Giants have fascinated us for centuries. There’s Greek Atlas holding up the sky, there’s Biblical Goliath fighting David, there’s one-eyed Cyclops or even the incredible Hulk, and the list goes on. Usually, these giants are metaphors for facing great odds or the unknown. But what about real-life human giants?
Meet 10 incredible real life giants and their astonishing stories
Real-life giants live and breathe among us and their truly astonishing stories deserve to be heard. Shall we?
1. Robert Wadlow (1918 – 1940)
Robert Wadlow, known as the Alton Giant or the Gentle Giant, is the tallest man in recorded history. He was born in 1918, in Alton, Illinois. At the time of his death, he measured 8 ft, 11.1 inch (2.73 meters) and weighed 439 lb (199 kg).
Now, imagine the tallest friend or family member you know and compare their height to Robert’s. Holy moly, right?
Robert grew so tall because of a medical condition that made his body produce too much growth hormone. When he was only eight years old, he was already taller than his dad!
Even though he was so tall, Robert was a kind person. He did normal stuff kids do, like joining the Boy Scouts or playing sports in school. He was also active in his church. At 18, he became a part of a famous circus, traveling around the U.S. and Canada.
Such a height is not easy to support, though. Robert would always get foot injuries. In 1932, when he was just 14 years old, he was brought to the hospital after tripping in a small dent in the road while playing with a buddy. They discovered he had broken two bones in his foot. After that, he had to wear a brace to help support his tall frame.
Health problems and complications of real life giants
In 1936, Dr Charles Humberd, who was specializing in studying gigantism, came to check on 18-year-old Robert Wadlow. One of the things Humbered observed was that Robert couldn’t feel things like touch, pain, or temperature in his feet. He noted, “Robert doesn’t notice a folded sock or something in his shoe until it causes a blister, which might then turn into an ulcer.” Unfortunately that would bring his demise later on.
On top of his impressive height, Robert also had the largest feet ever, measuring 18.5 inch long or 47 cm. He was wearing US size 37AA, that’s 36 in the UK and 75 in the EU. Finding such shoes was almost impossible, so a shoe company made special shoes for him and he helped them promote their shoes by traveling around the country with his dad.
During one of these trips for the shoe company, Robert got very sick. After a parade in Michigan, he felt feverish. It turned out a metal brace he wore to support his feet had hurt his ankle, but he didn’t feel it right away because of the low sensitivity in his extremities that we were mentioning earlier. Unfortunately, Robert’s health got worse very quickly, and on the night of 14th July 1940, he spoke to his parents for the last time. He died that night, at only 22 years old. The gentle giant was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Upper Alton. His headstone reads, “At Rest”.
2. Sultan Kosen (1982 – present)
Sultan Kosen is currently the tallest man alive. Born on 10 December 1982 in Turkey, his life seemed ordinary until he turned 10. That’s when he began an extraordinary growth spurt, resulting from “pituitary gigantism,” a condition triggered by an overactive pituitary gland. When such a gland, located in the brain, is affected by a tumor, it can release excess growth hormone. This overproduction led to Sultan’s large hands, a significant thickening of his bones, and painful joints.
Interestingly, the rest of Sultan’s family, including his parents and four siblings, are of average height. Despite his towering stature, Sultan embraced the little joys – like assisting his mother with changing light bulbs and hanging curtains. Yet, his height brought challenges. Unable to fit into regular-sized cars or find fitting clothes, everyday life was a series of adaptations. His height even prevented him from completing school, pushing him to work as a farmer to support his family.
As a teen, Sultan was scouted by the Galatasaray basketball team, but was deemed too tall to play. However, his love for the sport remains undiminished.
Entering the Guinness World Records book as a real-life giant
In 2009, Sultan was officially recognized by the Guinness World Records as the tallest living man, standing an incredible 8 ft, 2.8 inches or 2.51 meters. This acknowledgment provided him with lots of opportunities. The University of Virginia in the USA offered him a revolutionary gamma-knife surgery in August 2010. This procedure successfully treated the tumor affecting his pituitary gland, putting a stop to his growth.
Later on, Sultan married, realizing one of his biggest dreams. But it was only the beginning. His height and the global attention it attracted opened the doors to Hollywood. By 2016, he made his film debut in “Achieving the Impossible.”
That same year, he toured the Indian Ocean with the Magic Circus of Samoa.From being a local farmer to a global inspiration, Sultan’s journey over the past eight years has been nothing short of remarkable.
