Josie Gold is the Sidney Crosby of Four Habs Fans.
And she has her own site, Women on the Ledge.
Here’s her Andrei the Giant take on AK46 vs. Kovy
Boone, forgive me, but if you’re going to run Josie’s fabulous stuff of André, readers are going to get a history lesson…
Fond farewell to a wrestling giant
`It used to sadden him to see that he sometimes frightened children because of his size’
Saturday, Feb, 27, 1993
ELLERBE, N.C. – Frenchy Bernard has long worked the fields of the AFJ Ranch on horseback, raising the only Texas longhorn cattle in this neck of North Carolina.
On Wednesday, Bernard slowly rode the land again, dressed in black and choking back tears as he sowed the ashes of a cherished friend into the rich soil that he carries home under his fingernails every night.
On this crisp, cloudless winter afternoon, family and friends of Andre the Giant gathered to remember professional wrestling’s greatest attraction, paying a final, emotional tribute to a man whose physique, they said, was dwarfed by the size of his heart.
Bernard, a native of St. Alphonse de Caplan in the Gaspe, and his American wife of 18 years, Jackie, have lived on this ranch with Andre the Giant since 1980.
They have enjoyed a simple life with their horses and cattle and dogs, nurturing their quiet dreams and their privacy off Highway 73 in the shadow of Ellerbe, a come-to-life Mayberry two hours north of Charlotte that has one traffic light and a seven-page telephone book.
This was a family in the truest sense, so Andre’s kin, Frenchy and Jackie Bernard, decided that they would honor his final wish and return him to the land he loved – even if they had to move heaven and earth to do so.
Andre Roussimoff was 46 when he died of heart failure in his sleep in Paris on Jan. 28, a week after he buried his father, Boris. He lived an extraordinary life, wrestling for 25 years, starring in movies and on television, becoming wealthy beyond his dreams and travelling the world as sport’s most recognized athlete next to Muhammad Ali.
But in death, as in life, Andre’s fabled size haunted him. No crematorium in Paris could accommodate his body. Flights for his return to the U.S. had to be juggled because the cargo holds of several connecting aircraft weren’t large enough for his 300-pound, custom-built oak casket.
When his remains finally arrived in Charlotte, a family friend volunteered a truck when the coffin wouldn’t fit into a hearse. The funeral home had to bring in a forklift to transport him. Ultimately, a mahogany case for his ashes, which weighed 19 pounds, had to be built.
Born to normal-sized parents on a farm outside of Paris, Andre was afflicted with acromegaly, a glandular disease that gorges the body with an almost unchecked flow of human growth hormone. At his death he was 6-foot-10 – promoters creatively but inaccurately billed him as 7-foot-4 – and just shy of 600 pounds.
Early in his life he turned his attention to wrestling and made Montreal his first North American home after arriving in 1970. The city remained one of his favorites throughout his career.
Famous for his love of good food and fine spirits, Andre even bought his own French restaurant downtown in the late ’70s. Le Pichet was an investment he made for his retirement – not that he was a skilled restaurateur.
“He never let me pay for a meal, ever,” said Edouard Carpentier, one of Andre’s early mentors. “If he knew you, you couldn’t pay for anything.”
Badly in need of cash and unable to maintain the business because of his travel, Andre sold Le Pichet in the mid ’80s to Denise Filiatrault, a Quebec entertainer.
It is little wonder that Montreal could not contain Le Geant Jean Ferre, as he was known here. He achieved instant, colossal fame in the U.S., Europe and Japan, often working in three countries on consecutive days.
Frenchy Bernard, his thin face carved with deep valleys by the sun and hard living, his long gray curls spilling to the shoulders from beneath a black cowboy hat, will never forget his first encounter with the man who soon would be advertised as the eighth wonder of the world.
“I was wrestling when I met Andre in New Orleans in 1971,” said Bernard, now 56. “A promoter told me about this new guy coming in, this great big guy. I remember lacing up my boots and all of a sudden I looked at the door and hell, I seen the body but I couldn’t see no head.”
Their friendship blossomed through the years until Bernard, fired as a referee in 1980 by a Florida talent booker, finally accepted Andre’s open invitation to join him in a massive house he had bought near Ellerbe.
“I met Andre in his New York hotel room and he told me and Jackie to move out to the house,” Bernard said. “He loved Jackie. She could do no wrong in his eyes.
“I didn’t have any money so he gave me a big pile of bills, about $9,000, that I had to stuff down my boots and into my shirt. I went out to the place and started fixing it up.”
Within a few years Bernard was renting a few acres of neighboring farmland to raise cattle and run his horses.
