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World's Tallest Woman Sandy Allen

Sandy Allen, the tallest woman in the world, was also one of the kindest and funniest.

I last spoke to Sandy on New Year's Eve 2001. She was in an Indianapolis hospital recovering from a variety of ailments. When you're a 7-foot, 7 1/4-inch giantess, you're almost always recovering from a variety of ailments.

'Life's Short, I'm Not'

The average human simply isn't designed to be Sandy's size. The Indiana native was born a healthy, 6-lb., 5-oz. baby. But a tumor on her pituitary gland triggered rapid growth, and by her 10th birthday she was more than six feet tall, towering over her teacher.

"Life's short, I'm not," she told me. It's a remark she made in nearly every interview, and it's incredibly optimistic, given that most giants live profoundly short and unhappy lives.

Sandy was 46 years old on the night we spoke --and already she had outlived most people who suffer from "acromegaly," commonly known as "giant's disease." The Guinness-certified world's tallest man, 8-foot, 11-inch Robert Wadlow, died at 22. The tallest woman, 8-foot, 2-inch Zeng Jinlian of China, was just 17.

At that point, Sandy hadn't stood up in almost a year, struggling with atrophied muscles, back ailments and a severe bladder infection. And like everyone else in 2001, the World Trade Center bombing had freaked her out, caused her to look deep into her heart.

"Don't laugh," she told me, "But I have high hopes." And that's a pretty good punchline when you're the world's tallest woman.

Leaving the 'Glorified Freak Show' Behind

Allen will soon be buried in a custom-made casket, and will occupy four adjacent plots at a cemetery near her Shelbyville, Ind., home. And as the world says goodbye to her, I offer these highlights from my 2001 interview with her.

Sandy talks about the struggles of being so excessively tall, her stint in what she called "glorified freak shows," a meeting with Michael Jackson, who had become obsessed with her, appearing in Fellini's Casanova, and having Howard Stern hound her about her sex life.

Buck: I guess my first question is this . . . What's the single most frequent question you get asked?

Sandy: My shoe size. I wear a size-22. And don't even think about getting ice skates.

Buck: You performed in sideshows when you were younger. And now, the only public events you do are for children. How come?

Sandy: The most satisfying thing I've ever done is assembly presentations fro elementary school children. I do a program called, "It's OK to Be Different."

Being who I am, looking the way I look, I can get through to people. I feel I have a duty to help others who stare up to the sky and say, "Why me, lord?'"

Buck: I read a story where you complained that you once got stuck in a tub. for several hours What other day-to-day problems do you encounter because of your size?

Sandy: It was more than once I got stuck in a tub. Let's face it, I weigh more than 400-lbs.But I've got a lot of problems. Shower heads hit me in the bellybutton.

Just try washing dishes when the sink only comes up to your thigh. Try finding a pair of panty hose that fit. A lot of women complain they don't have a thing to wear. Those women should talk to me.

Buck: I can only imagine what it was like for you growing up.

Sandy: By the sixth grade, I was 6 1/2 feet tall, and I was towered over my teacher. We had a graduation party at a skating ring and I was the only kid who couldn't participate. My feet were too big to rent skates. I just wanted to be like other girls.

They called me a beanpole, a monster, a freak. And that's what they said to my face. I could only imagine what they said behind my back. I try not to have anger. But I give it to them back when I need to. I've learned to pity mean people.

You can laugh off some of those jokes. But how many times do you want to hear, "How's the weather up there?" Especially, if they are being mean about it. Sometimes you want to spit on those people and say, "It's raining."

Buck: In 1976, Guinness recognized you as the world's tallest living woman. How'd that change your life?

Sandy: Suddenly, my height became an asset. I was getting invitations everywhere. I figured why not go on TV and make some money? I've been on Oprah, Leeza Gibbons, Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, even Howard Stern.

Most of the time people were nice, and I got to travel the world.

Buck: Working on an Oscar-winning Fellini film must have been a high point. But it's a pretty provocative role. I've never seen it, but I understand you play an arm-wrestling giantess. And in one of the most famous scenes, you take a bath with two dwarves.

Sandy: I was definitely proud of what I did and to be a part of a critically acclaimed filmmaker's work. When it played in Shelbyville, I was the toast of the town.

Buck: Tell me about your meeting with Michael Jackson. I understand it was back in the '80s, when he was at the height of his fame.

Sandy: I was working at a Guinness exhibit in San Francisco. This young black man came up to her one evening and introduced himself as Michael Jackson. Of course, I didn't believe him. '"Yeah sure," I said to him. "And I'm the next president of the United States."

But it turns out, he really was Michael Jackson. He came back the next day with autographed copies of his albums and I sent him an autographed copy of the Guinness Book of World Records. I was truly impressed with his humble kindness.I still can't believe he sought me out.

Buck: With every high point there's a low point.

Sandy: Working Niagara Falls wasn't too much fun. Tourists paid a few bucks to take a picture with me. That grew old fast.

Buck: When you were on the Howard Stern show, he hounded you about your sex life, and got you to admit you've never had a boyfriend.

Sandy: I don't want to hurt Howard Stern's reputation. But he's actually a nice guy. A little strange, but aren't we all?

Buck: You say in your book, "A man once pursued me for a relationship, but I found out in no time that he was married and he was just curious."

Sandy: Yes, I'm sure there's a man who would marry me. But what man could afford a diamond that would fit on my size-16 ring finger?

Writer's Note: Sandy, of course, was filled with laughter as she talked about the travails of her love life. Ultimately, the ability to forgive the nosiness of others was the biggest part about her.

