The Day the Giant Came to Town (An Andre The Giant Story)

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Andre The Giant in WindsorThe year was 1972.  The place was Tecumseh, Ontario.  The haze of memory narrows the possible location of the visitation to two watering holes of the day: the Tecumseh Tavern or Shawnee Tavern.  No one is entirely sure which of them.

Todd Ternovan was a 12 year old bus boy at one of the taverns (today, he is a 61 year old retired OPP constable).  He remembers: “There was talk that evening of the Giant coming.  One of the old-timers had a relative in France, who somehow had a connection…”

At some point, there was a commotion at the door.  A crowd of men entered, surrounding a human monument: André René Roussimoff, better known as professional wrestler, Andre the Giant.  He was not yet the international wrestling and movie star he would one day become, but he was still a sight to behold.  Standing 7’5” and weighing 550 lbs, Andre the Giant was force of nature.

“We watched wrestling on Channel Nine, hosted by George ‘Cry Baby’ Cannon,” Todd says.  “I had heard of Andre the Giant… probably saw a minute or two of footage of him wrestling.”

The Giant entered, dressed in a psychedelic-patterned shirt and a pair of titanic polyester pants with no belt.

“He was enormous,” Todd says.  “He looked like he could blot out the sun.”

The Giant was given a seat of honour.  Drinks were brought to him.  The men of the tavern surrounded him, looking like a gaggle of boys around a circus strong man about to perform a feat.

“He had the largest hands I had ever seen,” Todd recalls.  “He held a twelve ounce can of Molson Canadian, and it looked like something from a kid’s play kitchen.  He drank pitchers of beer like one of us would drink draughts.”

Andre the Giant’s capacity for alcohol was a thing of legend.

Wrestling superstar, Hulk Hogan (himself 6’7”, weighing 302 lbs) once told a story of Andre the Giant calling him while stuck on a layover at an airport in Tampa, Florida.  Hulk’s mother lived 15 minutes away from there.

Hulk recalled: “So I drive over the airport and I met him at the Delta Crown Lounge.  By the time we sat down we had about forty-five minutes before he had to walk to the next gate.  He drank 108 12-ounce beers.”

That, however, was not Andre the Giant’s most prodigious outing.  According to AllThatIsInteresting.com: “WWF wrestlers Mike Graham and Dusty Rhodes watched in awe as Andre drank 156 beers in one sitting. That’s 14.6 gallons of beer. The average human stomach can only hold about a liter.”

It puts a whole new spin on the old joke by Irish writer, Brendan Behan, when he landed in Toronto Airport and saw a sign that read “Drink Canada Dry”: “That’s a good idea!”  Behan quipped.

There is no accurate account of how much Andre the Giant consumed in the Tecumseh tavern, but Ternovan confirms that he drank several cans of Molson Canadian, several “stubby” beers, along with several pitchers of beer.

Then, like a comet passing through earth’s atmosphere or an eclipse robbing the world of light, the event passed.  Andre the Giant was conveyed to the corn fest and the story of his visit settled into local folk lore.

And, as if Andre the Giant weren’t already interesting enough, what with his cameos in Hollywood movies, such as the beloved The Princess Bride, and his central role in Wrestlemania, he also personally knew Irish playwright and Nobel Prize winning writer, Samuel Beckett.  By his early teens, Andre the Giant had grown so big, he would not fit onto the school bus the kids took to school.  Beckett lived near him and drove him to school each day, with Andre sitting in the back of his pickup truck.  What did the teenaged giant talk about with the world renowned writer?  The latest cricket matches.  The Mary Sue has the full story.

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