3. Yao Ming (1980 – present)
Born on September 12th, 1980, in Shanghai, China, Yao Ming wasn’t just tall; he was a giant in more ways than one. Towering at an astounding seven feet, six inches or 2.29 meters, Ming’s impressive stature was no accident. It ran in the family, with both his parents casting long shadows – his father at 6 feet, 6 inches, and his mother at 6 feet, 3 inches.
By 12, Ming’s prodigious height and skills had him enrolled in competitive basketball academies.
The professional courts of China first witnessed Ming’s prowess when he joined the Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) in 1997. Over five seasons, he played 136 games, racking up an impressive 3,000 points and nearly 2,100 rebounds. His monumental performances transformed him into a national icon, as he led China to a 10th place finish in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
By 2002, the international basketball world was abuzz about this Chinese sensation. Yao’s decision to venture overseas was met with great anticipation.
The accolades started pouring in quickly for the towering 7-foot-6 superstar. In 2003, fans voted him as a starter for the NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, making him the first rookie to achieve this in eight years. Under his leadership, the Rockets powered through to the playoffs multiple times between 2004 and 2009.
Yao Ming’s tenure in the NBA significantly boosted basketball’s popularity in China and contributed to the sport’s global reach. Beyond his on-court prowess, Yao’s dedication to charitable causes like nature conservation and disaster relief showcased his deep-rooted commitment to the society’s and Earth’s well-being.
In recognition of his immense impact, he was honored with an induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, making him a basketball legend.
4. Andre Rene Roussimoff (1946 – 1993)
André René Roussimoff, more commonly known as Andre the Giant, was a professional wrestler and actor whose larger-than-life persona left an undeniable mark on the world of entertainment.
Born on May 19, 1946, in Grenoble, France, André showed signs of gigantism early on due to an excess growth hormone. This condition, later diagnosed as acromegaly, led to his immense size. By the age of 12, he already stood over 6 feet tall and weighed 240 pounds.
André’s size made him a natural fit for the world of professional wrestling. He began his wrestling career in France and later moved to wrestle in various other countries. His reputation grew, and it wasn’t long before he caught the attention of the wrestling world in North America.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he became a star in the World Wrestling Federation. He stood at around 7 feet 4 inches and weighed over 500 pounds at his peak. That’s 2.23 meters and 227 kilograms.
No wonder André was dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World”. He had legendary feuds and matches with other wrestling superstars, most notably Hulk Hogan.
He was a star at the time
While wrestling was his primary claim to fame, André also ventured into acting. His most famous role was as Fezzik, the gentle giant in the 1987 film “The Princess Bride”. His imposing size combined with his gentle demeanor made him perfect for the role. He also appeared in several TV shows and other films.
Behind the scenes, André was known for his jovial nature and immense capacity for food and drink. There are countless tales of his legendary drinking sessions and the sheer volume of food he could consume. However, life wasn’t always easy for André. His size led to various health issues, and he often struggled with the everyday world not designed for someone of his stature.
Unfortunately, André’s health declined in his later years, due to the effects of acromegaly. He passed away on January 27, 1993, at the age of 46.
What set Andre apart from the other giants was his exceptional athleticism. He could move with such fluidity and grace, as if his colossal size was nothing. However, over time, alcohol and other bad habits took a toll on him.
5. Vikas Uppal (1986 – 2007)
Vikas Uppal was born on 1 January 1986 in the Rohtak district of Haryana, India. Throughout his life, Vikas’s height drew much attention and curiosity. In 2004, The Tribune reported him to be 8 ft 3 in tall ( 2.51 m) and still growing. Some sources even speculated that he could be as tall as 8 ft 9 in (2.67 m), but other reports suggested an unconfirmed height of 8 ft 1.75 in (2.48 m).
Apart from his towering stature, Vikas had hands that were reported to be 13 inches long (33 cm) and feet that were 19 inches long (48 cm), though these measurements also remain unverified.
Vikas could have been considered for the title of the world’s tallest living man. However, the Guinness Book of Records, known for its strict verification criteria, did not officially measure Uppal.
There were varying reports and speculations about the cause of Vikas’s height. Some believed he was a proportionate giant, not showing obvious signs of pathological gigantism like acromegaly. A debunked rumor suggested he could have been the tallest non-disease giant, but current evidence suggests otherwise.
