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5 Things That Supposedly Cursed the Cubs

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They say streaks are meant to be broken. But what about curses? On Saturday night, before a raucous Wrigley crowd, the Chicago Cubs clinched their first World Series berth in 71 years. To put things in perspective, the last time this team made it to MLB’s big dance, Harry Truman was in the White House, World War II had just concluded, and Jackie Robinson’s major league debut was still a year and a half away.

Why did the Cubbies take so long to return to the World Series? And, for that matter, why hasn’t the franchise won it since 1908? On the North Side of Chicago, many fans chalk their team’s woes up to supernatural forces. A curse of unparalleled longevity is said to hang over the club. At 108 years old, this hex makes the Boston Red Sox’s 86-year championship drought look like a mere inconvenience. Those who believe in the Cubs curse have offered plenty of theories about how it came to be and why it’s persisted for so long. Here are five things they’ve blamed over the years.


Earlier this month, Ghostbusters star and lifelong Cubs fan Bill Murray showed up at Wrigley in a t-shirt that read “I ain’t afraid of no goats.” If you don’t follow baseball (or watch '80s comedies), this might seem like a fairly strange thing to print on an article of clothing. But for decades, goats have inspired apprehension and terror in the hearts of Cubs devotees.

It all dates back to 1934, when William Sianis, an immigrant from Greece, bought a tavern on Chicago’s West Madison Street for $205. One day, a goat jumped off a passing truck and wandered into his bar. Sianis was charmed by the animal and adopted him. Before long, the hoofed mammal became the tavern’s de facto mascot, and Sianis renamed his establishment The Billy Goat Tavern. (After moving to its current place in 1964, the watering hole has turned into a popular Chicago institution, with six locations across town, as well as one in O'Hare Airport, one in Lombard, Illinois—and another all the way off in Washington, D.C.)

Sianis was a canny businessman with a flair for promotional stunts. When the Republican National Convention came to Chicago in 1944, he shrewdly put up a sign reading “No Republicans Allowed.” Right on cue, outraged GOP bar-goers crowded the place, insisting that they be served. Free publicity generated by his stunt translated into huge profits for Sianis, who quickly became one of Chicago’s most recognizable figures.

A year later, the Cubs clinched a World Series berth against the American League’s Detroit Tigers. To celebrate the occasion, Sianis’s bearded pet was cloaked in a banner that boldly declared “We Got Detroit’s Goat.” The outfit was to be the centerpiece of a great new promotional gimmick. Sianis bought up a pair of tickets to Game 4 of the Series at Wrigley Field. He then showed up at the ballpark with his goat in tow. It’s sometimes reported that Sianis and the animal were turned away at the stadium gate by Cubs President P.K. Wrigley, who allegedly complained of the animal’s smell. According to other sources, the entrepreneur and his horned companion were admitted into the ballpark, but were kicked out by ushers in short order. Regardless of why they were kicked out, according to the Tavern's website, an incensed Sianis “threw up his arms and exclaimed, ‘The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.” Furthermore, when Chicago ultimately lost the ’45 series to Detroit in seven games, Sianis supposedly telegrammed P.K. Wrigley and asked “Who stinks now?”

A few baseball historians doubt the legitimacy of this story. The standard revisionist argument is that it never even occurred to Sianis to put any sort of hex on the Cubs. For one thing, while two different newspapers ran stories about the Wrigley Field goat incident in 1945, neither account says anything about a curse. So when did the idea originate? If modern curse deniers are to be believed, the Chicago media dreamed up this billy goat jinx at some point in the 1940s. After the '45 World Series (and an OK '46 season), the Cubs started floundering and would go 16 years without a winning season—although they did break even in the 1952 campaign with a mediocre record of 77-77. Remembering the Wrigley Field goat incident, sportswriters began to wonder if Sianis had vindictively jinxed the team. “Sianis played along,” Cubs historian Jack Bales writes.

