Vader Has Died at the Age of 63

Leon White, known to the wrestling world as Vader or Big Van Vader died on June 18, 2018 at the age of 63. The news was announced earlier today on Twitter by his son.

The announcement stated: “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. 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.”

White was told by doctors last year that due to a heart condition, he had less than two years to live. He underwent open-heart surgery in March.

Born May 14, 1955 in Lynwood, CA, White was raised in Compton, CA and attended Bell High School where he wrestled, did shot put, and was a football star. After high school he attended the University of Colorado where he was a two-time All American. A predicted first round selection, a torn patella tendon three weeks before the draft knocked him to the third round of the 1978 NFL Draft where he was selected by the Los Angeles Rams. In his rookie season he played in Super Bowl XIV against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In his third year in the NFL he ruptured his tendon again, ending his football career. While at the gym, someone suggested to White that he get into pro-wrestling. He began training with Brad Rheingans, and began wrestling for the AWA in 1985 under his real name. He would later wrestle as Baby Bull and Bull Power in the AWA.

In 1987 he signed to All Japan, but his contract was traded to New Japan. It was in New Japan where he was given the name Big Van Vader and began to wear a mask. In 1989 Vader became the first non-Japanese wrestler to hold the IWGP Heavyweight title when he defeated Shinya Hashimoto in the finals of a tournament.

At an AJPW versus NJPW supercard show in February 1990, Stan Hansen accidentally broke Vader’s nose with the bullrope before Vader entered the ring. Then during an exchange of punches, Hansen accidentally poked Vader’s left eye with his thumb, causing the eye to come out of its socket. Vader removed his mask, pushed the eye back into its socket, held it in place with his eyelid, and finished the match.

While IWGP Champion, he was brought into WCW and made his debut with the company on July 7, 1990. In WCW he would win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship three times and the United States Championship once.

He debuted with WWF in the 1996 Royal Rumble, and was eliminated by Shawn Michaels. His time in WWF was brief, and in 1998 he joined All Japan Pro Wrestling. On March 6, 1999 he won the Triple Crown Title, defeating Akira Taue for the vacant title.

Throughout the 2000s Vader would work for various companies, including NOAH, TNA, WWE, and All Japan. He continued to wrestle throughout 2017.

Last July it was announced a documentary was being made on Leon White’s life, titled Two Years to Live: Big Van Vader. No release date has been announced but a trailer has been posted on YouTube.

Select Championships

All Japan Pro Wrestling
Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
Champion Carnival (1999)

Catch Wrestling Association
CWA Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship
CWA World Heavyweight Championship (3 times)

New Japan Pro-Wrestling
IWGP Heavyweight Championship (3 times)
IWGP Tag Team Championship (with Bam Bam Bigelow)

Pro Wrestling Illustrated
Wrestler of the Year (1993)

Pro Wrestling Noah
GHC Tag Team Championship (with Scorpio)

Tokyo Sports
Best Tag Team Award (with Stan Hansen) (1998)

World Championship Wrestling
WCW United States Heavyweight Championship
WCW World Heavyweight Championship (3 times)

Wrestling Observer Newsletter
Wrestler of the Year (1993)
Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996)

About the Author

Steve Bryant
Fan of Godzilla.