Weird History
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These Photographs Show The Tragic Story Of The Kind-Hearted Real Life Shrek

Updated December 4, 2018 239.7k views6 items

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. What many don't realize, however, is that this man was also suffering from a tragic disease known as acromegaly that transformed him from 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 believe to be the inspiration behind the titular 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

    Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on October 23, 1903, Maurice Tillet – also known as "The French Angel" – led a relatively normal life until he moved to France with his mother after his father passed when Maurice was eight years old. At that time, Tillet began to attend St. Philip Neri Catholic School, where his mother was a language teacher. He developed a strong Catholic faith, and eventually dreamed of becoming a lawyer. 

    When Tillet turned 17, however, he noticed that his body was changing rapidly; his head, chest, hands, and feet started to expand. After going to the doctor to see what was causing his sudden deformation, Tillet was discovered to suffer 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.

    • Although He Wanted To Become A Lawyer, He Decided To Pursue Wrestling Instead

      Video: YouTube

      Due to the numerous 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 iconic "bear hug."

      • He May Have Been The Visual Inspiration For DreamWorks' Shrek

        Photo: Shrek / DreamWorks

        Despite the fact that DreamWorks has never relased an official comment on the subject, many believe that Tillet and Shrek, arguably the studio's most popular character, bear a striking resemblance to one another. Though theories of Tillet serving as Shrek's inspiration are rampant online, they are ultimately unsubstantiated.

        • He Was Nicknamed "The Angel" For His Kind, Angelic Face

          Photo: Associated Press / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

          Although his appearance later in life garnered much criticism, as a young boy, Tillet was nicknamed "Angel" because of his kind face and blond hair. This nickname stayed with him even after the developments of his acromegaly – he was frequently referred to as "The French Angel" throughout his wrestling career.