The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andre The Giant is the latest book by wrestling historians Pat Laprade and Bertrand Hébert, and it was released earlier this year in April, amidst the chaos of the global pandemic. However, despite the pandemic, the book proved to be a big hit with readers and a wonderful follow-up to the great Andre The Giant HBO documentary in 2018. Laprade and Hébert explore “the human side of Andre” like no one else has ever done before. In addition to exploring Andre's life and career in incredible detail, the book proved to be a great piece of content for wrestling fans in a year where major wrestling shows were affected negatively, and countless wrestling promotions could not put on their regular shows for fans.
In September, SteelChair Magazine had the pleasure of talking to Pat Laprade about his book The True Story of Andre The Giant. In part one of this interview, Laprade goes into detail about the positive impact the HBO documentary had on the book, debunking urban legends surrounding Andre and tackling the subject of Andre's relationship with his daughter, Robin. All of this and more is discussed in part one of our exclusive interview with Pat Laprade. Prenez plaisir à la lire (Enjoy reading it).
The Andre The Giant book was released almost at the height of this pandemic in the sense it was when everyone had just gone into lockdown. How did that change the publicity or release of the book?
“Well, we released the English version in April and the French version in June. Things changed more for the French version than the English one, in the sense that most of our interviews promoting the English version were podcasts, radio shows, and things along those lines, so they were already set to be on the phone, Skype, etc. However, for the French version, we were supposed to do a big book/media lounge with two-hundred people there and do interviews in studios throughout Montreal and the province of Quebec. So that changed completely.
“The book [French version] was also supposed to be released, at the same time as the English version, and because of everything that happened; it was postponed until June. So it changed more for the French version. The only thing that changed for the English version was we did not do the big wrestling conventions that we usually would have done, like the Cauliflower Alley Club, National Wrestling Hall of Fame, so that was the big change as far as the English version goes.”
Congratulations on the book, by the way, because it really dives into the career and life of Andre like no other project before it has. What really fascinated me about the book, even before I listened to it, was how you went about approaching the subject. So, could you take me back to the beginning and how you went about creating this book?
“Yeah, it was an idea Bertrand Hébert and I had for a number of years, ever since the release of our first book on the history of Montreal wrestling: Mad Dogs, Midgets And Screw Jobs. So it was on the table, but ECW Press was not interested in getting the book at that time, so we did other stuff. When I was involved in the HBO documentary on Andre, that is really when we put it into second gear because I went to France with the filming crew to interview the brothers of Andre, some of his friends, and I was able to get a lot of contacts with other people that were related to Andre, which I did not have before.
“So my involvement as a film producer on that documentary really changed the game, and when the filming was done, we went back to knock on ECW Press' door and asked if anything changes now that there is going to be this big documentary on HBO on Andre, and that I am involved with it. Michael Holmes of ECW Press said, “Yeah, definitely, this is completely a different deal.” So he was interested, especially because there was something new coming out about Andre. An HBO documentary, which is, if you ask me, the best documentary ever done on Andre, and it was also making Andre more relevant for the new generation. Everyone has heard of Andre. He's in every WWE show intro. There is the Andre The Giant battle royal, so WWE's done a great job in keeping his legacy alive. At the same time, this documentary was something new, and younger fans could find out who Andre actually was. There is more to Andre than getting body slammed by Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 3, so in the end, ECW Press got behind it, and we started working on the book.”
That's interesting you say that because I was actually wondering whether the documentary was a concern for you in the sense that the documentary came out, so will people want to get this book.
“Because the documentary was ninety minutes, and there is only so much you can say in a ninety-minute documentary. There was so much more stuff about Andre that we could have talked about. For example, the documentary barely touches on his days in Japan and even his time in Montreal. It's the documentary that talks the most about Andre's time in Montreal, but at the same time, there was so much more to say. I understand it. Even when we were in France interviewing the family, I knew there were some questions I could not ask because it would not have been a part of the documentary in the end. There were so many things to talk about, but you cannot spend a third of the documentary talking about one territory or one single subject. So I knew there was a lot more to say. You've (laughs), I was going to say you've read the book, but you've listened to the book, and there is much more in there. I mean, how long is it?”
Oh, yes, I was going to say. The documentary is ninety minutes, and the audible version of the book is over eleven hours, I believe.
“Exactly. My point exactly. We could have done a whole series on Andre. So that's why there was so much more to talk about than what people saw in the documentary, and that's normal because you can go into more detail in a book than you can in a documentary, especially when the documentary is not like The Last Dance, where you have ten hours to talk about one person.”
Going back to how you approached the book. One thing that fascinates me, not just about Andre, but about you tackling the subject, is that Andre's such a unique personality in wrestling. It's like how David Shoemaker said in the documentary; he is at once a real human, but at the same time, he's a mythological figure. So there are so many stories about him, but it's frustrating because we almost don't know what's true and what's false. So was that a part of your early process, finding what stories are actually true?
