The HBO documentary Andre The Giant (which airs April 10th at 10 pm) is a gripping look at the tragic circumstances surrounding one of the all-time great sports entertainers.
The filmmakers stayed away from making a movie solely biographical look at one of the biggest icons in wrestling. They instead meticulously sought to find out what drives a French athlete afflicted with acromegaly to sacrifice his body night after night for a sport which was predetermined (what a refreshing approach). While most assume the answer would be a complex one, a news clip of Andre reveals it was because he wanted to make a living.
While the disease impacted his appearance in such a drastic way resulting in crowds of fans jamming dimly lit arenas/armories just to catch a glimpse of him, it was the Giant’s work ethic which catapulted him to stardom. The documentary provides accounts of Andre wrestling in various territories (back when there were territories around the globe) connecting with anyone he came in contact with. In the beginning, Andre would wrestle under the name Le Géant Ferré, and as he grew in height/stature, the name became more menacing. However, no one ever mistook him for a villain when he would compete in the ring. His smile could win over even the most skeptical of spectators.
As his fame grew, so did the exposure to all sorts of vices. The documentary tackles alcoholism directly. Through interviews with Ric Flair, Jerry Lawler, and Vince McMahon we learn about how much of a party animal the eighth wonder of the world was. Flair gleefully explains how one night Flair was with Andre and he managed to drink 106 beers in the span of a few hours. Lawler and McMahon later explain how the biggest wrestler in the world would drink to dull the agony of his daily life. His stature and girth were already impacting his life.
One of the more bold moments of the documentary was when they examined the detachment promoters have with their wrestlers. Vince Sr. (Vince McMahon’s dad) was the man who originally signed him to an exclusive deal but had no problem loaning him out to various territories all in the name of making money. Regardless of his condition, Andre never said no and would work night after night. When McMahon took over for his dad, the dynamics changed instantly. While he adored the most prominent athlete in wrestling, he viewed the aging star as a product more than a person.
The most engaging portion of the Simmons documentary was concerning Hulk Hogan. Hogan was McMahon’s vision of what a wrestler should be. The director Jason Hehir used news footage along with clips of everyone talking about Andre becoming a villain in the wrestling world and putting Hogan over. The result is a recount of one the most significant sporting events ever: WrestleMania 3.
Overall the documentary delivers a very balanced look at an icon whose mere presence ignited a passion for wrestling which still burns today.