According to a 1969 Chicago Tribune article, Wrigley wrote a letter apologizing for the snub in 1950, to little effect. (According to the same article, Sianis then put a more obscure curse on the Cubs. After learning that he wouldn’t be able to raise a Greek flag at his bar’s new location near the Wrigley Building, he wrote to Wrigley “The Greek flag will fly from your plaza before another pennant flies at Wrigley field.”) Sianis passed away on October 22, 1970, but the legend of his jinx lived on. Early in 1984, Cubs manager Dallas Green swung by the Billy Goat Tavern and tried to make peace with Sianis’s nephew, Sam. “All is forgiven,” Green said. At the manager’s invitation, Sam showed up at Wrigley Field on opening day with a goat. In a pregame ceremony, the duo ascended the pitcher’s mound and formally revoked the curse.

Members of the Sianis family have since walked goats in or around the stadium on two other occasions. Also, in an attempt to better the Cubs’ fortunes, five competitive eaters gobbled up an entire 40-pound goat in one sitting at a Chicago restaurant in September 2015—a feat that took just 14 minutes.


In the early 20th century, baseball knew no bigger rivalry than the blood feud that raged between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Giants. In 1908, these two legendary teams were entwined in a pennant race for the ages. On September 23, the Cubs—who’d won their first World Series title a year earlier—played the Giants at Manhattan’s historic Polo Grounds. At the onset, Chicago stood just slightly behind New York in the National League standings. With the end of the season fast approaching, the stakes were sky-high (at the time, the winner of the pennant was the team with the best record at the end of the season).

Under normal circumstances, Giants veteran Fred Tenney would have been playing first base. But due to a back-related ailment, he was replaced by a 19-year-old rookie named Fred Merkle. Little did this Wisconsin-born teenager know that he’d soon secure his place in history—for all the wrong reasons.

With two outs at the bottom of the ninth inning and outfielder Moose McCormick biding his time on first base, the score was tied 1-1. That’s when Merkle singled, sending McCormick to third. Then along came shortstop Al Bridwell, who hit a single of his own to right center field.

Here’s where things get weird: Bridwell’s hit allowed McCormick to run across home plate and seemingly win the game. Rather than touch second base, Merkle proceeded to make a beeline towards the Giants’ clubhouse in center field. Why would he do such a thing? Well, in those days, fans would often pour out onto the field after a home team victory. Therefore, it was customary for a player in Merkle’s situation to forego advancing to second so that he could steer clear of the oncoming mob.

However, although it was common practice, Major League Baseball’s official rulebook didn’t recognize this little custom. Merkle technically should have touched second—and when he failed to do so, Chicago took notice. Although the field was obscured by a torrent of fans, the Cubs managed to find a ball and get it to their second baseman, Johnny Evers. Following a chat with the Chicago infielder, umpire Hank O’Day called Merkle out, meaning that McCormick’s run was suddenly rendered void. At that point, the game should have gone into extra innings, but those interfering fans and impending darkness rendered such an outcome impossible—so O’Day declared the game to be a 1-1 tie.

At season’s end, the Giants and Cubs had tied for first place. A one-game playoff was arranged, which the Cubs handily won en route to claiming their final World Series championship. Meanwhile, Fred Merkle’s reputation would never recover. The events of September 23 earned him the nickname “Bonehead” and from that day onward, fans taunted him by shouting “Don’t forget to touch second!” (Reportedly, Merkle feared that someone would scrawl “bonehead” onto his tombstone.)

Still, Merkle has had his share of defenders over the years. Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem once denounced O’Day’s fateful call in that Cubs-Giants game as “the rottenest decision in the history of baseball.” Some historians and commentators even believe that this controversial ruling triggered the Chicago Cubs curse. “[Merkle] was the first player on whom the rule was ever enforced and he never lived it down,” longtime sportscaster Keith Olbermann told ESPN. “The goat story is still easier, and more compelling, than the story of the poor rookie victimized by a rule that was never enforced… I’ve never believed the Cubs didn’t curse themselves by playing that rule on poor Fred.” In 2008, a monument to the first baseman was erected in Merkle’s hometown of Watertown, Wisconsin. Its construction was spearheaded by local baseball buff David Stalker, who concurs with Olbermann’s assessment. “Sometimes,” Stalker said, “it looks like the Cubs and Merkle got jinxed at the same time.”