“There were a couple of things that we wanted in there. We wanted Montreal to be represented properly in Andre's career and his life; something we found had not really been done in other pieces on Andre. We wanted to make sure we were telling the right story, the true story, and we wanted to make sure we were talking about the human side of Andre. We wanted to talk about Andre as a human being, not only as Andre, the professional wrestler. There was a difference between Andre Roussimoff and Andre The Giant, and we wanted to talk about that. To answer your question, all the urban legends and fairytale type stories about Andre, if we had to debunk all of them, well, that's what we had to do because we knew that Andre's real life and career was good enough to be interesting.
“When you add up the fact that we could actually talk about the urban legend, talk about where it came from, and talk about the truth behind it – we knew we had something there. It was a lot of research, a lot of talking to the right people, but in the end, it wasn't that difficult. I mean, I was kind of surprised. I thought it would have been more difficult to actually research that and to find the truth, and there will always be stories that we won't be able to know about for sure.
“That famous story where Andre drank, I don't know, a hundred and twenty beers in one sitting. We've heard that story from so many people, and in the end, it felt to us like it was that story where it happened once, and there were like eight people there. Then, thirty-forty years later, it seems like every single wrestler on earth was there that night. We heard the story was in Houston, Tampa, Miami, and it probably happened once, maybe twice, but I'm going to guess only once. But it has been told and retold so many times, that for some people now, it's part of their own stories. They weren't there that night, but thirty years later, they were there that night, and they're telling the story as if they were there that night.
“So those kinds of stories, we knew from the beginning that we could never get proof of that because there was no social media back then. There were no Instagram stories or a Tweet saying, “Oh my god, Andre just drank his one-hundred-and-twentieth beer.” That didn't exist. Also, there were a lot of stories that we could actually get proof to debunk. Whether it was his back surgery, which Vince said in the documentary happened before WrestleMania 3, when in fact, we had proof that it happened after WrestleMania 3.
“There is the urban legend of Andre and Samuel Beckett, who really had a house in Molien, the village where Andre grew up. So as the story goes, Andre started to grow and couldn't fit in the school bus anymore. So Andre's father, who had helped Samuel Beckett build his house, asked his friend for a favour, which was to take Andre to school and back home on his pick-up truck, and Beckett did it. The truth behind this is, first of all, Andre's dad never helped build Samuel Beckett's house, so they were not friends. Second of all, there was no school bus when Andre was going to school. So the story that he could not fit into the school bus is not true. What happened was, kids had to walk something like two miles to school, and at that time in the neighbourhood, anyone who had a car and was driving towards the school or home and saw any of the kids walking, they would offer them a lift and give them a ride back to school or back home. Samuel Beckett probably did give Andre or another kid going to school at that time a lift, but it's not like it was only done specifically with Andre because he got taller. He got taller after he left school. So all these stories we could actually get proof for because we spoke to people that were actually there at the time, and in that situation, it was Andre's brothers.”
Do you think it makes it worse the fact that Andre was in an era where kayfabe was so strong, and he, of course, played up to these myths?
“Of course. He had to protect his character like all the other wrestlers were doing at that time, and some of the stories were part of his mythology. Wherever he went, he was always discovered in the middle of the woods by another wrestler who happened to pass by on that route. In Japan, it was a Spanish wrestler who was working in Japan and was dating one of the UK wrestling promoters that was dealing with France and Japan a lot at that time. So the story in Japan was that this Spanish wrestler was travelling in the Alps between France and Spain, and he saw this big guy coming out of the woods and stuff like that.
“So it was always the story, and even in France when he first started, the very first interview of Andre promoting his first match in Paris was him in the woods chopping wood. (Laughs) It's so funny because the interviewer is like, “So I've heard that you're a lumberjack, so are you doing this full time?” and it was such a bad segway, where Andre's like, “Yes, but I want to become a professional wrestler now.” It was wacky, but it was from its time, you know. So there was always that big lumberjack, wood kind of thing in pretty much every Andre back story.”
One thing you do, specifically, that they were not able to do in the documentary is unpick the relationship he had with his daughter. I found that to be the most powerful and perhaps most emotionally conflicting part of the book because you feel sympathy for him, but there's also moments where you are a little frustrated that Andre didn't do more for the relationship. What was your reaction to that relationship when you found out more about their dynamic?
“Well, I mean, he wanted more from it. Once he was committed to it, he really wanted more from it. But for all sorts of reasons, whether it was from Robin's mum, Robin herself, or whether it was because of who Andre was, that relationship never became what it should have been. It was hard for Andre to just spend regular time with his daughter. I don't remember if we talked about this in the book or not, but I was told that one of the lawyers suggested that Andre go to Disneyland or a place like that with his daughter, and they were like, “No, that can't happen because that will be hell for that little girl.” Andre could not just hide under a hat and a pair of sunglasses. If he was at Disneyland or any public place, he was going to be stopped and pointed at. He would've been Andre The Giant there. Not Andre Roussimoff, the father, who wants to spend quality time with his daughter.
“It was a very hard relationship to build, and unfortunately, Andre didn't live long enough – you know, maybe if at the end of the ‘90s and Andre was completely retired, and Robin would have been older, maybe that relationship would have been better. But unfortunately, we'll never know.”
