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.