Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown
Who doesn’t love The Princess Bride? And who doesn’t have a soft spot for Andre, that sweet, kindly giant, when he rhymes, “Does anybody want a peanut” and when he catches the lovely Princess? If you feel as I do, you’ll want to read Box Brown’s fascinating biography of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend.
Brown’s biography comes from someone who grew up with a great love for professional wrestling, and I think that background is essential for Andre’s biographer since most of Andre’s life was devoted to that art, sport, and/or spectacle, depending on your perspective. I, personally, have never enjoyed pro wrestling, and this book gives me little desire to start watching it. However, Brown does give me enough knowledge both to understand Andre’s life story and to appreciate professional wrestling as a unique form of entertainment that requires specific skills and abilities.
Brown’s work can be enjoyed by older teenagers, but I think it will appeal most to the serious adult reader who appreciates a well-researched literary work. As Brown explains, “For me, creating this book was a scholarly pursuit. I wanted to tell Andre’s story as best I could. Andre the Giant represents all that is good in professional wrestling.” Brown succeeds in creating a scholarly work: There’s an excellent introduction about pro wrestling, and there are source notes at the end of the book for almost every scene depicted. Brown also includes an interesting glossary of professional wrestling terms and an impressive two-page bibliography that shows how much research went into this book.
Andre, however, is the primary focus of the book, and Brown tells us the full story of Andre Roussimoff, who at 7’4″ weighed 500 pounds and was destined to be sought out by those who wanted to make money off of his memorable size. By way of various venues throughout the world from France to Japan, Andre visually startled audiences starting in the late 1950s. Brown includes interviews from a variety of wrestlers and promoters, but Jerry “Hulk” Hogan is the name most will recognize. From the way Brown tells the story, Hogan, as well as pro wrestling in general, owes much to Andre: At the end of his career, “Andre immortalized Hulk Hogan and sent the wrestling business into orbit.”
What interested me most was Andre’s personal side. Brown paints the picture of a fairly sad and lonely man who expected to die by the time he was forty. Andre suffered from acromegaly which caused him to continue to age and grow, putting greater and greater strain on his organs, heart, and joints. By the end of his life, Andre was in severe pain, and periodically had to undergo operations. His back, in particular, suffered greatly from the weight it had to support. When he catches the princess in the movie, he would have felt some serious pain. He also was often made fun of and not merely when he was young. Finally, he had to keep on the move, returning to the same venue often only once a year, so that audiences wouldn’t get bored with him as they did early in his career when he tried to stay in a single location for an extended period. So, even though Andre enjoyed seeing the world, travelling was difficult for him. For example, he couldn’t even use the bathrooms on planes and buses because of his size.
Basically, we get to follow Andre through his travels all over the world. Only occasionally would he retreat to his ranch in North Carolina. Brown does an excellent job showing us Andre the man. However, as with all biographies, this book also shows a side that is not flattering. Andre was a heavy drinker and apparently wasn’t always kind. He said he wanted a family, but he ignored and hardly ever saw the daughter he initially denied was his until he was forced to undergo a paternity test. If you aren’t prepared to see the negative side of Andre, you might find certain aspects of this biography sad to read. Still, overall, Brown has written a compelling work, and I certainly enjoyed it. And I still have a soft spot for Andre.
If you are a fan of professional wrestling and Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride, then this biographical graphic novel is a must-read. Do not pass it up. However, if you are not a fan of pro wrestling, but are still interested in the life of Andre the Giant, then I think you’ll still enjoy this book because it explains professional wrestling enough that you will understand how it could matter greatly to one such as Andre. Personally, I even appreciate now, just a little bit, fans of this form of entertainment. If someone as interesting and intelligent as artist and biographer Box Brown is a fan, then perhaps there’s more to pro wrestling than I’d ever suspected. There’s certainly more to Andre the Giant than I ever knew.