You might call it a second “Murphy’s Law.” Superstitious Cubbies fans have pointed out that several of the most disappointing collapses in franchise history involved something named Murphy. In 1969, Chicago looked poised to win the National League’s eastern division. For 155 days, the mighty Cubs stood in first place. On August 16, they’d amassed a nine-game lead over the second-place New York Mets, an upstart team which, incidentally, was only in its eighth year of existence. (Although the Cardinals had more wins, their win-loss percentage was lower.) “We started out great, and I really felt that year was going to be our year,” third baseman Ron Santo would say in retrospect.

But then the Mets got hot. Under general manager Johnny Murphy, the New York squad won 39 of their last 50 games. And as Gotham’s lovable losers upped their game, the Cubs started unraveling. Of their final 25 games, Santo’s team ended up dropping 17. The most infamous stretch of this downward skid came in September, when Chicago visited Shea Stadium for a two-date series with the Mets. Surging New York swept the failing Cubbies by a combined score of 10 runs to three. The second game is particularly well-known because, at one point, a black cat trotted out in front of the Cubs dugout. “I saw that cat coming out of the stands, and I knew right away we were in trouble,” Santo said. Sure enough, the so-called Miracle Mets won their division en route to an improbable World Series victory.

Forty-six years later, the Mets once again dashed Chicago’s World Series hopes. This time, New York swept the heavily-favored Cubs in the National League Championship Series. After disposing of their Second City rivals, a Mets player named Daniel Murphy was chosen as the NLCS Most Valuable Player. Given the fact that he’d put up four homers, six runs scored, and six runs batted in during the series, Murphy certainly warranted the distinction.

Not every Cubs playoff collapse was engineered by the Mets, though. In 1984, Dallas Green’s squad secured an NL East crown, but lost the ensuing league championship series. This time, Chicago was eliminated by the San Diego Padres, who snatched the pennant by winning three straight games on their home turf, a venue called Jack Murphy Stadium.

Oh, and by the way, William Sianis’s goat had a name. He called it Murphy.


Chicago’s other team, the White Sox, is still haunted by a scandal that rocked the country over nine decades ago. In 1919, this South Side club famously threw the World Series, deliberately losing the best-of-nine contest after gamblers paid some key players to engineer five losses. Shortly thereafter, rumors of a backroom deal began circulating. These mutterings culminated in a highly publicized trial of several of the team’s players. Although they were acquitted, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis permanently banned all of the players from the majors.

Known as the Black Sox Scandal, this ordeal is regarded as the darkest chapter in the history of baseball. And yet, one co-conspirator alleged that it was merely the sequel to an earlier transgression. Pitcher Eddie “Knuckles” Cicotte was the first White Sock to confess his role in rigging the 1919 World Series. At Chi-Town’s Cook County Courthouse, he spilled the beans before a grand jury.

During his testimony, he happened to bring up the White Sox’s crosstown rivals. Cicotte mentioned an eastbound train ride that he’d taken with his teammates in the 1919 regular season. Onboard, the conversation inevitably turned to baseball—and money. “The ball players were talking about somebody trying to fix the National League ball players or something like that,” Cicotte stated.

Here, he was referring to the 1918 World Series, which the Cubs had lost to Babe Ruth’s Red Sox. As Cicotte’s confession unfolded, he revealed that “there was some talk about [gamblers] offering $10,000 or something to throw the Cubs in the Boston series.” Hearing this, a player on the train supposedly joked that if the White Sox won the pennant, they should follow the Cubs’ lead and drop the ensuing World Series.

