"Andre the Giant"

Boxer Chuck Wepner compares fist sizes with “Andre the Giant,” the title character of the HBO documentary now showing on Netflix.

In the 1980s, professional wrestling kind of exploded. It was the era of Hulk Hogan, “The Macho Man” Randy Savage and more. My brother and I were glued to the TV when these characters were on the screen. I was too little to understand it was all staged; a male soap opera, if you will.

One of the biggest stars of wrestling — both literally and figuratively — was Andre the Giant. He stood over 7 feet tall and weighed 500-ish pounds. He truly was a giant, and one of the biggest people most folks had ever seen. He wasn’t just a man, but something so much more.

A couple of months ago, HBO put out a documentary simply called “Andre the Giant.” It’s directed by Jason Hehir, and I’d heard a lot of good things about it. My goal is to have a few more documentary reviews headed your way in the future, so we’ll start here.

Hehir has created a work of art with the documentary. I knew of Andre as a wrestler and even as an actor — he plays the role of Fezzik in the classic “The Princess Bride.” Sure, Andre was a performer, known to millions. The documentary gives us a glimpse at who he really was, though: A man who loved to laugh, longed to be normal and suffered greatly.

Andre, born André René Roussimoff, was afflicted with a condition called acromegaly. Essentially, his body’s pituitary gland produced too much of a growth hormone. While this isn’t a rare thing, it affected Andre in spectacular ways. But, as he grew, so did his pain. The human body can only handle so much strain. As he grew larger, his heart had to perform harder. His joints ached as they struggled to hold his frame up.

Andre retired in 1992 and died Jan. 27, 1993. He was 46 years old. His career had lasted nearly three decades and more than 5,000 matches.

His story is told through interviews with those who knew him best. Family members and Tim White are just some of the featured interviews. Hogan plays a prominent role in the documentary, as does wrestling mega-mogul Vince McMahon. “Princess Bride” director Rob Reiner and Andre’s costars — Cary Elwes, Robin Wright and Billy Crystal share their memories, too.

The documentary is a veritable who’s who of the wrestling scene of 30-plus years ago, from announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund to Jerry Lawler. Everyone has an Andre story to tell.

And it’s a wonderful story. It’s a story of a man who loved to laugh and got a special kick out of giant-sized flatulence. It’s a story of a man incredibly large but completely in control of his own strength. It’s a man who could drink to such epic proportions. One interviewee noted Andre could drink 7,000 calories of alcohol — that’s 20-25 beers, four bottles of wine and a few cocktails for good measure — while another noted he drank to dull the pain.

While Andre’s story is incredible, it’s also horribly depressing. He endured crazy levels of physical pain, but he also dealt with an overwhelming loneliness. It’s an intensely relatable story, one that everybody, no matter if their life has been a rose garden or not, can relate to: pain and the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual strain that life places upon us, as well as how we choose to deal with it. At the same time, his story is also more abstract, because he was a celebrity, dealt with issues and experienced a side of life most never knows exist. While most of us can go out and never be noticed as we walk through a store or go to a restaurant, Andre never had that luxury. His life had amazing highs, but there also were remarkable lows.

Hehir created a fascinating story. I went down memory lane, reliving the moments of Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant. It was all fictitious, but as a kid, I truly believed there were good guys and villains in the wrestling world. My brother and I were totally sucked into the storyline. It’s been years since I’ve watched wrestling, but when I was young, it gave kids role models, like Hulk and Andre.

“Andre the Giant” is a fantastic documentary. Andre’s story is full of myth and legend, but through his interviews, Hehir introduces the audience to the man behind the bulk. He was a friend, father, brother and son. If you watch the doc, remember to bring tissues. You’ll need them.

Amanda Greever is a former editor, designer and writer at The Daily Times. She now works as a media relations specialist at Ripley PR in Maryville. Contact her at amandagreever@gmail.com

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