If you grew up a professional wrestling fan in the '70s or '80s, you remember the first time you saw Andre the Giant. You remember the first time you heard Andre the Giant. You remember the first time you paid for a ticket to see Andre the Giant. For me, it was in August 1, 1982, at the Hartford Civic Center. Andre defeated the hated Blackjack Mulligan. (Full disclosure: My dad bought the tickets. I was 13.)
For many of us, Andre the Giant was more mythical creature than he was man, and if there were a course in high school on his career storyline arc, me and my buddies would have all gotten A's. To that point, during our senior year in high school, eight of us drove an hour to a movie theater in Torrington, CT to watch Andre fight Hulk Hogan in their legendary match in Wrestlemania III. Missing it was not as option.
The HBO documentary "Andre the Giant," directed by Jason Hehir and executive proceeded by Bill Simmons in his first big HBO documentary project, covered all of the in-ring and around the ring highlights of my childhood, including Wrestlemania III in superb, granular detail. However, it also covered the pain and sadness Andre endured as a literal giant, living with a condition called acromegaly that eventually caused the heart attack which took his life in 1993 at age 46.
The documentary is a must see for any wrestling fan, and even casual sports fans will appreciate the story telling Hehir executes. I am no professional film critic, so I'll give some highlights here in my "4 Winners, 4 Losers" format. Here we go....
4. Ellerbe, NC
The overriding theme of the documentary, aside from Andre's worldwide popularity, was how difficult it was for him to do anything in public — drive, sleep, eat, use the bathroom, pretty much everything. There was very little peace in his life. When he was out in public, people would want to get their picture taken with Andre, and then when he would walk away, they would laugh at him, at least according to some interviewed in the film. The one place that he had solitude was on his gigantic ranch he owned in North Carolina. In the town of Ellerbe (population 986), Andre could actually go to the store and the post office and not be bothered. The family he hired to watch his house while he was on the road became his surrogate American family.
Andre the Giant loved to fart. I mean, like really, REALLY loved to fart. According to multiple interviewees in the documentary, Hulk Hogan chief among them, Andre's favorite thing to do was rip 30 second farts in enclosed places. Vince McMahon himself said that "When Andre passed gas, it was en event." Honestly, I'm a little mad at Vince that Andre's farting wasn't a bigger part of his heel turn in 1987.
2. Tim White
Longtime WWE fans would recognize White as one of the handful of regular in-ring referees throughout the '80s and '90s. However, behind the scenes, White was Andre's hand picked travel partner and handler, a role White clearly relished. White was one of the more compelling figures in the documentary, especially when Andre's death was being recounted, and White, through near tears, laments the fact that Andre died alone in a hotel room in Paris. (Andre was there, ironically, for his father's funeral, which took place just days before Andre's passing.)
1. Hulk Hogan
Hogan is undoubtedly Andre's most famous in-ring foil, as their aforementioned main event at Wrestlemania III drew one of the biggest gates of all time, and was a perfectly executed wrestling angle. This storyline was the one topic that Hehir spent more air time on than anything else, and he told the story perfectly. Hogan talked about his not knowing if Andre would cooperate in the main event, even on the day of the show. More than anything else, Hogan came across as honest and likable, which for him personally, is probably as big a win as anything, given how he is slowly working his way back into the good graces of the wrestling community after his highly publicized racial epithets caught on video a few years back, and published by Gawker (against whom Hogan won a multimillion dollar lawsuit).
4. Randy Savage and the Iron Sheik
Apparently, there were some guys of whom Andre was not a big fan. Two examples that were brought up in the documentary were Randy Savage and the Iron Sheik. In fact, they showed highlights of a brutal beating Andre laid down on the Sheik, who Andre reportedly thought had a "big mouth." Here is that beatdown in its entirety:
3. Transatlantic flights
Andre the Giant fought all over the world, which meant numerous long flights overseas. Normalcy for Andre was fighting every night for a week in a territory here in the United States, and then getting on a 14-hour flight to Japan. Of course, Andre not only couldn't fit in the airplane seats, but he was too big for the lavatory, so on flights overseas, the flight crew would have to shield Andre with a curtain, let him urinate into a bucket, and then go empty the bucket in the lavatory. I'm guessing emptying a bucket of a giant's urine into an airplane toilet was not a chapter in flight attendant school.
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2. The "territory" days
Aside from chronicling the life of Andre the Giant, the secondary purpose the documentary served was to provide a de facto history lesson on the evolution of the wrestling business from numerous small American territories to Vince McMahon basically taking over the world. (That's an oversimplification, but given the subject matter of "Andre the Giant," that's kind of how it was painted.) I forgot just how much WWF programming there was on cable television back in the mid-'80s. Tuesday Night Titans!
1. Opposing drinkers
Andre the Giant was famous for three activities — wrestling, farting, and drinking. We've covered the first two. The documentary covered in some detail the extent to which Andre would try to drink himself silly. Several of his peers chipped in with "Andre drinking stories" of their own, such as Ric Flair saying he and Andre finished 106 beers, and Rob Reiner, director of The Princess Bride, in which Andre starred in 1987, sharing a story of how Andre drank six bottles of wine and three bottles of cognac in one sitting. Google "Andre the Giant beers," and you get a series of links with some amazing stories. Below is the one with the highest drink total:
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.