Did the Cubbies purposefully let Boston win it all in 1918? John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, thinks that so far as conspiracy theories go, this one isn’t too far-fetched. “It seems more likely that there would have been a fix than there would not have been,” he told The New York Times. “At that time, the connection between baseball players and gamblers was … strong.” Moreover, as sportswriter Sean Deveny notes, player salaries cratered in the midst of World War I. “They didn’t make much money,” he says. Under the circumstances, the temptation to take bribes would have been strong. In 2009, Deveny published a book about shady background dealings that allegedly tainted the 1918 series. Its title? The Original Curse.


To Cubs faithful, the team’s home turf is nothing less than an ivy-walled cathedral. Built in 1914, it’s regarded as one of Chicago’s most iconic landmarks, right up there with Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate statue (a.k.a. “The Bean”). But playing at Wrigley presents some unique challenges to professional athletes. For starters, city regulations force the Cubs to play more day games than any other team in the majors.

Prior to 1988, the Cubbies never played night games at Wrigley. Then, in that pivotal year, the stadium was fitted with the necessary lights that allowed Chicago’s National League club to take the field after sundown. But at the behest of residents who live in a nearby neighborhood, the Windy City has enforced some severe restrictions on the number of night games that Wrigley can host.

These days, around 70 percent of Major League games take place at night. Twenty-nine MLB franchises now play the majority of their contests under the stars. The Chicago Cubs are the lone outlier. Whereas many teams play around 55 night games at home every year, the Cubbies are limited to 35 (which can be increased to 43 if necessary, if the MLB changes a day game to night for TV rights) night games in any one regular season. For the players, this scheduling quirk can be a real pain. “Through the years, I’ve talked to a lot of friends of mine that have played for the Cubs,” Red Sox great David Ortiz said in 2014. “The one thing that everyone talked about was the schedule in Chicago … it kind of mentally wears you down.”

Ortiz argued that the frequent day games at Wrigley don’t give the Cubs enough time to prepare themselves for road games, which mostly take place at night. “You play day games for about a week and the next thing you know you have to go into a city and play night games,” he says, “then … you have to go to the West Coast and adjust to the time there, then you have to come back home and start playing day games.” This erratic sleep schedule, Ortiz says, is simply “too hard for baseball [players].”

Some former Cub players and managers have made similar statements. As Dallas Green once told the Chicago Tribune, “What we found was that you live in the airport when you play day baseball and everyone else plays night baseball.” He went on to explain that a Cub who plays a night game in St. Louis couldn’t expect to return to his Chicago home “until 2 or 3 in the morning.” Afterwards, said player would have to “get up at 9 a.m.” in order to arrive at Wrigley on time for the next day’s home game. “Your rest is affected,” Green concluded.

Still, not everyone is convinced that Wrigley’s partiality for day games puts the Cubbies at a disadvantage. “I definitely prefer day games here,” former Cubs infielder Gary Gaetti opined. While he allowed that a schedule with more nighttime contests would give the players more rest time, Gaetti didn’t see the status quo as a handicap. “You get used to having it this way,” he said.

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42 Facts About Jackie Robinson
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Keystone, Getty Images

On April 15, 1947—71 years ago—Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line and became the first African American to play on a major sports team. Here are 42 facts to celebrate the legendary athlete.

1. Jack "Jackie" Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. Shortly after his birth, his family moved and settled in Pasadena, California.

2. President Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born, was the inspiration for his middle name.

3. He was the youngest of five children—Edgar, Frank, Matthew “Mack,” and Willa Mae—and grew up in relative poverty in a well-off community in Pasadena.

4. Robinson attended John Muir High School, where he was placed on the Pomona Annual Baseball Tournament All-Star Team with fellow future Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox and Bob Lemon of the Cleveland Indians.

5. He was also an accomplished tennis player, winning the junior boys singles championship in the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament.

