André René Roussimoff was more commonly known as André the Giant for a reason; standing at around 7 feet tall and weighing over 500 lbs as a result of his gigantism, he truly was gigantic. He is perhaps most famous for his role in the film The Princess Bride but was also a highly successful wrestler for the company we now call WWE. Due to his fame and successful career it is often forgotten altogether that gigantism is actually a disability.
The most obvious disadvantage of gigantism is the fact that the world is suited to smaller humans. Doorways, ceilings, beds, mirrors, and showerheads will all have posed problems due to his height, and utensils such as cutlery, glasses, and various buttons on pieces of technology will have been too small and delicate for his over-sized hands. Finding clothes that fitted must have been virtually impossible short of having everything tailor-made. For André, these were just the general inconveniences of everyday life.
André didn’t just have to contend with a world built for people smaller than him; his gigantism resulted from the excessive production of a growth hormone during childhood and later resulted in the development of acromegaly, continued growth despite the closure of his growth plates, which contributed towards his death from congestive heart failure. As you can imagine this excessive growth left him in almost constant pain and even required surgery to mend worn-down joints, and he took to heavy alcohol consumption to alleviate the symptoms.
While many people would undoubtedly have stayed behind closed doors in such a situation, hiding from the prying eyes and incessant curiosity of everybody else, André turned his gigantism to his advantage. He used his size to become one of the most beloved wrestlers in history, infamous for his ability to flatten his opponents in the ring, and also to land the roles of gigantic men in films. He managed to get paid for people gawping at him, something which they would have done regardless.
Not for one minute do I think André set out to become an advocate for disabled rights. Indeed, he is remembered primarily for his acting and wrestling careers, as he should be. However it is impossible to deny that in entering civilisation and paving his way to success, he proved that disability is not something to be frightened or ashamed of. He proved that disabled people are human beings with human rights. It’s quite possible that he inadvertently triggered some enormous changes concerning the perception of disability, particularly in the workplace. So while I think of him as a wrestler and actor, I also think of him as André the Advocate.