According to his official Twitter account, legendary wrestler Leon “Big Van Vader” White died on Mon., June 18. Posts from his son Jesse point to heart failure while recovering from pneumonia. Vader 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. 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
The WWE, WCW, All Japan and New Japan star had been documenting ongoing heart and other health issues via social media for years, including Nov. 2016 messages saying doctors told him he only had two years to live due to congestive heart failure. He walked back that prognosis after meeting with other medical professionals, but was undergoing surgeries and treatments while stating a desire to continue wrestling.
White rose to fame in Japan during the late 1980s. He won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in a tournament shortly after joining NJPW, becoming the first gaijin (non-Japanese person) to hold that belt. At one point in 1989, he held world heavyweight belts in Japan, Europe and Mexico simultaneously. One of his biggest rivalries later produced one of the most famous stories in wrestling, when during a match with AJPW’s Stan Hansen Vader’s left eye was popped out of its socket. He removed his famous mask, pushed the eye back into place, and continued to wrestle until the bout was ruled a no contest.
It was after that Feb. 1990 match that WCW signed him, and he began working there while continuing in New Japan, where he was also part of the popular “Big, Bad, Dangerous” tag team with Bam Bam Bigelow. Upon starting full time for WCW, he quickly rose to the top of the main event scene, featuring in feuds with Sting and Ron Simmons involving their World Title. His run with the company lasted until 1996, and included working with names like Mick Foley (as Cactus Jack), Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan.
He would sign with Vince McMahon’s WWF, where he debuted as “The Man They Call Vader”. His first appearance was at the ‘96 Royal Rumble where he was eliminated by Shawn Michaels but returned to the match to wreck shop. He continued assaulting the roster in an angle that led to a kayfabe suspension for assaulting storyline federation president Gorilla Monsoon - which was actually cover for shoulder surgery. During his short two year run with the company, Vader was managed by Jim Cornette and Paul Bearer, while working programs against Yokozuna, Undertaker, Foley (as Mankind), Goldust and Kane.
He would return to Japan and work for AJPW and NOAH, primarily in tag teams, as injuries which had been a constant theme of his career began to take their toll. In 2003 he had a quick stop in TNA and spent the rest of his life bouncing around WWE, Japan and the indies - including a ‘reality’ era feud with Will Ospreay which returned him to the wrestling conversation in 2016. Vader was also famous in the pop culture world for 90’s appearances as his wrestling character on the popular shows Boy Meets World and Baywatch.
On behalf of the entire Cageside Seats community, we extend our condolences to White’s family and friends.