As a young child, Maurice Tillet had a normal appearance; he was even dubbed an “angel”. Sadly, when he reached 20, he noticed a change. He’d contracted a rare disease called acromegaly, a condition caused by a benign tumour in the pituitary gland.
Soon, Maurice’s feet, head and hands began swelling as his bones overgrew and thickened. Within years, his appearance had changed. He wanted to be a lawyer but his condition prevented him from doing so. A pal suggested he become a pro wrestler instead.
His looks and personality were ideal for the ring, and Tillet became known as the French Angel on the circuit, becoming a large draw for curious crowds.
Maurice, who was born in 1903 and raised in Russian to French parents, was billed as “unstoppable” and became AWA World Heavyweight Champion for two years from 1940.
We even have some rare footage of him in action here…
By 1945 his health deteriorated and he stopped wrestling in 1953. He died a year later in Chicago, where he is buried and where a commemorative bust remains in the International Museum of Surgical Science.
The features caused by acromegaly have drawn parallels to the appearance of children’s film character, Shrek. It’s never been confirmed that the lovable ogre was based on Maurice Tillet, but the similarity in appearance is striking and the link has never been denied.
Other to have suffered the same condition include actor Richard Kiel, who played James Bond villain Jaws.