Meet the tallest man that ever lived who died at age 22 because he was so big
Traditionally, height is seen as an advantage. Our world worships long-legged models who strut the catwalk, seeing the world from heights of six feet, and studies have shown that tall people earn more due to their superior intelligence and social skills. If you want to be extra picky about it, even grammar appears to favour height, with ethically superior people taking the high ground. Go figure, huh?
Nonetheless, even while being able to run faster and reach the top shelf, being particularly tall does have its downsides. In fact, being too tall can have tragic consequences, as is the case with Robert Warlow's story.
Robert has a fairly impressive claim to fame, having been the tallest man that ever lived. However, his astounding height had catastrophic repercussions and soon become a curse rather than a blessing.
Robert Pershing Wadlow was born to Harold Franklin and Addie Wadlow on February 22, 1918, in Alton Illinois. Weighing 8.7 pounds, he was a perfectly normal baby. However, as he grew older, things changed.
By Robert's first birthday, he weighed 4.5 pounds and stood at three feet and 3.5 inches, tall. As he grew older, he grew bigger and bigger and began to tower over his father at the age of eight. At 13 years old and seven feet, four inches tall, he became the world’s tallest Boy Scout.
Soon enough, almost all aspects of his life were affected by his height. He enjoyed photography, but had to stop when his hands grew too big to pursue it. He liked to play the guitar but, again, his hands were too large. He wanted to attend elementary school with his friends, but he was too big for the desks.
No matter how tall he got, his parents were determined to make things normal for him. They made sure he participated in all of the same activities as his four siblings and saw a special desk be made for him so he could remain in school.
However, by the time Robert had graduated from Alton High School, his great height - which was put down to hyperplasia of his pituitary gland, which results in an abnormally high level of human growth hormone - became an even bigger problem than before.
He was eight feet and four inches tall and had broken the record for the world's tallest man. But, despite his impressive claim to history, his extreme height was an impediment and he suffered from a lack of feeling in his legs and feet. Eventually, his size would take its toll and he would require leg braces to walk. Ironically, his personality didn't exactly match his attention-grabbing height and he was described as a "quiet and mild-manner young man" and nicknamed named the 'Gentle Giant' by his friends.
He left school, with the intention to study law at Shurtleff College, a Baptist liberal arts school in Alton, Illinois. However, things changed when he was spotted by the Ringling Brothers and their travelling circus. In 1936, he was showcased in the circus troupe, drawing large crowds; the event turned him into something of a celebrity and saw him take on another job with the International Shoe Company and go on to become the face of the company.
He continued to participate in tours and to make public appearances until 1940, when a faulty brace resulted in his downfall. Due to the lack of feeling in his legs, Robert at first didn’t notice that the braces were rubbing against his ankle and, in 1940, a blister formed that became infected, causing doctors to resort to a blood transfusion and emergency surgery.
On July 15, 1940, the young man died in his sleep. A year before his death, he had officially become the tallest person who had ever lived. Measured for the final time 18 days before he passed away, he clocked in at an impressive 8 feet, 11.1 inches. Nonetheless, it can't be denied that his height was a contributing factor, if not the main cause, of his death.
Although Robert died at the untimely age of 22, he left behind a legacy almost as big as he was. Across the world stands many life-size statues of him and he is honoured in pop culture, featuring in numerous songs. He was taken before his time, but he will forever be remembered as the Gentle Giant.