Andre the Giant was the largest athlete the world had ever seen, and was sports-entertainment’s most famous attraction throughout the 1970s and much of the 1980s. Standing 7 feet 4 inches tall and weighing between 475 and 540 pounds over the course of his career, he truly earned his nickname of “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”
By the time he was 12 years old, Andre stood 6-foot-3 and weighed 200 pounds. This was due to the fact that he was born with acromegaly, a disorder that causes the bones to grow at an accelerated rate, and to continue to grow beyond the age of physical maturity.
Determined to use his abnormal size to his advantage, Andre entered the world of sports-entertainment as a very young man. In an era when the sport was regionalized, Andre the Giant became one of the rare exceptions: A performer who was at the top of the card wherever he went, a major star who was known to fans in every territory. After wrestling in Japan and Canada for a few years, the 27-year-old giant came under the wing of Vincent K. McMahon and the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1973. Though the company would change dramatically, Andre would remain with the McMahon family for the next 20 years; he was even offered a contract by the NFL’s Washington Redskins in 1974, but turned it down to stay in the ring.
Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, Andre was one of the biggest and most beloved stars in WWE. For nearly 15 years, he was undefeated in WWE; throughout heated rivalries with such Superstars as “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, Blackjack Mulligan and even Hulk Hogan (whom Andre defeated in an epic clash at Shea Stadium in 1980), no one could defeat the giant. His crossover celebrity status was such that he appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show, and even had a cameo role on The Six-Million Dollar Man playing Bigfoot. Later, he made cameo appearances on B.J. and the Bear and The Greatest American Hero, and in 1987, he played the role of Fezzik in the heralded film The Princess Bride.
Perhaps his most notable rivalry of the time, however, was with Killer Khan in the early 1980s. Khan broke Andre’s ankle in 1981, leading to their infamous Mongolian Stretcher Match (of course, won by Andre). Through it all, Andre maintained an incredible undefeated streak the likes of which had never been seen before and hasn’t been seen since. He was particularly adept in Battle Royals, as his size made him nearly impossible to toss over the top rope throughout his career.
By the mid ‘80s, however, his condition was beginning to take its toll on his body. Still, he remained an integral part of WWE’s national expansion. His lengthy rivalry with Big John Studd culminated in Andre’s victory over Studd in the Body Slam Challenge at the first WrestleMania in 1985, and he added to his record for most Battle Royals won by surviving just such a match the following year at WrestleMania 2.
His career took an alarming turn in 1987 when he turned on his long-time friend Hogan and hired Bobby “The Brain” Heenan as his manager. The result was his first-ever opportunity at the WWE Championship. With 93,173 fans in attendance, Andre clashed with Hogan at WrestleMania III in the biggest match of all time. The Hulkster was victorious, ending the lengthy undefeated streak of his former best friend.
Hogan and Andre continued to clash throughout 1987, and in February 1988, Andre did finally win the title in an infamous controversial match. He immediately gave it to Ted DiBiase, a change which was disallowed and set the stage for the first-ever WWE Championship tournament at WrestleMania IV.
In the final years of his career, he also held the World Tag Team Championship with Haku for a few months in 1990. After losing the gold at WrestleMania VI, Andre turned against Heenan, once again putting himself in the crowd’s favor. He made several cameo appearances over the next few years, but on Jan. 27, 1993, Andre passed away in his sleep due to congestive heart failure caused by his life-long illness.
Shortly after his passing in 1993, Andre was posthumously honored as the first inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame, truly capping his legacy as one of the best ever. More so than for any individual accomplishment, Andre will always be remembered for the years he reigned supreme as the most famous Superstar in sports-entertainment.