What Andre The Giant's Private Life Was Really Like

Andre the Giant was the most recognizable and highest paid professional wrestler in the world during his career. He was billed as being 7 feet 4 inches and weighing 520 pounds, as per Biography. He sold out shows everywhere he performed and was the headliner at Wrestlemania III, which broke the WWE record for largest crowd at the time (via The Detroit News). He is also beloved for his work as an actor, particularly for his most famous role: Fezzik in the fantasy comedy "The Princess Bride." The part was written specifically for him, as per HBO.

Andre the Giant has become a pop culture icon. As detailed in Brett Novak's short film, "Shepard Fairey: Obey This Film," an image of Andre has become one of the most iconic symbols in street art, appearing on stickers that have become ubiquitous on city streets.

While Andre's career made him famous, stories about Andre the Giant's private life have become, if possible, even more fascinating to the public. His size, strength, and appetites have become legendary, inspiring stories about his exploits that walk the line between fact and fiction. When these anecdotes are told and retold, they are often embellished and exaggerated — particularly when they were told by Andre himself.

Andre the Giant's size was a surprise

André René Roussimoff, who would come to be known worldwide as Andre the Giant, was born in rural France, as per Biography. When he was young, it wasn't obvious that he would grow to a remarkable height. However when Andre first went to school, he discovered he was significantly larger than the other children, as per Andre in an interview from the 1970s.

His mother was only 5 feet 2 inches and his father was 6 feet 2 inches — approximately a foot shorter than his son would be in adulthood. When he was 9 years old, his father sat him down to talk about his height. According to his father, Andre's grandfather had been an incredible 7 feet 8 inches.

When Andre started to grow larger and stronger, many adults tried to give him advice and tell him what he should do with his life, but he was determined to make his own decisions for his future. Andre became interested in sports. He was highly athletic as a child, he played soccer and rugby, and trained as a boxer. He also started wrestling, which would become his career.

He received rides to school from Samuel Beckett

Andre the Giant's life has become so mythologized (something which he actively encouraged and participated in by frequently telling elaborate embellished stories about his own size) that it can be difficult to determine fact from fiction. One of the most popular stories about Andre was that as a child he got regular rides to school by the famous "Waiting for Godot" playwright, Samuel Beckett.

Cary Elwes, who was Andre's costar in "The Princess Bride," related a story that Andre himself had told him for the commentary on the special features for the film (transcribed by Snopes) and in his book, "As You Wish." Andre told Elwes that he had outgrown the school bus and had to be driven to school by car instead. His parents couldn't afford a car, but his father, who was working as a handyman at the time, happened to mention it to a neighbor whose home he was working on at the time –- Beckett. Beckett had a car that could fit Andre, so he became his regular ride to school.

Since then, members of Andre's family have set the record straight about their relationship with Beckett. It is likely that Andre and Elwes embellished the story. Andre's brother, quoted in Business Insider, explained that there was never a school bus in their tiny home town, and all the students had to walk. Beckett, who was indeed their neighbor, had a truck and would often give children a ride to and from the school — including Andre.

He left home at 14

Andre left school as soon as he was able, at the age of 14. Only a month after he left he was thinking about leaving home, too. According to an interview with Andre, he didn't want to spend his life living on the family farm -– he wanted to "be somebody." Andre's father didn't try to stop him from leaving, but he assumed that his son would come back home in a few days. Andre told his parents, "If I make some money you'll see me again, but I don't make any money you'll never see me again."

Andre didn't contact his parents for five years. When he finally returned home to visit them he was "already a star," both as a professional wrestler and in films.

His parents had seen him on TV, but they did not recognize the famous Andre the Giant as their son. His mother didn't even recognize him in person and slammed the door shut when he tried to come inside. "It took her almost 10 minutes to open the door again," Andre recounted.

Once his parents let him in, they started asking questions about their son. They still didn't realize who he was. Finally he spoke Polish, the language they had spoken in the house when he was a child, and they realized that their son had finally come home.

Andre avoided being drafted

As noted in John Keegan's "World Armies," published in 1979, all French men over the age of 18 were eligible for military service. At the time, 75% of those whose names came up served a mandatory year of service. While visiting his family in 1965, Andre was sent a draft notice.