Vikas Uppal’s life came to a tragic end on 30 June 2007. He passed away during an operation to remove a brain tumor in Delhi, India. Following his death, it’s believed that his body was either cremated or otherwise disposed of. There are also unverified and likely untrue rumors suggesting he might have been intentionally harmed or killed. Despite the controversies and unverified claims surrounding his height and life, Vikas Uppal remains a significant figure in discussions about the world’s tallest people and he deserves to make this list.
6. Édouard Beaupré (1881 – 1904)
Édouard Beaupré was born on January 9, 1881, in the small community of Willow Bunch in the then Northwest Territories of Canada. He hailed from a normal-sized family, with no apparent genetic history of extraordinary height.
As a child, Édouard exhibited normal growth patterns, but around the age of three, his growth accelerated remarkably. By the age of nine, he had reached six feet, and by the age of 17, he stood at a staggering 7 feet 1 inch (216 cm). His final recorded height was 8 feet 3 inches (251 cm), and he weighed about 400 pounds (181 kg).
Due to his impressive stature, Beaupré began displaying his strength at local fairs when he was in his late teens. He would perform feats like bending iron bars and lifting horses. These exhibitions led him to be discovered by traveling circuses and sideshows, and he joined the Barnum and Bailey Circus. There, Beaupré showcased his immense strength and height to audiences across North America.
Like many people of such extreme height, Beaupré faced various health issues. His massive size strained his heart and other organs. As he grew older, he began experiencing joint pain, fatigue, and other health problems associated with gigantism.
His life was tragically cut short on July 3, 1904, while performing at the St. Louis World’s Fair. He was diagnosed with a pulmonary hemorrhage and passed away shortly after. He was just 23 years old.
But there’s more to his story
However, Édouard Beaupré’s story extends beyond his living years. Shortly after his untimely death, Beaupré’s body was paraded for public display and profit. First, his remains were embalmed and placed in a store on Broadway, near Market Street in St. Louis. This act was met with outrage, leading authorities to order its removal. Yet, the exploitation didn’t end there. The body surfaced again in East St. Louis for display.
Despite assurances from the circus manager that Beaupré would be buried in St. Louis, his remains were instead taken to Montréal. There, they were displayed in the Eden Museum’s lobby. Overwhelmed by the crowds, local authorities moved the remains to Bellerive Park. However, following the circus’s bankruptcy, his body was forgotten and left in a hangar, only to be discovered by playing children in 1907.
A doctor from Mansonville was summoned, and soon, Beaupré’s remains were transferred to the Anatomy department of the Montréal University for $25. Dr. Louis Napoléon Delorme undertook a procedure to mummify the body, preserving it in a glass shrine, sheltering it from the public’s prying eyes.
Nearly 66 years later, in the early 1970s, Ovila Lespérance, Beaupré’s nephew, decided to bring Beaupré’s body back to his hometown. However, the University refused, fearing further exploitation.
By 1975, the once-mighty giant’s body had shrunk to 7’1″ and weighed a mere 75 lbs., a stark contrast to the 375 lbs. he weighed at his death.
Ovila’s continued efforts finally bore fruit in September 1989, on the condition of cremation. The ashes were kept in Montréal until July 1990. Then, on July 7, 1990, 85 years after his death, Édouard Beaupré received a long-overdue memorial service and burial in Willow Bunch, next to a life-sized statue honoring him.
7. Zeng Jinlian (1964 – 1982)
Born in the rural regions of China, on June 26, 1964, Zeng Jinlian reached an astounding 8 feet, 1.75 inches (2.48 m).
Her condition, rooted in a pituitary tumor, caused an overproduction of growth hormone, leading to her gigantism. By just four months old, she exhibited rapid development. Tales of her strength abound, like her ability to carry a 106-pound bag of cement when she was merely four. By age five, she had already outgrown her mother, and her growth didn’t show signs of slowing down. At the age of 13, she reached a height that made her relatively taller than Robert Wadlow at the same age.
An athlete at heart, Zeng had a passion for basketball. However, her aspirations were cut short due to scoliosis. This condition progressed to such an extent that she eventually needed a wheelchair for mobility.
Despite the physical challenges, Zeng’s spirit remained undeterred. After high school, she immersed herself in the world of Chinese calligraphy and poetry, finding solace in the written word. Known for her reserved nature, she cherished the tranquility of the countryside.
Zeng’s extraordinary height caught the attention of the national and international press, making her a household name in China. Visitors flocked to her home, some days even counting up to a hundred, eager for a glimpse of the world’s tallest woman.
