud, where the unbelievable looks believable. I’d also add that we are talking about drinkers who would have consumed a lot of alcohol. Who is counting after……….say about 20? Was there anyone else last man standing, apart from André, in the early mornings of the next day.

Experts (that is the drinking fraternity) have said that taking André’s size into account and if one was to compare it to an average sized man then it roughly equates to 40 beers over 10 hours which would equal, 4 beers an hour, which is doable, at least I like to think I could give it a shot (now there is a future video!!). So if its like horse racing, then I could take André on in the big handicap of the night………….I wish!

It also depends on what beer he was drinking. I mean, if he was drinking Coors or Miller light then fuck it I could at least get within a 100 of him! He is not going to hit a hundred drinking some of those hoppy IPA’s or a 7 to 8% Bock, that’s for sure! This is important to ask because a light beer is basically just water for the experienced tippler.

As for all-nighters, if you pace yourself well you can go long and far into the night with light beer. After the while your body just gets used to it, and if you have the frame of André who has built up the necessary tolerance for drinking large quantities of beer, a twenty year hobby built upon and refined, and also to take into consideration that he often drank a 12 hour or more sittings, then yes he could drink a lot, that’s very feasible.

I am curious, though, about the toilet breaks, how did that work out for the big man? How did he get rid of all that pish? Jesus, did he need a bath to piss into after a bevy of beers? Perhaps his bladder and kidneys were supersize as well. It’s important to visualise all that extra “water” sloshing around the stomach, an advantage a bigger man surely has, but gallons of it?

Was there any food to soak up any of this alcohol. Did André eat about 10 pizzas to wash it all down? I know if I have a hearty Irish fry up for my breakfast I can without doubt last longer in the bar. I also wonder if the big man was play acting and standing around, as sitting slouched at the bar can also get one fucked quicker. Hands up who has ever felt fucked once they left the high bar and there legs didn’t get the memo to walk? Me!

The key questions is……….It is not impossible, when you look at his large frame, the years of building up a high tolerance level and with it higher rates of metabolism, and the many people who attest to his drinking prowess, so yes, André is our ultimate hell-raiser extraordinaire and for this we bow our heads and never to doubt the legend of the Giant from France. The only thing I dont envy him is the hangover the next day when he awoke, ouch!!

Check out my interview with Pat Laprade on all things Andre the Giant

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