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Maurice Tillet ( 1903 - August 4, 1954 ) was a professional wrestler in the early years of the entertainment-sport. Born in France, he was highly intelligent and could speak 14 languages. He was also a keen poet and was hoping to get into the acting business.
In his twenties, he developed acromegaly, a rare disease that causes bones to grow wildly and uncontrollably. Soon his whole body was disfigured as a result. This led to much pain for Tillet as this gentle man was being called names, berated and forced to flee the place he loved so much.
Seeking a new identity to fit his chronic disfigurement, Tillet fled to America where he made a living on his appearance by becoming a professional wrestler, and was dubbed as the "freak ogre of the ring". His villain persona ("the French Angel") was an instant success with the crowds. Perhaps the highlight of his career was on August 1, 1944, when The French Angel defeated Steve "Crusher" Casey for the American Wrestling Association World championship.
He soon became a recluse, although a few people did manage to befriend Tillet, including the businessman Patrick Kelly, whose home in Braintree, Massachusetts Tillet would often visit. There the pair would often play chess together.
Tillet died in 1954 from heart disease at age 51. Bobby Managain, who as Bobby Managoff was a wrestling champ, asked Tillet on his death bed if he could make a plaster cast of his face. Tillet agreed, and Bobby made three masks of his face. Once of which was given to Milo Steinborn, while two ended up with Patrick Kelly. Steinborn donated this mask to the York Barbell Museum years ago. One of the masks sat on Kelly's office desks for years, the other he donated to the International Wrestling Museum in Iowa.
A story exists that, in 1980, 25 years after Tillet's death, Patrick Kelly installed a computerized chess machine which he frequently played against, next to Tillet's mask. One morning, Kelly played against the computer. That morning, the computer deviated from its set program and used a different style of play, including the French 18th Century Opening chess move. On further inspection, Kelly observed that the computer wasn't even plugged in. This supposedly happened on numerous occasions, but only as long as Tillet's mask was nearby. Kelly claims that he had engineers X-ray and check both the mask and the computer, but that nothing unusual was found.
One 'Death Mask' of Maurice Tillet currently resides at the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame inside the York Barbell Building in York, Pennsylvania. It is on display in the strongman/wrestling section that serves to provide a glimpse into the origins of modern competitive weightlifting and powerlifting.