Tragically, Zeng Jinlian’s life was cut short. At just 17, she succumbed to complications likely related to her gigantism, such as diabetes and possibly a pituitary tumor hemorrhage. Her ashes rest at the Hunan Medical University. Had fate not intervened so early, many speculate she might have even surpassed the height of the tallest known person, Robert Wadlow. Even so, she was the tallest woman verified in modern times.
8. Trijntje Keever (1616 – 1633)
Born on either January 10 or 16, 1616, Trijntje Keever would come to be known as “The Great Maiden”or “The Giantess of Edam”. Standing at an astounding height of 8 feet 6 inches (260 cm), she is believed to have been the tallest woman in recorded history.
As word of her immense stature spread, her family showcased her at fairs and carnivals, drawing curious onlookers and adding to the family’s income. Frederick V, Elector Palatinate and King of Bohemia, along with his wife and entourage, paused their journey to England to lay eyes on this towering child.
It was acromegaly, an overproduction of growth hormone, that likely contributed to her giant stature. An anonymous artist, captivated by such unique subjects, immortalized her in paint. By 1874, these artworks found their way to the municipal building and now reside in the Edam Museum.
The details of Trijntje’s height, however, have been a subject of debate. Various records and books cite her stature ranging from 8 feet, 3.9 inches to as much as 8 feet, 6.2 inches. Despite all of these, one fact remains: Trijntje Keever’s name is etched in history as the tallest woman ever known, and one of the tallest humans ever to walk the Earth.
Sadly, her life was cut short. At only 17, on July 2, 1633, she took her last breath. Her burial was documented in the Edam Great Church’s record book.
9. Sandy Allen (1955 – 2008)
Born on June 18, 1955, in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in Shelbyville, Indiana, Sandy Allen would come to be recognized as the tallest woman in the world during her lifetime.
From her early years, it was evident that Sandy was different. By the age of 10, she had reached a height of 6 feet 3 inches. She was also suffering from gigantism, caused by a tumor in her pituitary gland. The gland’s abnormal activity led to an excessive production of growth hormone, propelling her height to an eventual 7 feet 7 inches (231 cm).
Sandy’s life was not without challenges. The rapid growth caused a series of health issues and brought the attention of the world.
However, rather than succumb to the adversities, Sandy chose to embrace her uniqueness. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized her as the world’s tallest woman of that time, and so she could inspire others to accept their differences.
The title brought her fame, leading to numerous television appearances, interviews, and even a role inFellini’s Casanova. She also traveled to schools and institutions, sharing her story and encouraging children to accept and celebrate their uniqueness.
In 1982, Sandy underwent a surgery to remove the tumor in her pituitary gland, stopping her excessive growth, but her height continued to affect her health. Mobility became an issue and she used a wheelchair in her later years.
Despite her physical challenges, Sandy’s spirit remained unyielding. She lived her life with grace, using her unique position to inspire and motivate. She penned an autobiography titled “Cast A Giant Shadow”, chronicling her life’s journey and the lessons she learned.
10. Väinö Myllyrinne (1909 – 1963)
Väinö Myllyrinne was born on February 27, 1909, in Helsinki, as the second of eight children. At the age of 20, Myllyrinne enlisted in the army and was stationed at Vyborg as part of the heavy artillery. Standing at around 7 ft 2.5 in (220 cm) when he joined, he became the tallest soldier in history.
Myllyrinne’s height was frequently reported to be between 8 ft 2 in and 8 ft 3 in (246–251 cm), with 8 ft 1 in (247 cm) being the most cited measurement. Remarkably, claims suggest he continued growing even into his 40s, weighing around 375 pounds (170 kg).
After his military service, Väinö settled in Helsinki and joined the Helsinki Athletics Club. Like many giants in history, such as Édouard Beaupré, he took up wrestling. In the 1930s, he toured Europe, performing in circuses and variety shows. He would introduce himself to audiences and engage with them, often shaking hands with large crowds. Following the death of Robert Wadlow in 1940, it’s believed that Väinö Myllyrinne became the tallest living person of that time.
His gigantism led to joint problems, restricting his mobility. In 1946, he relocated to Järvenpää, working mainly on poultry farms. He married Anna-Liise Puistonen in 1942, but the union lasted only two years without any children. In his twilight years, he lived with his brother’s family, grappling with diabetes and a hip fracture from a fall, a common ailment among giants.
Behind the towering figures of these giants lie stories of gentle souls navigating the world with grace and resilience. Their lives were extraordinary, filled with challenges, serving an important lesson – life is not just measured in physical stature but also in the depth of one’s character.