In the 46 years he lived, Andre the Giant inspired plenty of legends befitting his mythic size. It turns out most of them were true.
Andre would have been 70 years old on Thursday. Back in 1981, Sports Illustrated published a profile of the then-35 old wrestler, written by Olympic powerlifter Terry Todd.
The piece is mostly a look at how incredibly enormous (and athletic) Andre was. This photo at the start of the story gives you a pretty good idea, but let’s take a look at some of the most amazing anecdotes from the article.
He grew so fast his parents didn’t recognize him
Andre left home when he was 14 and moved to Paris. When he came back five years later, he had grown so much that his parents didn’t know who he was.
As she opened the door she beheld an enormous man, all hands and feet, smiling enormously. She stood there dumb struck.
"Is the man of the house at home?" the huge stranger inquired, at which point she rushed from the room, calling to her husband. Together they approached the doorway and the man who filled it.
"Yes, can I help you?" said the husband cautiously, looking up.
"May I ask how you like the car?" replied the giant. He stepped aside and with a slow sweep of his massive hand indicated a long, shining limousine. A Rolls-Royce.
"It is beautiful, but what has that to do with us?" the husband said suspiciously as the wife drew closer to him.
"Do you know who I am?" the stranger asked, still smiling down at them.
The wife hesitated, then said, "Have I not seen you on television? Are you not the famous wrestler, Jean Ferrè?"
"Yes, I have wrestled often on television," said the colossal stranger, continuing to smile.
Finally, the husband looked out again at the Rolls, peered up again into the stranger's deep-set, twinkling eyes, turned to his wife and exclaimed, "Do you not recognize your own son come home to you at last? Jean Ferrè is only a nom de guerre. This man is our son, Andre, grandson of my father."
He used his incredible strength to play pranks on his friends
He discovered one day in Paris that he could move a small car by himself, and for quite a while after that he amused himself by moving his friends' cars while they were having a meal or a drink, placing them in a small space between a lamppost and a building, or turning them around to face the other way. His strength was so natural to him that he had no interest in lifting weights. He was interested in having a joke on his friends, not in showing how strong he was.
Some people were dumb enough to get in bar fights with him
[Former wrestler Arnold] Skaaland was with him once in Quebec City when a big lumberjack got so full of both whiskey and himself that nothing would do but to try out le gèant. "We were at this little bar after a match," Skaaland recalls, "and I noticed this guy kept staring at Andre. That's not unusual, except he looked like he was building up steam. And sure enough, he walked up to Andre, tapped him on the shoulder and cursed him and called him out. "We were standing at the bar, and Andre turned around to face the guy and spoke to him softly. He told him he didn't want to fight, and he even offered to buy him a drink, but the guy cursed him again. The words barely got out of his mouth when Andre grabbed him by the neck and belt and drove him into the wall across the room. I think it broke the guy's ribs." Asked about this later, Andre shrugged and said, "I do what I can to avoid bad trouble, boss, but I have seen enough to know when a man can't be talked out of a fight. First I talk, but when I see the talk won't work, I want to make the first move and I want to make it a good one. Twice I have had knives pulled on me and I have had to use a barstool."
Guard dogs cowered at the sight of him
In two separate instances, one reported by [Andre’s friend Frank] Valois and one by Roger Sembiazza, owner of a restaurant in Studio City, Calif., trained guard dogs have turned tail and headed for cover at first sight of Andre. Asked about this, Andre chuckled in his basso profundo and said, "Boss, it was so funny. Dogs often react to me that way if they don't know me, but these two dogs were supposed to be so mean. So vicious. One was a German shepherd and one was a Doberman. Both times I was asked to stand still while the owner brought the dog in, and both times the dog got one look at me and ran the other way as fast as he could go."
He drank 7,000 calories a day in alcohol
Do not match drinks with the Giant. This lesson learned, I spent the remainder of my time drinking with Andre, not against him, and I can report with confidence that his capacity for alcohol is extraordinary. During the week or so I was with him, his average daily consumption was a case or so of beer; a total of two bottles of wine, generally French, with his meals; six or eight shots of brandy, usually Courvoisier or Napolèon, though sometimes Calvados; half a dozen standard mixed drinks, such as Bloody Marys or Screwdrivers; and the odd glass of Pernod. He drinks as many Frenchmen drink—throughout the day—and he takes genuine comfort in his drinking, seemingly in agreement with the line from Housman that "Malt does more than Milton can/ To justify God's ways to man." But during the time I was with Andre, never once did I see him give any indication that the alcohol was affecting him.
A movie about Andre’s life, based on a graphic novel, is currently in production.