SI Vault
Terry Todd
December 21, 1981
That's no small beer on the right, it's a normal 12-ounce can in the hand of 7'4", 500-pound wrestler Andre the Giant. The glass is in the prodigious paw of the author, a former superheavyweight powerlifting champion, who describes what life is like for a man who has made the most of being the biggest
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December 21, 1981

To The Giant Among Us

That's no small beer on the right, it's a normal 12-ounce can in the hand of 7'4", 500-pound wrestler Andre the Giant. The glass is in the prodigious paw of the author, a former superheavyweight powerlifting champion, who describes what life is like for a man who has made the most of being the biggest

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As I traveled with him, it was a pleasure to see how well liked Andre appears to be, by people in the game and outside it. He visited the kitchens of the restaurants he favors for a word with the staff, and wherever he wrestled he always made a special effort to speak to all the other wrestlers on the card, even, indeed especially, the men working the preliminary bouts. In bars he never failed to give his attention to those who seemed to need it most, shaking the hands of the men and touching the shoulders or the hair of the women, many of whom seem drawn to him, as women often are to men who in one way or other represent power or majesty. Everywhere he goes there are women, women who range widely in socioeconomic level, age and interest in pro wrestling, and he treats them all the same—splendidly. Andre simply enjoys the company of women, and they enjoy his. He somehow conveys, as he softly rumbles to them, de profundis, over a beer or four, that they will receive no shabby treatment at the hands of the Giant.

No doubt many people, both men and women, seeing the photographs accompanying this article, will find Andre awful in the old sense of the word, perhaps grotesque, a monstre par excès, but to see him move, to speak with him and to watch him in the world, one is more likely to form instead the impression that all aspects of the man cohere.

Even his level of energy is outsized. Many of his fellow wrestlers testify to Andre's ability to outlast them all when it comes to staying up for several days at a time, drinking, playing cards and traveling to and from the matches. Left by his life-style with no real opportunity for hobbies, Andre's primary interests seem to be in cramming as much time, friendship, conversation and provender as possible into his daily life. He is aware, of course, that of the few men who have ever been his size, most have fallen far short of their allotted three-score years and 10, but he seems outwardly unconcerned by this, and eager for the future. "I have had good fortune," he says, "and I am grateful for my life. If I were to die tomorrow, I know I have eaten more good food, drunk more beer and fine wine, had more friends and seen more of the world than most men ever will. I have had everything in life but a family, and I hope to have that one day. For now, I know a family wouldn't work, because of my traveling, but one day, who knows, I might myself have a giant for a grandson."

By all accounts, however, Andre's health is excellent. Until last spring, in fact, when he suffered a broken ankle, he had never been to a hospital. When he did check in, however, he caused his usual stir.

Dr. Harris S. Yett, the orthopedic surgeon at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital who repaired Andre's broken ankle last May, said the Giant was so uniformly large that all aspects of his hospitalization were difficult. Andre had suffered a bimalleolar fracture of his left ankle in a bout on April 13, when Killer Khan, a 280-pounder, mistimed a jump off the top turnbuckle. Not realizing the ankle was broken, Andre actually finished the bout and continued to perform every evening for more than a week, until at last the pain became almost too great for him to walk. According to Dr. Yett, unusual surgical tools and techniques were required for the operation; the largest screws available were needed to fix the malleolus in place, for instance. Two tourniquets had to be used end on end to encompass his thigh, and Dr. Yett described Andre's cast as the largest they had ever had to make.

Fortunately, the hospital did have a nine-foot bed, but Andre presented other problems, such as the method of anesthesia and the fact that the hospital's longest pair of crutches was not quite long enough.

The operation and subsequent confinement were not without benefit. This injury was the first of any seriousness Andre had ever sustained, and the months he spent recovering on his mountaintop estate, though often frustrating, made him realize how much he had been missing because of his life of constant travel. Before long he and McMahon hope to establish a pattern of bookings that will allow Andre at least one week each month in North Carolina to work on his land, to clear more pasture for his horses. Eventually, perhaps in 10 years or so, as Andre envisions it, he will live a life in which he wrestles infrequently, working only the biggest arenas, but is active in promotion. For now, though, he circles the world as before, a colossus of back roads and big cities, a deus ex machina for millions of wrestling fans who pray for him to descend on their particular part of reality, lay hands on whichever evil-hearted villain is making a mockery of fair play, and briefly assuage their many, all too real, wounds. CASE HISTORIES IN POINT:

•Dwayne, Philadelphia, Pa. Age 43, janitor in a sporting goods store. Born in West Virginia. Married, five children, 5'5", 135 pounds. "Hell, I been coming to the rasslin' for years. I love ol' Andre. These damn Moondogs has got all out of hand. Rex—that big 'un—why, he come in here a couple weeks ago gnawin' on a damn bone big as my arm—hell, bigger 'n my arm. He was wavin' it around and carryin' on, that wild hair stickin' out. It kinda got me sick, him and that damn bone. It still had some damn meat on it. Hell, it did! But didn't old Andre put the skids to him tonight? Snatched that Moondog up by his damn belt and hauled him around the ring like a suitcase. I tell you, it done my heart good."

•Arpine, New York, N.Y. Fiftyish, employed in a doughnut shop. Born in Armenia. Divorced, no children, 5'4", around 200 pounds. "This Khan guy, goom-bah! I can't wait to see him get it. He broke Andre's ankle and now he's going to pay. He's a fatbelly coward and tonight he's going to get it. I don't think he can even talk English. All he does is scream in that high voice and puff his lips out. Last month they disqualified him before Andre could get even, but tonight's Andre's night. He'll go right after Khan and butt his head. And then he'll bodydrop him. I love to see him do that. Imagine that much weight crashing down. Goombah! I brought him some fresh doughnuts, and the policeman down there said he'd take them back to the dressing room. Do you think a dozen is enough?"

•Thomas, a/k/a Punkin, Atlanta. Age 23, unemployed. Born in Talbot County, Ga. Single, lives with his grandmother. Paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. "The Giant is my man. The Giant and Tony Atlas. They be two bad dudes. Bad dudes. Andre, he shook my hand last time he was down here. I got his picture at home, where he be standing so tall and holding up these four girls. The man is bad. He ain't afraid of nobody. He rough, all right, but he always fight clean till they mess with him. He don't talk none of that trash like some of them do. He just stand up there like a man and put 'em all down. He the Giant, and he and Tony my two main men."

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