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WHAT'LL IT BE, THE MAT OR THE MET?
Douglas S. Looney
October 22, 1979
Four-hundred pound Erland van Lidth de Juede has a problem deciding whether he'd rather be a famous basso-baritone or a medal-winning Olympic wrestler
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October 22, 1979

What'll It Be, The Mat Or The Met?

Four-hundred pound Erland van Lidth de Juede has a problem deciding whether he'd rather be a famous basso-baritone or a medal-winning Olympic wrestler

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Some people are so narrow-minded that they have to stack their thoughts vertically," the large man says. "They can see through a keyhole with both eyes." And with that, this man who has a mind as broad as all outdoors—and a body to match—accepts an invitation to sing in the tiny Greenwich Village restaurant where he is dining. Understand, this is no piano-bar drunk getting up to do I Left My Heart in San Francisco .

Erland van Lidth de Jeude has an operatic bass-baritone voice of impressive quality and promise. And when he stands, his hand resting lightly on the baby grand at Bianchi & Margherita—where the main fare is opera � la carte, sometimes served by the customers—he commands attention.

At 6'6" and 400 pounds, Erland, 25, does turn heads; he can also do pretty much what he wants. Which explains why he recently unabashedly walked up to a fellow puffing away on a New York subway under a sign prohibiting smoking, snatched the cigarette from the man's mouth and snarled, "That NO SMOKING sign also applies to illiterates."

As Erland sings, the feeling comes not just from his heart but also from his soul. From deep in his soul. His audience of perhaps 75 people is enthralled—save the boorish table of eight back by the kitchen—as he sings Non pi� andrai from The Marriage of Figaro and Gremin's aria from Eugene Onegin. Afterward the cheers are long and loud, and he accepts them like a man who knows he deserves them.

Why not? The only thing bigger than Erland is his ego. That explains how he had the nerve to try out for crew when he first enrolled at MIT, even though he knew he could not possibly fit into a shell. "Erland assumes that he can do everything," says his 280-pound brother Philip, 27, who sings with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. "Sometimes that's very hard to live with."

Not for Erland. He is sure of quite a number of things. Among them: that he will be performing with the Metropolitan Opera in a few years; that he will become a movie star (currently he can be seen in The Wanderers, in which he plays the part of a Bronx gang leader named Terror. His best line: "If I had a dog with a face like yours, I'd shave its ass and teach it to walk backward"); and that he will someday own his own computer company. But of all his certainties, he is surest that he will be a member of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team next year.

Asked what he thinks of when he hears van Lidth de Jeude's name, national wrestling coach Stan Dziedzic says, "A 400-pound canary."

Erland's mother, Eveline, sits in the Ridgefield, Conn. family home, in a room containing two baby grand pianos and one upright piano, and calls her son's interest in wrestling "a strange devotion." Indeed, there are no trophies visible anywhere in the house because, Erland says, "First she'd have to tell her friends I was a wrestler, then she'd have to apologize for it."

As for Erland, does he think he can win a gold medal in Moscow?

"A possibility."

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