Maurice Tillet, the “French Angel”

Maurice Marie Joseph Tillet, better known as the “French Angel”, was a Russian born, professional wrestler. He was born on October 23, 1903 to French parents. His father was a railroad engineer and his mother a teacher of languages. Tillet’s father died when he was about seven or eight years old. Maurice Tillet was born a completely normal child and was even nicknamed “Angel” because of his angelic face and blonde hair. At the age of nineteen or twenty, however, he began noticing swellings in his head, hands and feet. Doctors diagnosed him with acromegaly. Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder in which the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone. This causes bones to thicken to abnormal proportions. The disease transformed an angelic faced, young man into a gigantic looking man.

Tillet and his mother remained in Russia until 1917. With the Russian Revolution, underway, his mother thought it better to move to Rheims, France, where she had found a job as teacher in languages at a girl’s college. The disease caused Tillet to give up his dream of becoming a lawyer. Instead, he took on the job of engineer in the French Navy. He served for almost five years until he got bored of the Navy life and rejoined the civilian population. After leaving the French Navy, Tillet took on quite a few occupations, including acting in the French cinema.

Discovery of the “French Angel”

Maurice Tillet was discovered by light-heavyweight champion amateur wrestler Karl Pojello in 1936 in Paris, France. Pojello realized that Tillet’s look would draw the attention of many people, making professional wrestling the perfect occupation for him. They moved to Paris for training. Tillet wrestled for two year in France and England until he had to leave for the United States in 1939 because of World War 2.

By the end of 1939, Maurice Tillet was ready to make his entry into professional wrestling in the United States. He made his debut on January 24, 1940 at Boston Garden against Luigi Bacigaiupi. Tillet proved to be one of the greatest professional wrestlers of his era, as he remained unbeaten for a period of nineteen consecutive months. He held the title of AWA World Heavyweight Champion from May 13, 1940 to May 13, 1942 and again from August 1, 1944 until August 15, 1944. Tillet began experiencing health problems by 1945 and retired in 1953 with his final wrestling match against Bert Assirati.

Retirement and death

As his appearance always drew significant public attention, Maurice Tillet chose to live a very private life. In 1954, Maurice Tillet, Karl Pojello and Pojello’s wife Olga were known to be living together in a mansion, somewhere in Chicago. Maurice Tillet died on September 4, 1954, in Chicago, from cardiovascular disease. He is buried at the Lithuanian National Cemetery in Justice, Illinois beside his life – long friend Karl Pojello. Although being portrayed as a fierce, somewhat scary personality, Maurice Tillet was a kind, gentle, educated, and well-mannered man.

Interesting fact

It is widely believed that the cartoon character Shrek was inspired by Maurice Tillet. Although DreamWorks never confirmed where the inspiration for Shrek came from, it is presumed that they found the perfect representation of the grumpy, yet kind ogre in Maurice Tillet.

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