You certainly did a wonderful job telling the story of Andre's relationship with Robin, which was something we didn't get in the documentary…
“Again, we didn't get it because of time constraints. It wasn't because we didn't want to approach it, and Robin is interviewed in the documentary also. Like, for the documentary, Stephanie [McMahon] was interviewed, but she ended up not being a part of it because they really wanted to focus more on Robin since she was his daughter. His [Andre's] relationship with Stephanie McMahon was very special, like an uncle or a godfather, and in the documentary, we didn't have time to explain that relationship and how it was different from his relationship with his own daughter. In the book, we wanted to touch on that because it was something we had time to explain well.
“It wasn't that Andre didn't like kids. He was very good around kids, and he had a very special relationship with Stephanie. Dwayne ‘The Rock' Johnson remembers him as an uncle. Masked Superstar Bill Eadie asked Andre to take care of his kids if anything would happen to him, so that wasn't the issue. It was just that Robin came late in Andre's life, and for all sorts of reasons, that relationship never became what it should have been. And that part is presented in the documentary, but we were able to go into more detail about it in the book.”
Also, on the flip side of that, the book does a great job dissecting his in-ring career and portions of his career that people are not as familiar with. Even for myself, I learned more about his rivalries with Don Leo Jonathan, Harley Race, etc. Essentially the portions of his career where he could wrestle a style some people haven't seen from him. Have you found that this has been eye-opening for fans in that regard?
“I think YouTube is more of an eye-opener for fans in regards to this because you can actually see him work. You know, you're not just reading about it, you're actually seeing it. So I think if you go to Andre The Giant's YouTube page that's run by his biggest fan and collector, Chris Owens, you'll see Andre in matches that you'd never think he was capable of doing if you've only ever seen him in WWF post-1984. But we talk about it, and we do explain it as well because even on YouTube, there are matches of him in France and Japan where he does the Tombstone Piledriver, years before it became synonymous with The Undertaker.
“There is a match of his in Houston against Harley Race, which is a very, very good match, and it was in 1979. They were fighting outside. It's a long match. Andre could do twenty-thirty minute matches back in the day, which is something you wouldn't expect from him if you only saw him in the 1980s. Also, one of his last great matches, in terms of work rate, was against Stan Hansen in Japan in ‘82. That was also a big one. So Andre used to be not only a giant and an attraction, but he could hold his own in the squared circle. We didn't want to get into the move by move play-by-play style book when discussing the matches, but for some of them, we wanted to explain what he was doing right and what he was doing differently. We knew that most of the readers didn't know about certain matches or didn't watch Andre work in France or Japan, so it was important for us to explain how good of a worker he was before injuries and before his health started to go down.”
I think what you did as well was you almost gave fans a list of matches to try and go back and watch, which I thought was great.
“Well, that was not our intention, but it's a good thing we did (laughs).”
(Laughs) I mean, that's what you did for me. After listening to the book, I was trying to go back and watch these matches. There's a match with Inoki, and it's almost twenty minutes of them mat wrestling and exchanging submissions, which is something you would never expect from an Andre match.
“Inoki was one of his best opponents, that's for sure. And yeah, Andre was a different worker, in Japan especially because he was a heel. That's also why the transition was so easy for him when he became a heel in the WWF because he had already been a heel in Japan since 1970, so he had been a heel for seventeen years. He knew what to do. He knew what would work, and so the transition was easy.”
You mentioned on the Talk is Jericho podcast that your favourite Andre match is the Hulk Hogan WrestleMania 3 match, more for the historical significance and spectacle. But what would you say is his best match as far as in-ring work goes?
“I just want to say that it's not my favourite match because of the historical significance. It's my favourite match because it's the one I grew up with, and it's like when you're being asked, “Who is your favourite wrestler of all time?” More often than not, you're gonna go back to someone that you grew up with because…”
“It's the nostalgia. Exactly. You know, I must have rented that WrestleMania 3 VHS at least ten times. I still own a copy of it in VHS and the French copy of it in VHS as well. It was my favourite show, and there was something to it because I became a fan of Hulk Hogan, who, aside from Dino Bravo, was my favourite wrestler growing up. But Dino Bravo was the Montreal version of Hulk Hogan before Hulk Hogan. So Hogan was in it, and there was Géant Ferré [Andre] as he was known here, and in the UK when he spent a whole year there in 1969. So to me, there was an emotional link to that match, so it was very special.
“That being said, his best match, it depends who you ask, but probably the Stan Hansen match. That's probably on top of most people's list. There is also one with Don Leo Jonathan, I believe, in Japan that was said to be very good as well. So it depends. If you prefer his North American act or his Japanese act. The one with Harley Race was really good, but I think his best work was during the 1970s and early ‘80s in Japan. So if you have New Japan World, you can go back and see those matches.”
Part two of our exclusive interview with Pat Laprade will be up tomorrow. Stay tuned.
You can order The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andre The Giant by clicking here.
Also, you can order Laprade and Hébert's previous books, which include: Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story, Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE, Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screw Jobs, and Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women's Wrestling.