The Truth About Vince McMahon's Relationship With Andre The Giant

As the chairman of WWE and its unquestioned man in charge since the early 1980s, Vince McMahon often has a complicated relationship with his employees. Yes, it's true that much of his on-air persona as "Mr. McMahon" is cartoonishly villainous, as he is often portrayed as the boss from hell. The on-screen Mr. McMahon is the last person you'd want to work for and also the first person to gleefully scream "YOU'RE FIRED!" at wrestlers who have outlived their usefulness. But there have been many instances where McMahon has had real-life feuds with his wrestlers — even legends like Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin spent some time (or a lot of time) in the chairman's bad books for one reason or another.

That brings us to Andre Roussimoff, aka Andre the Giant, who was another all-time great WWE Superstar whose relationship with McMahon wasn't all that cut-and-dry. Supposedly standing 7-feet-4-inches and weighing more than 500 pounds, the Frenchman set the standard for super-heavyweights in the WWE, and while he may not have been the most athletic, most technically gifted, or most exciting performer in the ring, he was nonetheless a very convincing worker who was booked as dominantly as his appearance suggested. In theory, that should have automatically endeared him to McMahon, but in reality, their relationship had some rough patches that were especially evident toward the end of Andre's life.

Andre was originally a big draw for Vince McMahon Sr.

While WWE fans of a certain age may be far more familiar with Andre the Giant for his heelish exploits under the watchful eye of manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and his bitter rivalry with Hulk Hogan, the "Eighth Wonder of the World" actually got his start in the U.S. way before the 1980s. According to his official website's biography page, Vince McMahon Sr. — father to a future billionaire and on-air "Genetic Jackhammer" of the same name — signed Andre in 1972 after an impressive run in Canada under the name Jean Ferre. His ring name was then changed to the much simpler, more straight-to-the-point Andre the Giant, and he didn't disappoint when he defeated Buddy Wolfe in his debut match for the company then known as World Wide Wrestling Federation, or WWWF.

A few years after Vince McMahon Jr. bought the promotion from his father in 1982, Andre became a fixture on WWE (then WWF) shows, feuding with the likes of Big John Studd, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, and King Kong Bundy. Originally, he was booked as a babyface, but by the time he and Hogan squared off at WrestleMania III in 1987, he had become a heel, and his feud with Hogan led to big business for WWE. Unfortunately, that didn't exactly mean that Andre and McMahon were always getting along behind the scenes.

Andre allegedly had issues with how Vince McMahon Jr. was booking him

During an episode of Chris Jericho's "Talk is Jericho" podcast, Pat Laprade, author of the book "The Eighth Wonder Of The World: The True Story of Andre The Giant," told the veteran wrestler that Andre wasn't happy with how Vince McMahon was booking him (via Wrestling News). Back when the current WWE boss' father, Vince McMahon Sr., was running the company, he didn't use Andre too often in the then-territorial promotion. That was because the elder McMahon earned a commission from Andre's global appearances, thus giving him the luxury of allowing the big man some extra time off. Furthermore, Vince Sr. understood that Andre was a special attraction, and if you used a special attraction too often in the same company across multiple shows, fans were going to gradually lose interest in that wrestler.

With Vince Jr. giving Andre more dates in the WWE, that also took its toll on the big man's social life. Laprade explained that when Vince Sr. was in charge, Andre "could travel the world, visiting different friends [and] different promotions." That, he noted, wasn't the case when the younger McMahon took over. "I think that's what he didn't like from Vince Jr. that Vince Jr. kept him more in his own territory and Andre didn't get to see all his friends," Laprade continued. "He was traveling all over North America, but it was the same locker room over and over. I think Andre had a lot of bitterness toward Vince Jr. because of this."

Andre's appearance on WCW programming broke McMahon's heart

In 1992, World Championship Wrestling's Clash of the Champions XX pay-per-view celebrated the 20th anniversary of pro wrestling on Ted Turner's TBS network. The event was a star-studded one, with former WWE talents (Ricky Steamboat, Jake Roberts, etc.) and future ones (Steve Austin, Mick Foley, etc.) alike taking part in the night's matches. But the biggest ex-WWE Superstar in attendance that night didn't actually have a match — it was Andre the Giant, and he was interviewed by announcer Tony Schiavone at the start of the show, keeping his comments short and sweet as he said he was "very happy to be back here to see all my [sic] TBS old wrestling stars." This appearance came one year after Andre's last WWE match (via Biography), at which point he was only making sporadic appearances on the company's programming. 

According to Michael Krugman's biography "Andre the Giant: A Legendary Life," Vince McMahon was very hurt by Andre's appearance at an event promoted by WWE's fiercest rival at the time. "I remember my dad called Andre and said, 'Boss, I've just gotta say that you really hurt my feelings. After everything, to see you with a competitor really hurt,'" Vince's son, Shane McMahon, told Krugman. Shane went on to say that his father was upset as well over the fact Andre — whose health was already deteriorating — publicly appeared on crutches, seemingly a sign of weakness from someone who was booked as an unstoppable force during his heyday. 

McMahon considered Andre a good friend and was devastated by his death

Although it seemed as if Vince McMahon and Andre the Giant had their share of differences over the wrestling business, the WWE boss always saw himself as being very close to Andre. And when the would-be Hall of Famer died on January 27, 1993, at the age of 46, McMahon was deeply affected, according to longtime WWE employee Bruce Prichard. 

"Vince took it hard," Prichard said on his "Something to Wrestle" podcast in 2020, as quoted by Wrestling News. "Vince and Andre were the same age and had birthdays that were fairly close together. Vince considered Andre one of his best friends and really hated the falling out that they had. I think there was a little bit of regret that hadn't been completely rectified and he didn't have the opportunity to say goodbye to his friend."

In the 2018 documentary "Andre the Giant," McMahon commented on the legend's untimely passing. While he tried to remain stoic and emphasize his ability to compartmentalize things and "get rid of negatives very quickly," the WWE chairman had a hard time finding the right words when he was asked if Andre's death affected him more than others. "He was special," concluded an emotional McMahon, offering a succinct description of Andre's greatness ... and how he really felt about his departed friend.