Now, if everything I’ve described so far isn’t proof enough that Andre the Giant was the greatest drunkard who ever lived, these last two stories should set my claim in granite.
You won’t find it in the Guinness Book of World Records, but Andre the Giant holds the world record for the largest number of beers consumed in a single sitting. These were standard 12-ounce bottles of beer, nothing fancy, but during a six-hour period Andre drank 119 of them. It was one of the few times Andre got drunk enough to pass out, which he did in a hallway at his hotel. His companions, quite drunk themselves, couldn’t move the big man. Fearing trouble with cops, they stole a piano cover from the lounge and draped it over Andre’s inert form. He slept peacefully until morning, unmolested by anyone. Perhaps the hotel people thought he was a piece of furniture.
Think about it: 119 beers in six hours. That’s a beer every three minutes, non stop. That’s beyond epic. It’s beyond the ken of mortal men. It’s god-like.
Giants are not made long for this world, and toward the end of his life injuries and health problems caused by the acromegaly caught up with Andre. It became difficult just to walk, let alone wrestle, so he retired to his North Carolina ranch to drink wine and watch the countryside. He declined myriad requests for a comeback, despite promises of lavish payoffs. He was simply in too much pain to perform at the level he demanded of himself. Then he received a call from Vince McMahon Jr.
McMahon was in the midst of taking his WWF promotion national. He’d scored big-time with his Wrestlemania events on pay-per-view, and as Wrestlemania III approached, Vince Jr. was hot to make it the biggest thing yet. To make that happen, he needed Andre the Giant.
Andre was in France visiting his ailing father when the call came. He thanked Vince Jr. but said there was no way he could get back in a ring, even though he very much wanted to. Not willing to give up, Vince Jr. flew to France to speak with Andre in person. He took Andre to see doctors specializing in back and knee maladies. Radical back surgery was proposed. If successful, the procedure would lessen Andre’s pain and perhaps make it possible for him to get in the ring for Wrestlemania. If Andre was game, Vince Jr. agreed to pay for the entire cost of the surgery.
The time arrived, and the anesthesiologist was frantic. He had never put a person of Andre’s size under the gas before and had no idea how much to use. Various experts were brought in but no solution presented itself until one of the doctors asked Andre if he was a drinker. Andre responded that, yes, he’d been known to tip a glass from time to time. The doctor then wanted to know how much Andre drank and how much it took to get him drunk.
“Well,” rumbled the Giant, “It usually takes two liters of vodka just to make me feel warm inside.”
And thus was a solution found. The gas-passer was able to extrapolate a correct mixture for Andre by analyzing his alcohol intake. It was a medical breakthrough, and the system is still used to this day.
Five months later, Andre the Giant wrestled a “body-slam” match against Hulk Hogan and brought down the house.
Two liters of vodka. Warm and fuzzy. Side by side like that, the two sentences hardly make any sense. For most of us, two liters of vodka means a one-way ticket to Blackout Island aboard the good ship Regurgitania.
After Wrestlemania, Andre retired for good. His beloved father died in 1993 and Andre returned to France to be with his family. He was still there when, on January 26th, 1993, Andre died in his sleep of heart failure at the age of 47.
The key to Andre the Giant is this — even as a youth he knew that his disease would dramatically shorten his life. He knew there was no cure, and lived every day with the understanding that death could shamble around the very next corner. Knowledge of this sort can darken a life.
It did not darken Andre’s.
He chose instead to pack his days with as much insane, drunken fun as they could hold. Instead of languishing in the darkness, he chose to walk in the sun.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now. Andre the Giant was an inspiration. I would pay a fortune for the opportunity to go back in time 30 years to watch such a master practice his craft, in the ring and at the bar.
Andre the Giant was the very embodiment of what being a drunkard is all about.