We are saddened to report the loss of a truly great pro wrestling legend, Big Van Vader (real name: Leon Allen White), whose iconic career spanned the globe over and reinvented what it meant to be a “big man” wrestling in the industry.
The announcement was made via Twitter late Wednesday morning, by White’s son Jesse stating, “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 grew up in Compton, CA the son of a U.S. Marine, and went on to become a multi-sport athlete in high school, competing in track and field and wrestling, but truly excelled on the football field. He had his pick of athletic scholarships and ultimately choose to attend the University of Colorado, where he not only graduated with a degree but did so as a two-time All-American athlete.
In 1979 White was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams, returning home to California to play two seasons of professional football including an appearance in SuperBowl XIV, but was unfortunately forced to retire early due to injuries.
White got his start in pro wrestling in the mid-1980s working for Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association, before being picked up by New Japan Pro Wrestling and immediately pushed to the top of the card. In one of the most infamous incidents in puroresu history, Vader’s three-minute squash victory over an already beaten and battered Antonio Inoki – who hadn’t been beaten for two years at the time – caused such a tremendous riot from the Japanese fans that Ryugoku Sumo Hall banned the promotion.
It was around the same time that White was rebranded as Big Van Vader for the first time, working under a black mask that would later become synonymous with his in-ring persona. He would go on to become the first foreign IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history, winning the title three times and establishing himself as one of New Japan’s topmost heels in the late 80s and early 90s. At one point in his early run he actually toured to both Europe and Mexico winning world titles from various promotions, becoming the first man to ever hold three world titles on three separate continents, simultaneously.
Vader signed full-time with WCW in 1992 and wasted very little time feuding with the hottest babyface at the time, Sting, eventually defeating him to become WCW World Heavyweight Champion for the first time. While he had some exposure with the U.S. fans, particularly with the hardcore fans at the time that followed the Japanese wrestling scene, this was when his career really started to take off domestically.
Over the course of his historic career Leon White become one of the most globally decorated wrestlers the world has ever seen, holding AJPW’s Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship (2x), the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (3x) and the WCW World Heavyweight Championship (3x) among many other accolades and accomplishments.
The later part of White’s life was filled with medical issues, as previous injuries and some of his own personal demons began to catch up with him. After divorcing from his wife in 2007 he underwent a double knee replacement surgery, but an infection left him bedridden for nearly six months. No sooner had he gotten back on his feet, White blacked out during a plane ride to Japan and was left in a coma for more than a month.
In 2016 the big man was involved in a car accident, flipping his vehicle twice and according to a shoot interview he later recorded, was lucky to have escaped the crash with his life. While following up with doctors for things related to the accident, it was discovered that White had a congestive heart condition, and was given only two years to live. He underwent heart surgery earlier this year, and after several complications, came down sick with the pneumonia that would eventually take his life.
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. pic.twitter.com/dP4CNaMuXa
— Big Van Vader (@itsvadertime) June 20, 2018
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