Like most people, I thought everyone's favorite talking ogre, one of the most memorable fictional characters in recent years, was just that: a fictional character. But peel back some of Shrek's onion-like layers and you'll discover that he was actually inspired by an extraordinary real life man named Maurice Tillet.
Unless you've been living in a swamp, you'll be familiar with Shrek's fantastical tale of fire-breathing dragons, sword-wielding felines and wise-cracking donkeys, but very few know the incredible real life story of Maurice, who's even more fascinating than the mythological character he inspired! Read on and you'll find that his similarities to Shrek go far beyond his physical appearance...
Tillet was born a completely ordinary boy
Born in the remote Ural Mountains in Russia, Maurice started life with none of the physical attributes he would eventually become famous for. As a child he earned the nickname 'The Angel' because of his beautifully angelic appearance.
As a teenager he began to notice unusual changes in his body
And not the kinds of changes usually associated with puberty. At 17, Tillet's hands, feet and head began to swell to disproportionate sizes, prompting doctors to diagnose him with acromegaly; a condition often caused by benign tumors that accelerate bone growth.
He became a renowned wrestling champion in France
Best known by his ring name 'The French Angel,' Maurice became a two-time world heavyweight champion, wrestling undefeated for 19 consecutive months! You can watch the Angel in action below:
Due to his formidable presence and extraordinary appearance, Tillet attracted huge crowds who considered him unstoppable. But in 1939 he found himself fleeing conflict once again, leaving for the United States during the Second World War.
He was an exceptionally intelligent man
Under his macho wrestling exterior, Maurice was an incredibly thoughtful and gifted individual. For starters, he spoke a whopping 14 languages and was a gifted writer. Maurice's childhood dream was to become a lawyer, but his condition ultimately prevented him from fulfilling his goal. This fact is very important and goes a long way to explaining why...
He is an inspiration for us all
It's very easy to look at Maurice and say "oh, he looks like Shrek - that's obviously how he inspired the character." But I think The French Angel stands for something a lot more meaningful than that. Maurice took the hand life dealt him and made it into something special. After realizing his medical condition would prevent him from becoming a lawyer, he set out to turn his 'affliction' into a blessing.
You have to remember that early 20th century society was much less accepting of those who deviated from the norm, posing many problems for individuals with physical deformities. But Maurice turned that weakness into a strength by using his talents to become a wrestling star.
Maurice overcame much physical and emotional pain to get the point where he, and everyone else, would accept him for who he was. This, as you'll recognize, is the same moral message that Shrek teaches.
Maurice died in 1954, but his spirit lives on to this day
Tragically, the condition that made him unique also ended his life. Maurice died prematurely at age 50, but not before his friend and sculptor Louis Linck made a series of plaster busts commemorating his career.
It was these relics of The Angel that are said to have ultimately caught the eye of an animator working at Dreamworks.
I think you'll agree that Maurice Tillet was a truly inspirational individual who, through Shrek, continues to teach today's children an invaluable lesson about self-acceptance.