One of the most feared monsters of the squared circle has fallen. Vader, a wrestling legend who found fame in WCW, and WWE, passed away due to pneumonia after a two-year battle with congestive heart failure. He was 63.
“It is with a heavy heart to inform everyone that my father, Leon White, passed away on Monday night (6/18/18) at approximately 7:25pm,” Jesse White, the son of Vader, tweeted through the official Vader Twitter account on June 20. Vader had been dealing with congestive heart failure for years and according to Jesse, his time had finally come. “Around a month ago my father was diagnosed with a severe case of Pneumonia. He fought extremely hard and clinically was making progress. Unfortunately, on Monday night his heart had enough and it was his time.”
Leon – who also competed in the ring under the name Big Van Vader – eerily predicted this day back in November 2016. “Told by two heart doctors at this time that my heart is [worn] out from football and wrestling. I have two years to live. Congestive heart failure [is a] reality.” Vader actually underwent open-heart surgery in March 2018, according to TMZ, and he told the publication that he was “feeling better and looking forward to getting out of the hospital.” He was also reportedly really nice to the publication.
Prior to becoming one of the most celebrated heels (aka villains) in pro-wrestling, Leon white was a football star. He was a nationally ranked offensive center, and the Los Angeles Rams drafted him in 1978. He even played in Super Bowl XIV against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but his NFL career ended due to a ruptured patella. He found success off the gridiron and in the squared circle. After starting out as Baby Bull and Bull Power, he was christened Big Van Vader.
Around a month ago my father was diagnosed with a severe case of Pneumonia. He fought extremely hard and clinically was making progress. Unfortunately, on Monday night his heart had enough and it was his time. pic.twitter.com/hJYjumvxjH
— Big Van Vader (@itsvadertime) June 20, 2018
— Harley Race (@8XNWAChampion) June 20, 2018
From there, Vader wowed audiences with his agility. For being 6’4 and more than 300 pounds, he could pull off moonsaults and giant splashes, moving with such natural agility. In both size, strength, ability and popularity, he was one of the biggest stars in the pro-wrestling world. He competed in the WWE from 1996 to 1998 — feuding with Superstars like Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker and Kane — but he’s primarily known for his run in WCW. His feuds with wrestlers like Sting, Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) and Dusty Rhodes are the stuff of pro-wrestling legend. In fact, Cactus Jack was wrestling Vader during that now-infamous match in March 1994 that saw Cactus’s ear ripped off the side of his head. Though this was an accident, it amplified Vader’s reputation as a brute between the ropes (though is reputation outside of the ring, save for a few feuds, seemed to be the opposite.)
During his career, he was the All Japan Pro Wrestling Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship twice, a three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, a IWGP Tag Team champion with the late Bam Bam Bigelow and a 3-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Vader also crossed over into television, having notable appearances on television shows like Boy Meets World and Baywatch.
Our thoughts are with Vader’s family, friends and fans during this time of loss.