THE FRENCH ANGEL – Maurice Tillet


Perhaps most well know under the name ‘The French Angel’, Maurice Tillet was born in 1903 in the Ural Mountains in Russia to French parents. and he was born a completely average and healthy child. He aspired to become an actor and was highly intelligent, allegedly speaking 14 languages and being quite gifted in prose. However, in his twenties, Maurice developed acromegaly.

Acromegaly is a rather rare hormonal disorder that occurs when the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone. Usually, the condition is caused by a pituitary tumor, and results in bones growing wildly and uncontrollably. The word ‘acromegaly’ is derived from Greek and literally translates as ‘large extremities’. Because the disease is slow to progress, it is difficult to diagnose in the early stages and is often missed for many years. In the case of Maurice Tillet a diagnosis was long in coming and his body, and his face in particular, were disfigured significantly. Unable to endure the constant gawking and humiliation, Maurice fled France.

In America, Maurice crafted a new identity befitting his disfigured appearance as a rough and villainous professional wrestler. Renamed ‘The French Angel and often called the ‘freak ogre of the ring’, Maurice was a great success finishing off adversaries with his patented Bear Hug. On August 1, 1944 The French Angel defeated Steve ‘Crusher’ Casey for the American Wrestling Association World Championship.

Ten years later, almost to the day, on April 4th 1954 Maurice died prematurely at the age of 51. In life, Maurice was a private and reclusive man however, on his death bed; he gave permission to have a cast made of his face. One subsequent ‘death mask’ currently resides at the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame inside the York Barbell Building in York, Pennsylvania.

I love this picture.
images  of Maurice Tillet by Irving Penn © 1945.
For even more history on Maurice Tillet, visit this link.


  • Reply November 27, 2007


    I heard that the physical features of animated ogre Shrek were based on Tillet’s, is this true or just a rumour?

    • Reply May 2, 2012


      Yes, it is true.

  • Reply November 28, 2007

    J. Tithonus Pednaud

    Very unlikely. The physical features of Shrek were likely based on the physical aspects of SNL cast alumni Chris Farley. Farley was originally cast in the role and he had completed much of the dialog for Shrek before his untimely passing. His friend Myers picked up the role.

  • Reply December 3, 2007


    i agree that last picture is great.

  • Reply March 30, 2008


    Well my first thought was “omg his face looks like Shrek’s” and I wasn’t gonna say anything (thinking it was un-PC) but then the first comment… It seems possible, doesn’t it?

  • Reply April 6, 2008


    Pro wrestling today still seems to have alot in common with the sideshow. Wild men, Giants, fat people, Strong men, acrobats.

  • Reply April 23, 2008


    He really does look like he could’ve been the model for Shrek! I didn’t notice until the first comment. How interesting.

  • Reply June 17, 2008


    Who is the girl?

  • Reply June 17, 2008


    Who is the girl?

  • Reply July 12, 2008


    She´s the recently passed “first supermodel” Dorian Leigh.

  • Reply August 17, 2008


    His posture reminds me of Shrek.

  • Reply September 17, 2008

    Charles Ross

    I recall an article in Life magazine re “the French Angel”.I believe the pictures of him were taken in N.Y. Central Park.The only photo I truly remember showed him hugging a tree.I guess he was demonstrating his famous bear hug.After reading his bio I can really feel sorry for him.Was unaware he died so young.Sad.All of this was in the 40s.I’m 80 now and still remember him.

  • Reply September 18, 2008

    J Tithonus Pednaud

    Charles, thank you for your sincere memories.

    His condition, acromegaly, affect the heart as well as the features. As a result those afflicted often pass away young.

  • Reply October 29, 2008


    in response to the anonymous poster on april 6–

    the origins of pro wrestling tie into sideshow– the version you see on television today came from the carnies and circuses where the strongman would issue a challenge to anyone in the crowd to step up and take him on. many times these challengers were crowd plants, and the fights were worked– it allowed the performers to go on and fight time after time instead of spending long downtimes injured. over a century from breaking off in its own and wrestling still has its own distinct version of carnie-speak– though in the last two decades it’s rapidly begun to be lost… along with much of the charm of the wrestling of older days.

    in the days of high-def television, jackass, 30-second attention spans, and ‘reality’ television… and even the decade before this with jerry springer and mtv… the transition loses something. but sometimes, you can go to local places and still find live shows that have shades of that old theater with an arrogant ‘heel’ strongman and his loudmouthed promoting manager, taking on a ‘babyface’ challenger who’s a man of the people. it’s much more worthwhile to see than the WWE.

    nonetheless, on topic of Maurice Tillet, i stumbled on this site in a search for acromegaly sufferers, and am very glad of it. i had never heard of him until now, and will have to mark this place to come back and discover all the wonderful people you have on it. thanks for doing this!