6. Jackie’s brother Mack was an adept athlete and a splendid sprinter. He won a Silver Medal in the 200 meters behind Jesse Owens during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

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7. In 1942, Jackie Robinson was drafted into the Army. He was assigned to a segregated Army Cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas.

8. While in the Army, Robinson became friends with boxing champion Joe Louis when the heavyweight, who was stationed at Fort Riley at the time, used his celebrity to protest the delayed entry of black soldiers in an Office Candidate School (OCS). As a result, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943.

9. After an incident where he refused to sit in the back of an unsegregated bus, military police arrested Robinson at the request of a duty officer, who later requested Robinson be court-martialed. At the time of the proceedings, Robinson was prohibited from being deployed overseas to the World War II battlefronts. He never saw combat during the war.

10. Robinson was acquitted and then assigned to Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky, where he worked as an Army athletics coach until he was given an honorable discharge in 1944. During his time at the camp, Robinson was encouraged to tryout for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro National League.

11. In 1945, Robinson signed a contract to play for the Kansas City Monarchs. He was paid $400 a month (about $5100 today) to play shortstop and eventually was placed in the Negro League All-Star Game that year.

12. Robinson married Rachel Islum—who he had met in 1941 during his senior year at UCLA—in 1946. They had their first son, Jackie Robinson Jr., that November. The Robinsons had two more children: a daughter, Sharon, and another son, David.

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13. Robinson played Minor League Baseball for the Montreal Royals in 1946, until he was called up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Major Leagues in 1947.

14. He made his Major League Baseball debut on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. He became the first African-American baseball player in Major League history.

15. He also won Rookie of the Year in 1947 with a batting average of .297, 175 hits, 12 home runs, and 48 runs batted in.

16. Jackie Robinson had a close friendship with Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians, who was the first African-American baseball player in the American League. The two men broke the color barrier in baseball in the same year and would talk to each other on the telephone to share their experiences with racism during the season.

17. Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese defended Robinson against violent and nasty racial slurs during his rookie season. Reese famously put his arm around him and said, “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them,” as a response to fans shouting racial slurs at Robinson.

18. On August 29, 1948, in a 12-7 win against the St. Louis Cardinals, Robinson “hit for the cycle” with a home run, a triple, a double, and then a single in the same game.

19. Robinson was the National League Batting and Stolen Bases Champion with a batting average of .342 and 37 stolen bases in 1949.

20. He was also a six time All-Star between the years 1949 to 1954.

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21. In 1949, Robinson was called to testify before the United States House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). He was subpoenaed because of comments made about him by prominent African-American actor Paul Robson. At first, Robinson was hesitant to testify, but then was ultimately compelled to do so because he feared not doing so would hurt his baseball career.

22. The National League’s Most Valuable Player Award went to Robinson in 1949, after his first appearance in the MLB All-Star Game. Robinson later took his team to the World Series, but would lose against the New York Yankees.

23. Jackie Robinson played himself in The Jackie Robinson Story, a biopic about his life released in 1950. Academy Award-nominated female actor Ruby Dee played Robinson’s wife Rachel “Rae” Isum Robinson.

24. During the off-season, Robinson went on a vaudeville and speaking tour of the South, where he would answer pre-set questions about his life. He actually made more money on these tours than he did on his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

25. Robinson played in six World Series, but only won one in 1955 against the New York Yankees in a seven game series. Robinson didn’t play in 49 games that season and missed Game 7; Don Hoak played third base in Robinson’s place.

26. At 37, Robinson retired from Major League Baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 due to the visible effects of diabetes. Unbeknownst to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson took a position with the American coffee company Chock Full O’ Nuts and agreed to quit baseball.

27. From 1957 to 1964, Jackie Robinson served as the vice president of personnel for Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee. He was the first African-American vice president of a major American corporation.

28. Robinson was a political independent, but had very conservative views on the Vietnam War. He also supported Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election against John F. Kennedy, although Robinson admired Kennedy’s stance on civil rights once he was elected. He was later dismayed with Republicans for not supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and soon after became a Democrat.

