It is never pleasant to write about saying goodbye like this, but with sadness, it was announced that former pro wrestler Leon “Vader” White passed away at the age of 63 due to complications from recent heart surgery and health issues in recent times.
Vader was easily one of the biggest “bad guys” in the business back in the 1990s. Both figuratively and literally. Being billed as around 450 pounds when he came along, no one had ever seen a man of his size move like he did.
Leon got started in sports going back to the late 70’s when he was drafted by the L.A. Rams to play football, even playing in the Superbowl one year. Football didn’t last and he was brought into the world of pro wrestling. He was first noticed in the mid-80s, working for the Minnesota based AWA where he wrestled as “Baby Bull” Leon White. Looking back on those days, there were signs he could be bigger on the card, but as a rookie, in a place that valued an Amateur style wrestling (Company owner Verne Gagne was a former Olympian level amateur.) He was nothing more than an impressive rookie who had a whole future ahead of him.
It was in 1987 where he left AWA wrestling and ventured over to Japan where he was given the mask and outfit he was mostly known for and became “Big Van Vader”. He made a HUGE name for himself with the character and even began feuding with Japan’s top dog at the time Antonio Inoki. Those matched gained a big following in the press as many of the magazines of the time heralded this new man in Japan that was crushing the competition and taking the famed Inoki to his limits. After Inoki, he was still putting on incredible matches, including an infamous match with Stan “The Lariat” Hanson in which his eye was popped out of its socket, yet still completed the match
Soon after he began making American appearances for Ted Turner owned WCW where he was cast once again as a bad guy mowing over the competition in 1990. He was briefly made into a good guy as a mystery partner for Lex Luger against The Big Cat and The Motor City Madman in a match on Television, but that run did not last.
In the Early 90s, he became a big hit in the international world as at one time he held world titles from Japan, Mexico, and Germany at the same time! Soon after he started spending more time in the United States as soon became WCW’s top bad guy facing off against the likes of Sting, Ron Simmons, and a young Dustin Rhodes becoming the champion there while being managed by former champion Harley Race. His run with the company ended after Hulk Hogan arrived and the spotlight was shifted away from the big man.
He soon entered Vince McMahon’s WWF and was immediately cast into a role as a major bad guy again, debuting on TV during the 1996 Royal Rumble event in January and was feuding with then star and champion Shawn Michaels. Stories have it that Vader was to become champion there too, but backstage politics with Michaels grounded that plan. Vader, however, would spend the next few years feuding with Mick Foley (who in WCW lost part of an ear in a match with Vader) and The Undertaker and even becoming a good guy by the tail end of 1997
After his time with the WWF had ended his time in the Television spotlight began to wind down. He still competed in both the United States and Japan, winning titles in both.
In more recent years, he was considered more of the legend he was as he still made appearances for the now WWE and even other companies like TNA. His last big match that gained attention from fans was against English junior heavyweight Will Ospreay stemming from an online feud over how matches “should be” done.
Since then he announced that he was suffering from major heart issues and would probably not live much longer. He recently underwent massive open heart surgery and it was thought his health was improving until his son reported that Vader had suffered from Pneumonia in recent days and his health had declined. It was then announced by his son he passed away the morning of June 20th.
It is with much sadness that I thank Leon White for all the years and all the action he provided through the many stages of his career. His work provided many memories for me as well.
Be well Bull Power. May it always be VADER TIME!