Russian-born Frenchman Maurice Tillet was born in 1903 and rose to prominence as one of wrestling’s biggest stars called the ‘French Angel’ during the 1930’s and 40’s.
His friends nicknamed him Angel.
His name was derived from his nickname as a child, where his boyhood friends would often remark on his blond hair and angelic looks. By the time he was in his mid teens however, he started to notice swelling along parts of his body – hands. feet, head etc.
Doctors diagnosed his condition as Acromegaly, which is a condition caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland, resulting in bone overgrowth and thickening.
Away from the ring, Tillet was shy around people he didn’t know, but brilliant as well, a polyglot and avid reader.
Although he harbored dreams of becoming a lawyer and was by all accounts a very intelligent man, Maurice ended up as an engineer in the French army for 5 years, where he met his lifelong friend, and professional wrestler Carl (Karl) Pojello, who convince Tillet to pursue a career in professional wrestling.
He went 19 months undefeated in one stretch.
Both moved to Paris for training, before WWII forced them both to move to the USA, where his wrestling career took off.
He became a multi-time world champion in the 1940s and was one of the most recognizable men in pro wrestling.
He was known to have amazing strength, and one publicity stunt recalled him pulling some subway cars down the streets of New York City.
By this time though, he was being plagued by his condition and other sicknesses, and had his last wrestling match in Singapore on February 14, 1953, which he lost.
Dreamworks, the studios behind the Shrek franchise, has never formerly acknowledged the likenesses between the two, but an anonymous blogger who claimed to be working in the PDI/Dreamworks art department at the time while Shrek was being developed has said –
“On my wall, I had photos of wrestling oddballs, ‘The Swedish Angel’, ‘Irish Angel’ and the ‘French Angel’. They may well have inspired the modellers who sculpted Shrek“.
He became ill on the news of his friend passing away.
In 1954, Tillets friend Pojello developed lung cancer and died shortly after. When informed of his passing, Maurice himself became ill and was taken to a county hospital where he passed away 13 hours after his friend.
The official cause of death stated it was a heart attack, but friends say he died of a broken heart on losing his closest friend.
They were buried side by side in the Pojello family plot in the Lithuanian National Cemetery in Justice, Illinois.
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