Igor Vovkovinskiy, a Ukrainian-born man who was declared America’s tallest person about a decade ago, has died in Minnesota, his family confirmed over the weekend.
He was 38.
Standing at 7 feet, 8.33 inches, Vovkovinskiy faced a series of health challenges throughout his life and died from heart disease Friday night at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., according to a Facebook post by his mother, Svetlana Vovkovinska.
It was at that same Mayo Clinic that Vovkovinskiy sought medical treatment after flying with his family from Ukraine in 1989. At the time, he was only 6 years old — and already 6 feet tall.
In this Sept. 12, 2009 file photo, Igor Vovkovinskiy, 27, of Rochester, Minn, standing 7-feet and 8-inches tall, listens to President Barack Obama, not pictured, during a health insurance reform rally in Minneapolis.
His unusual height was the result of a tumor pressing on his pituitary gland, causing it to release abnormal amounts of growth hormone.
The family ended up staying in Rochester and Vovkovinskiy would eventually make international headlines because of his height.
He was 27 years old when a Guinness World Records adjudicator officially declared him the tallest living person in the U.S. during an appearance on “The Dr. Oz Show” in New York. He overtook George Bell, a Virginia sheriff’s deputy who was just one-third of an inch shorter.
In 2009, President Barack Obama spotted him in a campaign rally wearing a shirt that read, “World’s Biggest Obama Supporter,” and later shook hands with him.
Vovkovinskiy also appeared in the movie “Hall Pass” with Jason Sudeikis in 2011 and later carried Ukrainian contestant Zlata Ognevich onstage during the Eurovision Song Contest.
In 2012, he launched a fundraising campaign to buy shoes that could fit him comfortably after undergoing more than a dozen foot surgeries because of his podiatric problems. The size 24, 10E shoes would have cost him about $16,000, but Reebok heard about the fundraiser and decided to give three custom-made pairs for free.
He said the sneakers had changed his life.
“Wow!” he told the Rochester Post-Bulletin at the time. “It feels so good, like I’m walking on pillows or mattresses.
“I’m going to be able to go to the store for groceries or the hardware store if I need to fix something at my mom’s house,” he said.
Besides his mother, who is a nurse at Mayo Clinic, Vovkovinskiy is survived by his brother, Oleh Ladan, as well as his niece, nephew and a step-sister, according to an obituary by Ranfranz and Vine Funeral Home. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday.