Yes, I really did meet Andre the Giant back in 1991…

July 26, 2022, 7:42 PM

Back in the summer of 1991, my life was quite different than it is now.  We lived in Rogers, Arkansas back then, and I had just completed fourth grade.  My father worked as a quality manager for Scott Nonwovens (now part of Berry Global following a series of acquisitions over the years).  My mother worked as a fitness instructor at the Walton Life Fitness Center (WLFC) in Bentonville, i.e. Walmart’s corporate fitness center.  That job of Mom’s provided a lot of benefits for the entire family, as we all got access to the fitness center facility, of which we made good use.  We were there so much that the fitness center almost felt like a second home at times, what with my taking swimming and Taekwondo classes there, as well as a little fitness camp called “Kids Kamp” during the summers.

One of the benefits that came with the fitness center as far as Mom was concerned was the Walmart employee stock purchase program.  I participated in it when I worked for Walmart in the mid 2000s, and as far as I know, the company still has this program.  Basically, you elected to set aside a certain amount of money per paycheck, which was then used to purchase shares of Walmart stock in your name.  As such, you were afforded all of the rights and privileges that came with being a shareholder, such as voting on issues presented to the shareholders, as well as attending the annual shareholders’ meeting.  Back then, Walmart was a much smaller company than it is now, so much of the annual shareholders’ meeting occurred at their corporate headquarters in Bentonville.

One part of the Walmart shareholders’ meeting, at least at that time, was a trade show.  A bunch of companies that you’ve probably heard of if you’ve ever shopped at Walmart had booths set up and they were showing off all of their new offerings.  In 1991, this was held at the Walmart corporate office (in 1992, it was held in a former Walmart store nearby that they had recently vacated following a relocation).  Among various things that we saw there, I got to take a Super Nintendo for a spin and play Super Mario World for the first time at the Nintendo booth, about two and a half months before it was released to the public.  I remember being surprised to see so many different buttons on the controller (six compared to two on the original Nintendo), and seeing Mario do two different kinds of jumps, i.e. the spin jump and the regular jump.

There was also a fair amount of celebrities at the event.  We met Alan Thicke, i.e. the guy who played Jason Seaver on Growing Pains, at the Fruit of the Loom booth.  I got his autograph, even though at the time, I had no idea who he was or why he was important.  The piece of paper that he autographed is knocking around the house somewhere.  Then we also met Andre the Giant and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake at the Hasbro booth, where they were promoting the various WWF toy lines.  Now, just like with Alan Thicke, I had never heard of either one of these guys before.  The only thing that I understood was that they were wrestlers.  And here are the photos that we got:

My ten-year-old self, sitting on a bench with Andre the Giant, with a balloon looped around my hand.
My ten-year-old self, sitting on a bench with Andre the Giant, with a balloon looped around my hand.

Mom with Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake.
Mom with Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake.

They also got a photo of my sister standing in front of Andre the Giant (she didn’t want to sit next to him, but we’ll forgive her because she was only six years old), but that photo may have been lost, because it didn’t turn up when Mom found the other two.

In meeting Andre the Giant, I remember his being a very nice man.  I also remember that he was a very large man.  I was ten years old, and so you can see the size difference compared to me.  I especially remember the size of his hands – particularly his fingers.  They were huge – like the size of summer sausages.  Other than that, though, I didn’t think much of the encounter.  We got our photos, and that was that.

It wasn’t until 1993 when Andre the Giant died of congestive heart failure while visiting France for a family event that it really hit home how much of a big deal Andre the Giant was, and how special it was to have gotten to meet him, at what turned out to be about a year and a half before his passing.  You also really have to feel sorry for his family.  He was in France to attend his father’s funeral, and stayed a little bit longer after that in order to spend time with his mother.  And then while he’s there, he dies.  You can’t help but feel badly for his family, suffering a relatively quick one-two punch like that.  I found out about it when Mom showed me an article about it with a headline that said, “A Giant Dies”, relaying a brief story about his death.

In any event, that was a fun childhood memory.  I’m currently going through a whole box of photos and such from much younger years that my parents sent up with me to scan, and so I imagine that I’ll come up with some more stuff before too long.

Categories: Arkansas, Childhood, Walmart