According to the documentary, "Andre the Giant: Most Famous Professional Wrestler in the World," a surgeon who was responsible for performing the physical examinations to determine who was fit to serve spotted Andre and another man who had been drafted walking towards the exam together. From a distance, he thought that Andre was average height, and the other man was extremely short. The surgeon joked that there was no way such a small man would be allowed to be in the army, and said he would be "rejected automatically." When the two got closer, however, the surgeon realized his mistake, saying, "Well maybe this is the one that will be rejected."

As the surgeon had predicted, Andre was declared "unfit for service" because the shoes and cots the army provided were too small for him. It was also believed that he would be too tall to fight in trenches.

He refused treatment for his acromegaly

Andre's size alone had disqualified him from military service, but even if the army had been able to provide him with a larger uniform, it's possible he still would have been exempt. His tremendous size and strength helped to make him a beloved star internationally, but they were the result of a serious medical condition.

On a wrestling tour in Japan (where he was billed as Monster Roussimoff), Andre had a medical exam, reports CBS. The doctor diagnosed him with the glandular disorder acromegaly, sometimes referred to as "giantism." According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, this rare condition causes the pituitary gland to create too much growth hormone. In addition to growing larger than average, the condition can cause chronic joint pain and lead to conditions like heart disease.

Andre never told his family about the diagnosis, and as noted by CBS, refused treatment. Later in life, when the condition would become life-threatening he continued to refuse treatment, even when the doctors told him that they needed to operate. His close friend Jackie McAuley recalled him saying, "If this is the size that God wanted me to be, I'm going to be this size."

In the documentary, "Andre the Giant: Most Famous Professional Wrestler in the World," promoter Arnold Skaaland explained that Andre knew "that he didn't have long to live ... that was in the back of his mind ... all the time. That's why he drank and just did whatever he wanted to do, just to enjoy what time he had."

Andre the Giant shied away from celebrity

Celebrities in general get a lot of attention when they go out in public, but Andre was constantly mobbed by fans to the point that it interfered with his life.

When he was on his tour in Japan he would playfully chase any fan who tried to take his picture. When he caught them, he would sometimes break their camera (though his friend Ted DiBiase told CBS he suspected that Andre paid them for the damage.)

In an interview with David Letterman, Andre joked that when people saw him coming into a bar they all ran. He later clarified that when people saw him they would stare: "They couldn't believe it. They just look at me."

Andre loved his fans, but the constant attention that he received made him uncomfortable and self conscious. Andre frequented restaurants and hotels where the staff was respectful and didn't allow people to bother him. His close friend Tim White recalled to CBS that Andre had once told him, "​​I'd like to be you for a week," because White was never "gawked at."

He struggled with everyday conveniences

Andre's size brought him many opportunities, but many aspects of life are designed with smaller individuals in mind. Some standard objects were simply too small for him to use comfortably. In an interview with David Letterman, Andre described how difficult it was to stay in a hotel during his tour in Japan because he couldn't fit through the doors.

In a rare interview from the 1970s, Andre discussed a trip to Malaysia, where struggled to get a cab to stop for him. So he had a friend hail the cab instead. When one finally stopped and Andre got in, the driver got out to check that all the tires were still inflated. Andre also talked about how when he was abroad some of the cars were too small for him to ride in, joking that he needed two cars.

Famous wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts, who served as Andre's driver when he was first starting his professional wrestling career, described to CBS how he would pick Andre up in a large van with a bean bag chair in the back.

Promoter Arnold Skaaland described how Andre had once told him that he very much wanted to go see a Broadway play, but when Skaaland offered to get them tickets to see a show together, Andre refused, saying, "I can't fit in the seats. ... If I could find a seat I'd be blocking everybody" (via Biography).

He had expensive tastes

Andre the Giant was the highest paid wrestler in the world, as per an interview from the 1970s, and he came to have expensive tastes.

As a professional wrestler he was constantly traveling, and he always flew first class where the seats were comfortable for him. As described in by Biography about his life, he was a connoisseur of fine wines and enjoyed extravagant meals that were often five courses. His massive appetite became a part of the Andre the Giant legend, and it's one that has been confirmed by the stories told by his friends. His friend Tim White stated, "The legend ... the food, the drink ... He ate 16 steaks, 12 lobsters, drank a case of beer, and 10 bottles of wine and finished it off with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Well, I'm here to tell you it's all true."

Andre even opened a restaurant of his own in Montreal. When asked in an interview with David Letterman if he ever worked in the restaurant Andre joked, "I eat there."