29. In 1962, Jackie Robinson was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility. He was the first African American inducted at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame and Museum.

30. Jackie Robinson was always seen as a large figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said Robinson was “a legend and symbol in his own time” who “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”

Jackie Robinson with his son at the Civil Rights March on Washington DC in 1963
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31. In 1964, Robinson co-founded the Freedom National Bank—a black owned and operated bank in Harlem, New York—with businessman Dunbar McLaurin. Robinson was the commercial bank’s first Chairman of the Board. His wife later served as Chairman until 1990 when the bank closed.

32. Robinson was also the first African-American TV sports analyst. He broadcasted for ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts in 1965. Robinson later worked as a part-time commentator for the Montreal Expos in 1972.

33. On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired Jackie Robinson’s uniform number 42, as well as Sandy Koufax’s number 32 and Roy Campanella’s number 39.

34. Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut, at age 53.

35. In 1973, Robinson’s widow, Rachel, started the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization that gives college scholarships to minorities. The Foundation also preserves the legacy of Jackie Robinson as a baseball player and a civil rights pioneer.

36. The house in Brooklyn, New York, where Jackie Robinson lived while he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1976.

37. On March 1, 1981, American astronomer Schelte John “Bobby” Bus discovered an asteroid at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Bus named the asteroid “4319 Jackierobinson,” after his favorite baseball player.

38. President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest award given to a civilian for their contributions to world peace, cultural, or other significant public or private endeavors—on March 26, 1984.

39. You won't see any baseball players wearing the number 42: In 1997, Robinson’s number was retired throughout Major League Baseball. This was the first and only time a jersey number had been retired throughout an entire professional sports league.

40. In 1999, Robinson was added to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team along with Cal Ripken Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Ty Cobb. Fans chose the final selections from a list compiled of the 100 greatest Major League Baseball players from the past century.

41. April 15, 2004, became Jackie Robinson Day and all uniformed players in Major League Baseball were required to wear number 42 on their jerseys to honor Robinson’s memory and legacy to the sport.

42. More than 20 years after he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President George W. Bush also posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson with the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest honor the legislative branch can bestow on a civilian and must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of members in the House and the Senate—for his contributions to American history. He became the second baseball player to receive this accolade after Pittsburgh Pirates Right-Fielder Roberto Clemente in 1973.

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2013.

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Pop Culture
10 Larger-Than-Life Facts About André the Giant
Business Wire/WWE
Business Wire/WWE

Although a number of professional wrestlers have transcended the squared circle to become worldwide stars—Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Jesse Ventura among them—few have captivated the public quite like André the Giant. Born André Roussimoff in Grenoble, France on May 19, 1946, the towering grappler stood nearly 7 feet tall and weighed over 500 pounds shortly before his death in 1993 due to heart failure.

It’s fitting that André’s mythological proportions have led to a number of myths surrounding his life, from an exaggerated height (he was often billed as 7 feet, 4 inches) to his alleged propensity for drinking hundreds of beers. HBO's new documentary, which just premiered, may resolve some of those urban legends. In the meantime, we’ve sifted through some of the more sensational stories to separate fact from fiction. As it turns out, the Giant’s life needed no embellishment.


In the 1950s, playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett took up residence in Ussy-sur-Marne in France and commissioned local laborers to construct a cottage. The property was just a few hundred yards from the Roussimoff residence and along a stretch of road where Andre and other school children started their walk to class. (There was no bus.) Like many of the kids, Andre would sometimes accept Beckett's invitation to hop on the back of his pick-up truck to get a ride to school. Over the years, the story has been exaggerated to the point where Beckett and Andre are the only occupants in the truck, though it's unlikely Beckett paid him any particular attention. Still, the unlikely pairing has inspired several plays, including the recent Sam & Dede, Or My Dinner with André the Giant.


