Back in the early 1970s, I was an avid watcher of Grand Prix Wrestling every Saturday afternoon on CFCF TV 12. Hosted by Jack Curran and Ray Boucher, it was a fun weekly showcase of the best and baddest wrestlers to hit the mat of this Montreal-based wrestling territory, not to mention characters like Black Jack Mulligan, Baron Fritz Von Ratschke, Gilles “The Fish” Poisson and “Mad Dog” Vachon.
But one the first wrestlers that I saw on Grand Prix Wrestling was a literal giant of a man. He was touted as a native of the town of Grenoble, France in the heart of the French Alps who measured at 7′ 4″ and weighed closed to 400 pounds. He wrestled under the name of “Giant Jean Ferre”, and he quickly became a superstar with local wrestling fans, whose giant stature and intimidating presence constantly filled the Verdun Auditorium and the Montreal Forum whenever he was part of a Grand Prix bill, especially his “Match of the Century” with fellow gargantuan wrestler Don Leo Jonathan in 1973 (in which I was part of that sold out crowd).
By the mid 70s, Giant Jean Ferre left Grand Prix Wrestling, and found greener pastures in the U.S. with Vince McMahon, Sr. and the promotion that was to become the WWF/WWE. He changed his name to “Andre the Giant”, found some fame in Hollywood with roles in “The Six Million Dollar Man” and the cult classic “The Princess Bride”, not to mention his “feud” with Hulk Hogan in 1987 that culminated in the classic showdown at Wrestlemania III, where it was claimed that the Hulkster was the first wrestler to administer a body slam on Andre.
But outside the ring, Andre the Giant was a man whose heart was just as big as his height, divulged in many simple pleasures (playing cards backstage with his fellow wrestlers accompanied by many bottles of beer), was supportive to his family and colleagues. Yet his lifelong bout with the disorder acromegaly had Andre constantly wrestling with constant, agonizing pain in his knees and back, and led to his premature death in 1993 at the age of 46.
The team of Bertrand Hebert and Pat Laprade, who have quickly become much sought after wrestling experts with their acclaimed biographies of Pat Patterson and Mad Dog Vachon, as well as their definitive history of the Montreal wrestling scene, have once again applied their wrestling expertise and sports journalism skills to produce a biography on a grand scale that’s certainly worthy of a man like Andre the Giant: The Eighth Wonder of the World.
He was born Andre Roussimoff, the son of Bulgarian immigrants, in 1946 in the town of Ussy-sur-Marne, France. Even when he was a teenager, young Andre knew that a career in the squared circle was for him, and launched his career in his native France in the 1960s, where Greco-Roman style wrestling had a large following at the time. He rounded off the decade with tours in the U.K. and Japan, where as “Monster Roussimoff” he became a superstar with Japanese fans. And then Montreal came next, where he would cement his reputation as an international star in the world of pro wrestling.
What I really admire about this book is how Hebert and Laprade’s passion for wrestling and their expansive knowledge of the sport really contributes to how thorough and exhaustive they are when it came to telling the story of Andre the Giant.
For example, there are separate chapters dedicated to the history of the Japanese and Montreal wrestling scenes and the many promotions that created fierce rivalries that were quite dog-eat-dog; the many nicknames Andre wrestled under; the disputes of his actual height and weight, and also the story behind the disorder acromegaly (which enlarged the human body, especially the head, hands and feet), which was Andre’s claim to fame, as well as a major burden to his health and well being.
And thanks to pair’s diligent research work and countless interviews with family, friends and colleagues, the reader gets detailed behind the scenes stories of many of Andre’s triumphs and setbacks in the ring. In fact, their detailed retelling of his 1987 feud with Hulk Hogan from its origins to Wrestlemania III are so dedicated to every minutiae of the events it took me back to when I originally watched that scenario play out on TV and closed circuit television 33 years ago.
As well, there are plenty of details about the Andre Roussimoff side of the man. His dedication to friends and family (especially when he tried to reestablish a relationship with his only daughter Robin), his pride of portraying the role of Fezzik in “The Princess Bride” that extended to carrying a copy of the movie with him wherever he went on road so that he could watch it in his hotel room, and his love of wrestling and the world of wrestling that was so deep, he decided to continue to appear on arena wrestling shows, even though many surgeries left him physically limited to perform any of his famed wrestling moves.
The Eighth Wonder of the World is a book that deserves a championship belt for telling the story of a much loved and respected figure in pro wrestling who tragically became a victim of his own body. And as a result Andre Roussimoff and his alter ego of Andre the Giant can truly be regarded as “larger than life”.