Born This Day, Two Giants

Thus far we have written about nearly three dozen persons of gigantic physical stature on Travalanche, but somehow we have heretofore omitted two of the best-known of their number in the world. Amazingly, both men share a birthday (May 19).

The first is Peter Mayhew (1944-2019), the gent who played Chewbacca in the first three Stars Wars movies, and a couple of the later ones (he is pictured above opposite Kenny Baker, who played R2D2). Standing 7 feet, 3 inches, Mayhew was working as an orderly in a Surrey hospital when discovered for the movies. In addition to Star Wars pictures, he was also in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), Terror (1978), the Dark Towers tv series (1981), Yesterday Was a Lie (2009) and Killer Ink (2019). He also appeared as Chewbacca on Donny and Marie, The Muppet Show, The Star Wars Holiday Special, and other TV shows. Like a lot of folks with gigantism, Mayhew experienced many health problems in later years. He he was living in Texas, home state of Jack Earle, when he passed away in 2019.

Exactly two years later, in Coulommiers, Seine-et-Marne, France was born one André René Roussimoff (1946-1993), known professionally as Andre the Giant. Though born in France, Andrea was of Polish and Bulgarian stock. He stood 7 feet, 4 inches in adulthood, and weighed over 500 lbs., substantially adding to his visual impression. He grew up on a farm, and (startling but true fact) actually knew Samuel Beckett as a child (Beckett drove local children to school). Andrew originally wrestled in France as “Géant Ferré”, a handle based on a local folk character. He came to the States to wrestle in 1973, and I am just the right age to remember it (I was eight years old and a wrestling fan at the time). For the next couple of decades, Andre the Giant was one of the top stars of pro wrestling, due to his extraordinary size, and his entertaining feuds with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Bobby Heenan, Jake the Snake, and others. Well do I recall his historic appearances on The Six Million Dollar Man (1978) as Bigfoot, which I wrote about here. He was also on shows like BJ and the Bear and The Greatest American Hero, and in films like Conan the Destroyer (1984) and The Princess Bride (1987). Andre suffered from acromegaly, which stopped his heart at age 46 in 1993.

For related reading, please check out my books No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,   Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube and  Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People in Vaudeville.