Andre the Giant is interviewed ringside by Vince McMahon
Business Wire/WWE

When Andre turned 14, he left home to seek employment and opportunities outside the boundaries of his rural farm community in France. At 19, he visited his parents for the first time, having already broken into the professional wrestling business. According to a 1981 Sports Illustrated profile, André had grown so dramatically in the interim, stretching to nearly 7 feet tall, that his parents did not recognize the stranger who knocked on their door. As André explained his career choice, they realized they had even seen him wrestle on television under his alias, Jean Ferré, without ever knowing they had been watching their own son.


André’s dimensions were the result of acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland that causes uninhibited growth hormone secretion. Because his body was so generous in its strength, André rarely (if ever) lifted weights for additional power. His resistance training seemed to come in the form of moving his friends' cars around during nights he was out drinking with friends. The smaller vehicles could be easily slid over to tight spaces or turned to face the opposite direction.


While André’s height and girth proved to be problematic when it came to traveling—most vehicles made for uncomfortable rides that required him to slouch—his hands and fingers posed special challenges. Said to have fingers so large that silver dollars could pass through his rings, André could never use a conventional rotary phone without sticking a pencil in the dial; learning to play the piano was also out of the question, since one finger would strike three keys at once.


Andre the Giant poses with several models
Business Wire/WWE

By most accounts, André was a jovial giant, content to play cards, socialize, and enjoy all the food and drink his success afforded him. During matches, he amused himself by stepping on an opponent’s long hair or wringing the sweat from his singlet into their face. In one bout, Jake “The Snake” Roberts recalled that André waited until Roberts was on the mat before he squatted down and unleashed his flatulence. “This went on for like 30 seconds,” Roberts said. "Giants fart for extremely long periods of time."


When he wasn’t traveling for his wrestling engagements, André largely kept to himself in his North Carolina ranch home, which featured a tree growing through the middle of each of its three stories. Because shopping could be a cumbersome experience, Andre grew fond of QVC, the home shopping channel that had launched in 1986. His friends recalled that André bought several steam cleaners and lots of porcelain butterflies from the channel.


Nothing pours fuel on an André story quite like alcohol, with the Giant allegedly consuming over 100 beers in a single sitting. But most of his colleagues report that alcohol had surprisingly little effect on him, with no hangovers or slurred speech affecting his wrestling duties. There were only a handful of exceptions. According to Cary Elwes, his co-star in the 1987 film The Princess Bride, André once drank enough to pass out in a hotel lobby. Since it was impossible to move him, hotel employees arranged a velvet rope around his slumbering frame so he wouldn’t be disturbed. 


Andre the Giant poses for a publicity photo in his singlet
Business Wire/WWE

As years of wrestling and his acromegaly condition conspired to affect his health, André underwent spinal surgery in late 1986. When he returned to wrestling, his signature black singlet helped hide a back brace that provided support for his ailing frame. His physical condition was reportedly so diminished at this point that André spent his remaining years in wrestling in pain and able to perform only basic maneuvers. According to his peers, some of Andre's most famous matches—like the bout with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III in 1987—were nowhere near what he had been able to do earlier in his career.


For reasons known only to André, his genial demeanor didn’t apply to opponents in the ring who would use baby oil to make their muscles stand out more. André reportedly despised baby oil, and extended that enmity to “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who was disliked by the Giant simply because he used a lot of the stuff while wrestling. “André hated baby oil," Randy’s brother, Larry Poffo, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2017. “But Randy wouldn't stop wearing it. He stubbornly said 'André's gimmick is being a giant and mine is baby oil.' He never backed down from André and they never got along because of it."


Because wrestling is prone to exaggerating size, ability, and accomplishments, it didn’t take much for promoters to latch on to the idea of promoting André as the largest athlete on the planet. From his earliest matches in Montreal, he was billed as being 7 feet, 4 inches tall, enough to exceed the towering Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by two inches. But when André’s height was measured at the age of 24 in 1970, he stood exactly 6 feet, 9 and ¾ inches.


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