Wrestling Royalty Comes Out to Honor Andre the Giant
By Michael Gluckstadt
Hulk Hogan, Cary Elwes and Bill Simmons were among those sharing memories of Andre’s out-of-the-ring exploits.
No one was bigger than Andre the Giant, so it was only fitting that the premiere of the new documentary about his life should be shown on the oversize curved screen at the Cinerama Dome at Arclight Cinemas in Los Angeles. Celebrities from the worlds of wrestling and pop culture came out to pay their respects to the larger-than-life figure.
"Once in a lifetime someone like that comes along; maybe it's many many lifetimes," recalled Hulk Hogan, Andre's former in-ring nemesis. "He was very special. A kind-hearted human being who taught respect. When I was a young smart aleck kid thinking I can take on the world, he put me in my place, taught me how to be a man."
Hogan is a central character in the film, and his bout against Andre at Wrestlemania III serves as its climax. Not coincidentally, the premiere took place 31 years to the day when Hulk famously body-slammed Andre at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. "That gives me goosebumps, man," said the Hulkster. "Andre made my career. He made all of our careers. He etched the WWE into history that night."
It was a night that left an impression on many of the premiere's attendees. "You'd have to be living under a rock in Bulgaria not to remember that night," offered Cary Elwes, Andre's co-star in The Princess Bride. Sam Richardson from HBO's Veep shared, "I'm from Detroit, so when Hogan slammed Andre the Giant at the Silverdome, it was one of the most famous events in the city."
But to those who met Andre, it was his out-of-the-ring exploits that stayed with them. "He was a very gentle soul," Elwes continued. "He'd give you the shirt off his back. It'd be enough for eight people, but he'd give it to you."
Andre the Giant was born Andre Roussimoff in rural France. A medical condition known as acromegaly caused him to grow to a height well in excess of 7 feet. David Shoemaker, a wrestling historian quoted in the film, described Andre as "an incredibly athletic guy who kind of accidentally found his way into the wrestling world. Then he came over to North America and became the biggest star in wrestling history."
Andre the Giant is the first documentary produced by HBO Sports with Bill Simmons — the founder of the Ringer and co-creator of the “30 for 30” documentary film series. "This was a long time coming — the culmination of an 11-year odyssey," said Simmons. Describing why he thought Andre would make a good documentary subject, Simmons said, "You can see the arc in this one. He couldn't stop growing, and he was going to die before he was 50. He was the biggest star in wrestling and when wrestling took off his body started to break down."
For director Jason Hehir, the challenge was to separate the myths about Andre the Giant from the facts. "For decades there's been so much mythology and embellishment and enhancement of Andre's story," Hehir said. "We felt it was time to get some answers and actually find the truth about Andre Roussimoff the human being, as opposed to Andre the Giant the wrestling character."
It's a sentiment echoed by Stephanie McMahon, a pro wrestler herself who is also the scion of the wrestling family that established Andre as the biggest star in the sport. "Andre's story deserves to be told," McMahon said. "He was much more than a giant in the wrestling business. He was a giant at life."
Watch Andre the Giant on HBO GO, HBO NOW and HBO On Demand