  • Reply March 4, 2009


    FYI, the movie Shrek was actually based on a kid’s book published in 1990. So, he was not based on Chris Farley… likely not based on Maurice Tillet, either.

    Anyway, I’m totally addicted to this website. It keeps me from being bored at work… and sometimes makes my toes curl. But in a good way.

  • Reply March 4, 2009

    J Tithonus Pednaud

    Actually, the nasty looking ogre from the book had to be redesigned into something a little more film friendly. The Art Director himself has been quoted in interviews that Farley was the inspiration for the redesign characteristics and Mike Myres has stated the same thing.

  • Reply March 27, 2009

    Jack Dolehide

    I believe that Maurice died in Chicago and had an autopsy performed at Cook County Hospital. He was destitute and, according to one of the physicians who assisted with the procedure, Maurice had significant muscle loss. Apparently which is common in those with acromegaly. This is a personal attestation.

  • Reply July 7, 2009


    this is shrek….?

  • Reply July 15, 2009


    That is a great picture, at the bottom.
    He seems like a pure soul. =]

  • Reply September 25, 2009

    jerry tate

    ive read alot abbout marice tillet idid not know him iheard alot abbout him he once live in my niebor hood the nortend detroit iwish icould see s a old match he was in at olypia stadiumisaw him in mighty joe young

  • Reply January 9, 2010


    The last picture is awesome. But you gotta admit, he looks a lot like Shrek! Cool!

  • Reply January 25, 2010


    The last picture is truly precious! What a gentle giant. Why is it that the truly good people seem to die young? I would love to have been able to talk to him. My dear mister Pednaud, I am adoring this site! Truly, thoroughly, and deliciously. Keep up the good work!

  • Reply February 25, 2010

    jerry tate

    how can see some matche murice was in some fo hi greast matches in clear definnition doyou eny on film

  • Reply February 25, 2010

    Nancy Smith

    I have been living with Acromegaly, Im always searching for more information on this very rare, lonely and very painful chronic illness. It hurts my heart to think about how he suffered in his looks and with physical pain. I was diagnosed just four years ago, two brain surgeries and about 8000.00 dollars a month just in medications.

    • Reply August 28, 2012


      to Nancy Smith,

      Sorry to read that you are also living with that affliction. I do hope that in 2012, medicine and treatments are more advance. Hope things are going well for you.

  • Reply April 30, 2010

    howard silver

    i knew him in portland or. in the late 1930!s i was about 15 yo and worked out with him at a neighborhood center. it was a pleasure to know him.

  • Reply February 2, 2011


    Here’s a photo of him with boxing World Champion Jack Dempsey:

  • Reply February 15, 2011


    he has a sweet face.

  • Reply June 12, 2011

    andi fluk

    wow.. nice info..

  • Reply July 2, 2011


    Pio Pico, a former governer of California (circa 1832, when CA was still part of Mexico) also suffered from acromegaly. What is interesting about his case is that the condition began to reverse as he aged!

  • Reply July 30, 2011


    I’m surprised nobody mentioned André Roussimoff AKA Andre the Giant. Both suffered from acromegaly and sadly died young from it’s effects.

  • Reply October 23, 2011


    My best friend has this condition. If only people wouldnt judge others on thier apperance, the world would be a little more kinder.
    People think because he looks the way he does and sounds the way he does that he is “slow”. Certainly not the case! Because of his thick tongue, his speach is affected.
    He is so amazing, he writes the most beautiful poems i’ve ever read.
    He has such passion, he puts most men to shame, they could learn a thing or two!
    He is getting treatment and should have a good outcome.

  • Reply April 2, 2012


    Does anyone have access or information about Tillet’s poetry? I’d love to read some of his work.

    • Reply April 10, 2012

      J Tithonus Pednaud

      Unfortunately, I’ve never actually come across any. Readers?

  • Reply May 8, 2012

    Cinthia Gabriela

    Onde estão os poemas dele? Se não tem, fica difícil acreditar né?

  • Reply May 8, 2012

    Cinthia Gabriela

    Me responda logo, por favor!

  • Reply December 4, 2014

    misses townsley

    Quite a pleasure to keep constant, the beautiful sides of life that are human beings. acceptance understanding and knowing.

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