Additional Note: Sandy was born in Indiana, not Ohio, as I earlier reported. Thanks to Rita Rose for correcting my mistake. Risa is the author of the forthcoming, World's Tallest Woman: The Giantess of Shelbyville High (Hawthorne Publishing), due out in October. She and the publisher have established a Sandy Allen Scholarship Fund and welcome contributions.

Rita: I look forward to reading your book. Please let me know when it's available.

Photo © John Kleinman/Cast a Giant Shadow.


August 18, 2008 at 3:54 pm
(1) Nancy L. says:

This is a lovely article. Thanks so much for writing it.

August 18, 2008 at 7:23 pm
(2) weirdnews says:

Nancy, Thanks for the kind words.

August 20, 2008 at 1:03 pm
(3) darlene a says:

sandy was my sister. she had a very hard life. becaus of her family and friends it made life easier for her. it truely saddens me when people refered her as a freak. she is and was NEVER a freak. she hurts just like you and me, she shed tears just like you and me, and she loved like you and me, so please don’t look at her as a freak, look at as someone who wanted to help people with her special gift and her big heart. good bye my wonderful sister. i will truely miss you. your sister darlene

August 20, 2008 at 1:25 pm
(4) weirdnews says:

Thanks so much for commenting on my piece. Sandy was, indeed, a very lovely woman, who tried to use her uniqueness to enrich the world and the lives of children in particular.

August 21, 2008 at 3:21 pm
(5) Mamaleria says:

I have actually followed Sandy’s life (thanks to the learning channel and such). She always struck me as loving, enthusiastic, kind and wise! We can all learn great lessons from her! Everyone has some difficulties to learn to deal with. Perhaps most are not as obvious as hers, so we can pretend that they are not there for others. It is not what we are dealt, but how we chose to deal with it that defines our character. Thank you, Sandy, for sharing your grace and leading the way with your big feet and big heart!

August 21, 2008 at 4:58 pm
(6) weirdnews says:

I know of at least two books on Sandy’s life that are now in the works. I’ll post more when they are closer to publication. Both are being written by people who knew her all her life.

August 28, 2008 at 5:50 am
(7) Rita says:

Sandy was born in Chicago, not Indiana, but she lived with her grandmother in Shelbyville until she graduated high school, then went on to be a secretary. After she got her world record, she started working for Guinness, and the rest is history. My fondest memories of Sandy were when we’d just go tooling around Shelbyville in her van, with her name on the side, and see people’s reactions. Oh yeah, and visit the root beer drive-in (can’t remember the name). We also crashed a short people’s party once when the song SHORT PEOPLE was popular. Sandy was a gift. She had her ups and downs like everyone else, but she always persevered. She just couldn’t beat all the health problems she faced these last few years. But for a giantess, living to 53 was an accomplishment. I miss her.

August 29, 2008 at 2:35 pm
(8) John Kleiman says:

Hello Buck, Thanks for remembering Sandy now and doing the original article. I was her agent and we spoke back then. She really was a remarkable lady…whom I will miss forever. We always try to be prepared to lose loved ones…once again I wasn’t. I am updating “Cast A Giant Shadow” with her “final chapter.” My thoughts and prayers are especially with her brother Michael. Thanks Again, John

August 29, 2008 at 7:04 pm
(9) Buck Wolf says:


Your book on Sandy really did her justice, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about her.

May 25, 2009 at 9:38 pm
(10) Jackie says:

This is the first time i ever herd of this woman sandy. I precive that not only that her height was extrodinary but her personality was also.Her life story surely will impact the lives of many people. Thank you for sharing her story. This was uplifting to my sprit. Jackie

May 25, 2009 at 10:19 pm
(11) Ronnie says:

Your article really was kind and touching thanks for sharing this. I have seen Sandy as well as the tallest man on a local TV station in my area (Michigan) and enjoyed the viewing of both their stories. You are kind and very sweet to have done this hope to read more articles from you.

May 25, 2009 at 11:26 pm
(12) Tim says:

Wish I could have met the Lady as I know what its like to be a bit of an outcast.

August 13, 2009 at 1:33 pm
(13) Rita Rose says:

My book about Sandy, “World’s Tallest Woman: The Giantess of Shelbyville High,” came out last year and is available through my website, http://www.thegiantessbook.com. It’s aimed at teen readers (altho adults can enjoy it too) and focuses on her challenging high school years. She loved to talk to kids, and this book continues the legacy of compassion and acceptance that she left us one year ago today.

October 17, 2009 at 3:46 pm
(14) Tony says:

Darlene, I have just watched a documentary on tv about your sister and other tall people. From what I saw, you had truely a wonderful sister and friend. Her passion for telling children to accept that ‘Its OK to be different’ was very evident, her love of children was also very clear. May she Rest in Peace

January 16, 2011 at 8:20 pm
(15) Amorette says:

Hello. This is my first time hearing about Sandy, but the article was touching and inspirational. It has helped me to deal with something of my own.

Thank you and God Bless..

April 17, 2011 at 12:08 am
(16) jACKIE says:

hi there, i met Sandy when i lived in niagara falls. I was about 10 yrs old and i would go over to her apt and help her clean up. i remember fondly of Sandy i would sit beside her bed and we would talk for hours. She was the nicest women, at first only being 10 i was a bit scared at first but she makes you feel at ease right away with her stories and her jokes, at the time i was going there her brother Mike was staying with her and we all had alot of fun. She will be sadly missed the world will be sad without her.
Jackie Allum

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