Maurice Tillet, also known as "The French Angel," the "Ugliest Man in the World," and, more recently, the "real-life Shrek," was a French lawyer-turned-wrestler who made a name for himself internationally for both his unique appearance and his signature bear-hug wrestling move. However, what many do not realize is this man was also suffering from a tragic disease that transformed him from being a generally normal man with a kind disposition to a man forced into social isolation because of his suddenly inherited deformities.
The man who many people believe was the inspiration behind the main character in DreamWorks' Shrek was also a soldier, lawyer, renowned wrestler, and even a stunt actor who – despite the pain and isolation he endured from his disease – managed to maintain his kind heart and angelic disposition.
At Age 17 His Hands, Feet, And Head Suddenly Began To Swell – And They Wouldn't Stop
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on October 23, 1903, Maurice Tillet – also known as "The French Angel" – led a relatively normal life until moving to France with his mother after his father passed when he was eight years old. It was at this time that Tillet began to attend St. Philip Neri Catholic School, where his mother was a language teacher, and he developed a strong Catholic disposition and dreams of becoming a lawyer.
However, when he turned 17, he noticed his body beginning to change rapidly: his "head, chest, hands, and feet started to expand." After going to the doctor to see what was causing his sudden deformation, it was determined that he was suffering from a disease called acromegaly, which is caused by the growth of a benign tumor on the pituitary gland, resulting in the rapid overgrowth of bone and tissue throughout the body.
He Had A Law Degree, But He Became A Wrestler Instead
Due to the ways that his disease impacted his appearance, Tillet abandoned his dreams of becoming a lawyer for a profession more befitting his size and stature. Thanks to the guidance of a friend and amateur wrestler, Karl Pojello, Tillet was able to find his way into the highest ranks of world-wide wrestling and quickly gained the moniker "The Angel." Eventually, he moved to Chicago to compete in the United States, where he developed a wide range of signature moves, including his "bear hug."
He May Have Been The Inspiration For DreamWorks' Shrek
Despite the fact that DreamWorks has declined to comment on the subject, it is obvious that Tillet and the cartoon character Shrek bear a striking resemblance to one another – right down their smiles. As Tillet's IMDb page points out, Tillet was
"the perfect representation of an older, wiser, grumpier ogre, yet [possessed] a noble character of a hero. The physical characteristics, as well personality traits of Maurice, and his wrestling persona 'The French Angel,' appear to be evident throughout the film."