“Andre saw Frenchy’s love of the land,” Jackie Bernard said, “and there was only one thing for him to do: he bought the whole farm for him.”
The homestead grew instantly. The breathtaking three-storey country house – its bathrooms are the size of the average master bedroom, shower heads are eight feet from the floor and the living room features a custom-built recliner twice conventional size – now sat above a 200-acre ranch, 73 of it cleared for cattle. Texas longhorns soon grazed the land.
“Andre would buy me a new truck every two years, whether I needed it or not,” Bernard said. “Sometimes I wouldn’t even know about it. Ford would just show up and put it in the yard.”
Ironically, Andre’s immense fame left him terribly lonely. Friends say he saw the ranch as a return to his happy childhood, when he worked on his grandfather’s farm outside Paris.
Indeed, the Ellerbe land was Andre’s island in a sea of gawking strangers, con-men and fair-weather friends. He would ride the grounds on a three-wheel all-terrain vehicle and spend hours in the field, basking in the company of the cattle and the Canada geese at the pond.
“It used to sadden him to see that he sometimes frightened children because of his size,” said Colorado cattleman Darol Dickinson, who sold Andre the livestock. “He loved children, as he loved animals. With all his travel and the constant attention, this became his non-combat zone.”
He already was in failing health six weeks ago when he received the call from Paris that his father had no more than a few days to live. Bernard and his wife hugged Andre goodbye and he arrived in France shortly before Boris Roussimoff’s death. He watched his father lowered into the ground and a few days later went to sleep in his hotel room, never to awaken.
“His death was a shock to me because while he was in pain he appeared to be fine,” said Janine Jones, a hair stylist in nearby Rockingham who since last summer has helped out at the ranch and made Andre his favorite ribeye steaks, croissants, homemade soups and baked pork chops.
“Andre had a world of respect for Frenchy and Frenchy had it back, it was a mutual thing. They always shook hands, first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.”Frenchy was like his son and Jackie was like his daughter. Although they were taking care of him, they were like his children. That’s just the way it was.
“As I was leaving the last time I saw him I hugged him around his neck and his head and kissed him on the cheek as I always did,” she said. “The difference this time was when he hugged me back, he squeezed me.
“I remember the feeling of the moment, that I had a place in his heart. But I know that Andre must have known it was near the end.”
As they tried to deal with their own grief this month, Frenchy and Jackie Bernard planned Wednesday’s memorial service.
Wrestlers spread the word among themselves and several hundred people attended, including current stars Hulk Hogan, Randy (Macho Man) Savage and Brutus Beefcake. World Wrestling Federation head Vince McMahon, whose father booked Andre on cross-continent barnstorming tours during the ’70s, attended with two of his Quebec-native staff, Pat Patterson and Rene Goulet.
Bernard’s brother, Roland, flew in from Manitoba. His sister, Cana, and Boris Roussimoff, Andre’s 26-year-old nephew, arrived from Montreal. Four Japanese journalists attended as well.
Jennifer Six, a 19-year-old who moved on to the ranch to be cared for by Andre and the Bernards when her own family situation turned sour 10 years ago, mourned the loss of “a wonderful man.”
Andre was eulogized by a longtime ranch friend, his doctor, a cattleman, a former powerlifter and a referee.
But it was Hogan, incongruous as he stood on a ranch dressed in a black suit, who had to stop twice, unable to bite back tears as he remembered his friend and most fearsome wrestling foe. Their match at Wrestlemania III in 1987 drew 93,173 to the Pontiac Silverdome and made Hogan wrestling’s unchallenged superstar.
“Even though he was hurt really bad, he wanted to help take my career to another level,” Hogan said. “I body-slammed him only because he let me do it. He said, `Slam me, boss.’
“I’ll never forget how kind and how generous he was.”
The Bernards then saddled up with five other riders, bearing flags of the AFJ Ranch, the U.S., North Carolina, France and the Confederacy and rode into a field led by Dave Smith, who officiated the ceremony. Bernard spread Andre’s remains from two saddlebags and the riders returned to pray at a small campfire.
“If all the people who loved Andre could have come today this ranch wouldn’t have been big enough,” Bernard said. “If I had only 10 days left on this Earth, I’d give nine of them to Andre. He may have been very big in size but his heart was even bigger. He got more out of life than anyone I’ve ever known.”
• Top, from Josie: André and Kovy.
• Below, from Stubbs files: André Roussimoff, aka Le Géant Jean Ferré and later André the Giant, arrives in Montreal for the first time in 1970. From left, the great Édouard Carpentier, promoter Gerry Legault, wrestler Yvon Robert Jr.