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Often billed as "The Eighth Wonder of the World," this man was the first truly global superstar in professional wrestling, idolized much like the ancient Colossus of Rhodes.

Beginning his pro career in 1964 at the age of 18 under the guidance of French-Canadian wrestling great Edouard Carpentier, he was developed and brought along until he eventually caught the attention of Vince McMahon Sr. in 1972, who brought him to the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWF/WWE).

And there, he became "Andre the Giant."

Born in Grenoble, France, in 1946, Andre Renee Roussimoff weighed 200 pounds and stood 6'-4" by the time he was 13. It was clear about the only thing he would be able to do by then was heavy lifting on a farm or try his luck in the city, so at the age of 14 he quit school, packed his bags and hiked himself off to Paris, where he got work in a furnitue store. Two wrestlers eventually spotted him at the age of 17. He picked up some experience in the ring and soon France was too small, so he crossed the Atlantic to Canada, where he met Carpentier.

The reason for Andre's immense size is a disease called acromegaly, which results in an overabundance of growth hormones. It's also called giantism and it caused Andre to continue growing his entire life. By the time he was 17, he stood 6'-7". At the time of Wrestlemania III, he weighed 520 pounds, stood 7'-5", had a 71-inch chest and wore size 24 shoes.

His disease was properly diagnosed at one point in Japan and the regimen he needed to follow prescribed, but Andre ignored it. He went his own way, eventually costing him his life and all of us a truly gentle man.

By the way, acromegaly is the same disease from which "Big Show" Paul Wight suffers. He takes his medication, though, and watches his weight. And he is NOT the son of Andre. There is only one child of Andre Roussimoff and that is a daughter, whom he would never talk about publicly.

During his years in the ring, Andre had what many would call "handicap" and "exhibition" matches since he was so much bigger than anyone else in wrestling at the time. He would take on two or three wrestlers at a time and beat them without breaking a sweat. He once took on boxer Chuck Wepner and beat him, took on wrestler Gorilla Monsoon in a boxing match when Gorilla weighed in at 400 pounds and beat him.

It wasn't until other wrestlers started getting bigger, and Andre getting older, that he started getting proper one-on-one matches. He defeated the likes of Big John Studd and Jake "The Snake" Roberts. And by this point, the WWF was sending Andre around the world, making him into a traveling highlight reel. Millions got to see him. Sports Illustrated even did a spread on him, the largest feature they had ever published at that time.

By the time Wrestlemania III came around in 1987, Andre had been in the game a long time. He was past 40 and his body was starting to give out. He had turned rulebreaker a few months before and now he was going to face Hulk Hogan, the current champion. He was ready to hand over the torch to a younger generation.

Andre was carrying two proud records at the time: He had never lost an 18-man "battle royal," and he had never been slammed in his entire career. Shortly before Wrestlemania III, Andre lost in a battle royal for the first time. One record gone. Then, through pre-arrangement with Hogan's handlers, "The Hulkster" knew he would be allowed to defeat Andre by slamming him. He couldn't believe his good fortune, that Andre would do this for him. He knew it would make his career for good.

And sure enough, Andre kept his end of the bargain. Slam, legdrop, pin at the 12:01 mark, end of never being slammed. Proud records over. Now those monkeys were off Andre's back and he could relax some.

He took part in six Wrestlemanias, which I did not realize. And I honestly thought the WWF world heavyweight title was the only belt he ever held. Wrong again. Even though he only kept the WWF world belt about 40 seconds before saying "I yield the belt to Ted Dibiase," there were other championships he won.

He won the IWA world tag team title with Michael Nador on Jan. 18, 1970, then the Australasian tag team title on Dec. 8, 1978, with Ron Miller. Next came a real surprise for me: the NWA United States tag team (Tri-State) title with Dusty Rhodes, won Dec. 25, 1978, and then the NWA Florida tag team with Rhodes on Feb. 15, 1981. Andre won the WWF world title on Feb. 5, 1988, and his last belt came on Dec. 13, 1989, with Haku (formerly Ming), as The Colossal Connection when they captured the WWF world tag team championship.

Andre faded away more and more into the background in the late 1980s and early '90s at his ranch in Ellerbe, N.C., where he raised Texas longhorn steers. He enjoyed sitting on his porch, riding around on his ATV to view his stock or just talking with his estate manager, Frenchie Bernard.

He entertained us too, by appearing in the movies. He is most remembered for his role of Fezzik in "The Princess Bride." He appeared in TV shows, among them "B.J. and the Bear." He was a true entertainer who gave of himself.

And all too soon, the end came. While in France in 1993 attending his own father's funeral, Andre himself died on Jan. 29. His heart simply gave out. He was cremated and his ashes returned to be scattered over the ranch he loved so much in North Carolina.

n Next week: The fourth wrestler among "Those who made a difference."

T&D Production Manager Jim Spears can be reached by e-mail at jspears@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-533-5519.

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