He could drink a lot of beer

One of the most often talked about parts of Andre the Giant's private life was how much alcohol he was able to drink. Some claimed that Andre was able to drink 100 bottles of beer in one sitting (via Biography) –- but since many of his drinking companions ended up blacking out, there were few witnesses. His brother, Jacques Roussimoff, stated that even with the massive amount of liquor that Andre could drink, he was typically the most sober and acted as the designated driver.

On one occasion when Andre was having dinner with a friend, he instructed restaurant staff to bring him a trash can full of beer and ice, reports CBS. While the vessel he chose to drink out of that night was unusual for him, the quantity of beer he consumed wasn't out of the ordinary. 

Jake "The Snake" Roberts has described picking up beer after a show and purchasing two cases for Andre alone. "He wasn't drunk," Roberts told CBS. "That was pretty amazing to me."

In an interview with David Letterman, Andre confirmed that he once had 117 beers in one sitting. He also stated that he had since quit — but only beer. He would still enjoy two or three bottles of white wine with dinner.

He was a seasoned traveler

As a professional wrestler, Andre the Giant was always traveling. According to a David Letterman interview, he was away from home almost 90% of the time — an average 320 nights a year. Promoter Dory Funk told CBS that events with Andre sold out no matter where they went. He performed all across the country, from New York City to Los Angeles.

"He did fabulous business for us," Funk said, "I actually called Vince McMahon Sr. and I asked him 'How much should I pay Andre?' because we were doing such super business. Vince said 'Just keep him happy.'"

Promoters often assigned drivers for Andre (like the young Jake "The Snake" Roberts and former WWE referee Tim White), but with shows around the world he often had to fly. On flights he would often ask for two or three dinners.

Andre would always check in advance that the hotels he planned to stay in were able to provide him with a king size bed. In an interview Andre said that on one occasion when he was checking into a hotel the owner decided to charge him more for the room, saying, "You're a big guy, you have to pay double."

He had a feud with Randy Savage

Andre the Giant was known for legendary feuds with other wrestlers — particularly Randy Savage. "They didn't get along, but they had good matches," Randy Savage's brother, Lanny Poffo, recalled on his podcast (via Pro Wrestling Stories). "They weren't pleasant matches, they weren't fun matches for each other, but they were fun for the fans."

According to an interview with Hulk Hogan for HBO's Andre the Giant documentary, Savage always went into the ring covered in baby oil, which enraged Andre. According to Pro Wrestling Stories, Poffo stated that he had tried to convince Savage not to use baby oil before going into the ring with Andre, but he refused. In retribution Andre was more aggressive in their fights.

"Randy hated to have his hair messed with, and Andre would always mess with his hair," Poffo said. "Sometimes Andre would stand in Randy's hair and pull him up, leaving a clump of hair in the ring. Randy was losing his hair during that time, and he was very sensitive about it."

He kept in touch with old friends

Even though Andre the Giant was always on the road, he stayed close with his friends — including some that he had known since his childhood living on the farm in rural France.

As described in the documentary, "Andre the Giant: Most Famous Professional Wrestler in the World," whenever he would visit his hometown he would spend time with friends that he had known his whole life.

"When we saw the car, we knew right away that 'the big one' was here, as we used to call him," Andre's brother, Jacques Rousimoff, explained.

The village had a population of less than 30 people, and it was always a special occasion when Andre would come back to town to see his friends. They had continued living in the village and found careers being mechanics and cement-layers while Andre had traveled the world as a pro wrestler. When Andre was in town, they would go to a local cafe and play cards for hours. According to the owner of the cafe where Andre and his old friends played cards, Andre always paid for everyone whether he won or lost.

Andre the Giant lived on a ranch

Although Andre the Giant was almost always on the road, he had a home in the United States -– a ranch in Ellerbe, North Carolina. His home was known as the AFJ Ranch, the initials referring to Andre and his friends Frenchy Bernard and Jackie McAuley, as per CBS. Bernard and McAuley stayed on the ranch and cared for the animals while Andre was away.

"We had the plumber come by and raise the shower head so that he would actually be able to take a shower without it hitting the middle of his back," McAuley told CBS. "And over the years, we purchased or had made two or three oversized chairs."

Andre kept dogs and raised Texas longhorn cattle on the ranch. Like Andre's hometown in France, Ellerbe was a very small town. The locals knew they were neighbors with Andre the Giant but left him alone so he could enjoy life away from his chaotic wrestling schedule in peace.

At home, Andre was known to enjoy eating at the local Dixie Burger, watching QVC and ordering "As Seen on TV" products, and riding an ATV chased by his dogs.