Remembrances continue to pour in for Leon “Big Van Vader” White after his son informed the world the wrestling legend had died this past Monday (June 18).
Because Vader’s career was relatively recent and spanned so many years and companies/countries, he touched a lot of lives as both a performer, co-worker and friend. Here are a couple remembrances and farewells which came a little after the initial flood of thoughts on his passing, and which come from titans of the business who worked closely with him in his 90s heyday.
Hulk Hogan was interviewed by Bill Apter and said:
“Well, number one, it’s a sad day in the wrestling world when someone as talented and as big of a star as Leon, Vader passes away. He was not only a star domestically, but internationally - he had appeal that went around the world- it was a great loss today. Such a great human being and such a great wrestling star passed away.
... he was nothing but respect, nothing but kind, never had a bad word to say to anybody I was ever around. He had a great sense of humor, and he was such a kind and nice man.
I enjoyed working with him, and even though he was really snug in the ring, and he would really lay it in and he’d ring your bell, he never hurt you. He made sure that you were tough enough to stick with him, but he would never - I would never go out of the ring and go ‘Oh my God, he hurt me so bad. I can’t wrestle again!’
He made it fun to have that type of heavy handed, heavy artillery connection in there. But it made you really felt like you were in a war, so you were proud when you would come out of the ring from working with him. He was the consummate professional.”
Sting tweeted a short but sweet message about his friend:
Loved working with Leon, loved the friendship I had with him for many years, and especially these last 8 months of his life. He will truly be missed. pic.twitter.com/32cWMdH2yX— Sting (@Sting) June 20, 2018
And Mick Foley, who posted to Twitter shortly after the news broke, followed up with a longer Facebook post:
“REMEMBERING LEON WHITE
I was preparing to fly out to Denver for an episode of Monday Night Raw in October, 2016 when my wife called to tell me that Leon White had left a few messages on my answering machine. I figured he must have wanted to get together while WWE was in town, and got on my flight, thinking I would catch up with him the next day – that we would grab lunch before the show, or he could come backstage and hang out with some of the guys. But that next day, my wife asked me again to call him, telling me of the urgency in his voice, and how it seemed very important.
As it turned out, Leon wasn’t calling me to have lunch, catch up, or to hang out backstage. He was calling me as a friend, telling me that he had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and had been given two years to live.
On Monday night, one year and eight months after telling me of his diagnosis, Leon White passed away, leaving behind him a loving son, a legacy as one of the very best big men to ever grace the ring (the very best, in my opinion) and a great mystery as to why one of the biggest drawing cards of his era has yet to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
No matter how many times I talked with Leon, the conversation would eventually turn to the Hall of Fame, and I would constantly tell him that no one or no thing, not even his absence from the WWE Hall of Fame could take away from what he had accomplished around the world. He was quite simply one of the biggest stars our business has ever known. He worked hard. He worked injured. He brought out the very best in so many people he faced – including me. On a worldwide basis he was so much bigger and meant so much more to our business than so many people who have gone on to receive far more accolades - including me, including just about everyone.
A few years ago, I was honored to be asked by Leon to write the forward for his book. I did my very best to come up with something that was worthy of the man and his body of outstanding work. I said a lot of the things I really felt needed to be said at that time – and probably need to be repeated now, more than ever.
FOREWARD: by Mick Foley
I had a unique problem in the spring of 1993 for which there was really only one solution. I had become a babyface - a good guy for Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW) - a few months earlier, and things were going fairly well with one exception; it was difficult for me to get sympathy from the fans. As a heel, a bad guy, I’d been portrayed as a guy who thrived on pain, maybe even liked it - which helped create a very interesting wrestling villain persona. It did not, however, make for a terribly sympathetic portrait as a good guy.
I requested a meeting with WCW booker Dusty Rhodes, and together we came up with a plan to combat the sympathy problem. Quite simply, I would wrestle Vader. Two matches, twenty stitches, a broken nose, and a memorable ambulance ride later, my sympathy problem was a thing of the past. Vader had cured it.
It was almost impossible not to feel a sense of sympathy for an opponent of Leon White during his career as Vader. To me, he was the most believable, most talented “monster” wrestler of his generation. No one was better at being the immovable object, that inpenetrable wall than Leon White. Eventually - if you worked hard enough, and if it was in the interest of doing business - the object would move and the wall would crumble in spectacular fashion. But if you were his opponent, he’d make damn sure that you were the very best irresistible force you could possibly be - or he’d eat you alive. The price you paid to be the best you could be against Vader was high - but the rewards for going places you didn’t know you could go, until he helped you get there, were even higher.
Every year fans wonder if Leon and White will finally be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and every year, most of those HOF slots are filled by wrestlers who didn’t draw a fraction of the money, or contribute to the wrestling business on nearly the level that Leon White/Vader did. I’m not belittling the importance of the WWE Hall of Fame. Indeed, being inducted was one of the personal highlights of my career. But the selection process is more than a little subjective in nature. In the event that he continues to be overlooked, let me put forth my criteria for which Leon White should not only be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, but be considered one of the greatest, most influential wrestlers of his generation.
1) He drew more money, with a wider variety of opponents, for different promotions, on a global basis, than just about any of his contemporaries. Basically, until WWE tried to fix something that wasn’t broken, Vader was money everywhere he went.
2) He brought out the best in his opponents. Vader “paid it forward” by bringing out the very best in some of the greatest stars of his time, and of all time.
3) His matches stand the test of time. No matter what trends the business may go through, Vader’s believable brawling, combined with his impressive athleticism will never go out of style.
4) He was able to turn a 6’4, 300 pound maniac with a love for pain into a sympathetic underdog.
Who’s the man? Leon White was, and always will be. Rest in peace, my friend.”