Maurice Tillet (October 23, 1903 – September 4, 1954) was a Russian-born French professional wrestler, better known by his ring name, The French Angel. Tillet was a leading box office draw in the early 1940s and was twice recognized world heavyweight champion by the American Wrestling Association run by Paul Bowser in Boston.
Tillet was born in 1903 in the Ural Mountains in Russia to French parents. His mother was a teacher and his father was a railroad engineer. Tillet’s father died when he was young. As a child he had a completely normal appearance and Tillet was nicknamed “The Angel” due to his angelic face. In 1917, Tillet and his mother left Russia due to the Revolution and moved to France, where they settled in Reims. When Tillet was 17, he noticed swelling in his feet, hands, and head, and after visiting a doctor was diagnosed with acromegaly – a condition usually caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland, resulting in bone overgrowth and thickening. He had wanted to become a lawyer, but his acromegaly prevented him from doing so. Tillet served in the French Navy for five years as an engineer.
Professional wrestling career
In February 1937, Tillet met Karl Pojello in Singapore. Pojello was a professional wrestler, and convinced Tillet to enter the business. Tillet and Pojello moved to Paris for training, and Tillet wrestled for two years in France and England until World War II forced them to leave for the United States in 1939. In Boston, Massachusetts, in 1940, promoter Paul Bowser pushed Tillet, who was wrestling as The French Angel, as a main eventer, and he became a large draw in the area. As a result of his popularity, Tillet was booked as unstoppable, going undefeated for a span of 19 consecutive months. Tillet won the Boston-version of the World Heavyweight Championship in May 1940, holding it until May 1942. In early 1942, he also held the Montreal-based world heavyweight championship. He regained the Boston-based title for a short time in 1944. As a result of his success, several Angel imitators emerged, including the Tony Angelo (Russian Angel), Super Swedish Angel, Jack Rush (Canadian Angel), Wladislaw Tulin (Polish Angel), Stan Pinto (Czech Angel), Clive Welsh (Irish Angel), Jack Falk (Golden Angel), Gil Guerrero (Black Angel), and Jean Noble (Lady Angel). Tillet competed against Tor Johnson billed as The Swedish Angel on several occasions. By 1945, Tillet’s health began to fail and he was no longer booked as unstoppable. In his final wrestling match, in Singapore on February 14, 1953, he lost to Bert Assirati. In 1950, Chicago sculptor Louis Linck befriended Tillet and made a series of plaster busts commemorating him for his wrestling career. One of the busts is in Chicago’s International Museum of Surgical Science.
Tillet died on September 4, 1954, in France, from heart disease. Tillet is buried at Lithuanian National Cemetery in Justice, Illinois in Cook County, Illinois, 20 miles from Chicago.