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Andre the Giant knew from a fairly early age that he would not grow into an old man due to his medical condition that turned him into a towering, legendary sports and media superstar.
Born André René Roussimoff, the late athlete and actor who died at the age of 46 in 1993, was afflicted with acromegaly, a disorder in which the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone.
In the upcoming HBO documentary detailing his life and times, Andre the Giant, one of the most striking revelations is Roussimoff declined medical attention that may have prolonged his life because he was worried it would have adverse effects on his beloved professional wrestling career.
“I use what God gave me,” the booming-voiced, French wrestler — who was billed at 7-feet 4-inches and nearly 500 pounds — said in an archival interview featured in the doc. “I am not supernatural. I’m just myself. So, what God gave me, I use it to make a living.”
And it is for that reason, Dr. Harris Yett, Roussimoff’s physician, said Andre the Giant declined medical treatment, which would not have reversed his acromegaly, but would have helped his health and likely life expectancy.
“He decided that he did not want treatment at that time because it might interfere with his career as a wrestler,” Yett says in the HBO doc.
Documentary executive producer Bill Simmons told The Hollywood Reporter this project is near and dear to his heart.
A lover of pro wrestling, and seeing Roussimoff at his family’s favorite French restaurant while growing up in Connecticut (where the World Wrestling Federation, now World Wrestling Entertainment, is headquartered), Simmons tells THR this was a story that had been in his crosshairs for years.
“When I started 30 For 30 with Connor [Schell], we made a list of 12 can’t-miss docs and Andre was on that list,” Simmons says of his ESPN series, which premiered in October 2009. “We ended up making half the list and there were others we couldn’t make for a variety of reasons — Andre’s being one of them — because the WWE didn’t do anything with other entities then.”
Now, Simmons is with HBO and has the ability to finally tell Roussimoff’s life story.
“I developed a better relationship with the WWE,” Simmons says. “In 2015, we (at HBO) tried to convince Vince McMahon to do it. The WWE had their network and created a lot of content, but they also saw the big picture and they saw the value that this is with HBO. And then it unfolded and worked out.”
Andre the Giant tells the story of a man who was never comfortable in his own gigantic body, but adored being a wrestler and had a heart of gold. The HBO documentary also shows the struggles The Princess Bride star endured with his body breaking down rapidly as he aged in adulthood and the abuse he had to endure from those who saw him only as a freak of nature. The documentary, directed by Jason Hehir, features interviews with McMahon, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, Rob Reiner and Roussimoff’s daughter, Robin Christensen Roussimoff, among others.
Calling the Oscar-winning 30 For 30 installment O.J.: Made in America “the best documentary I have ever seen,” Simmons tells THR he is confident Andre the Giant will have the same mass appeal, reaching beyond wrestling and sports fans.
“We knew we could get the wrestling fans and people in my age range who remember Andre on the 6 Million Dollar Man, but we didn’t know if we could get the rest,” Simmons says. “Now, I think we will.”
Andre the Giant premieres April 10.
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