Maurice Tillet: The 1940s Wrestler Who Inspired the Character of Shrek
Maurice Tillet was born in 1904 in the Ural Mountains of Russia, to French parents. As a child, he earned the nickname “Angel” due to his cherubic appearance. However, his father’s death at an early age meant that his mother had to raise him alone. When the Russian Revolution erupted, they moved to Reims, France.
At 17, Tillet started experiencing swelling in his feet, hands, and head, which was later diagnosed as acromegaly, a rare condition caused by excessive secretion of human growth hormone from the pituitary gland. This resulted in the enlargement of his extremities and a drastic change in his physical appearance.
Despite the fear that his appearance would hinder his success, Tillet earned a degree in law from the University of Toulouse. However, he didn’t pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer and instead joined the French navy as an engineer, serving for five years.
In 1937, Tillet met professional wrestler Karl Pojello in Singapore, who convinced him to pursue wrestling. Tillet took up the offer and went on to become a legendary wrestler.
Initially, Maurice Tillet trained to become a wrestler in France. However, due to World War II, Tillet had to leave his homeland and emigrate to the United States in 1939. Shortly after arriving in the US, Tillet caught the attention of Boston-based wrestling promoter Paul Bowser, who recognized his potential.
Under the name “The French Angel,” Tillet became a main event wrestler for Bowser and won the AWA World Heavyweight Champion title in May 1940, which he held for over two years. He also won the World Heavyweight Championship in Montreal, Canada, in 1942. However, Tillet’s health started deteriorating after winning his second championship, and his “Angel” persona was copied by others, diminishing his brand.
In 1953, Tillet fought his last match, which he lost to Bert Assirati. A year later, Maurice Tillet passed away in Chicago, Illinois, at the age of 51. Despite his achievements, Tillet is largely forgotten today, and his story was recounted by the Human Marvels.