“It’s time! It’s time! It’s Vader time!” In the 90s, there was rarely a more visceral opening to an entrance than Vader’s WWE entrance. He was one of the toughest guys in wrestling history, known for his temper as well as his gentleness outside the ring. Two years ago today (June 18, 2018) he passed away from pneumonia, making this day in wrestling history his as we remember Big Van Vader.
A super heavyweight is born
Following a two year stint in the NFL (Los Angeles Rams 1978-79), Leon White was spotted in a gym by someone that recognized him from his college football days. He mentioned that Leon should look into professional wrestling, which eventually led to his first exposure in the AWA (American Wrestling Alliance) where he wrestled as Baby Bull, and later the Power Bull.
Over the years, he developed into one of the best super heavyweights in history, as at 450 lbs he was agile enough to use his Vader Bomb, where he’d bounce off the middle rope in the corner and hit his opponent with a splash, or his moonsault off the top rope called the Vader Sault. The latter was mainly used by smaller wrestlers as it requires a great amount of agility that larger athletes often don’t have or aren’t believed to be capable of such moves.
All of this led to him having some epic feuds with Sting and Dusty Rhodes, but one of the things he’s most noted for was having one of his eyes literally knocked out of his head during a match with Stan Hansen and he simply put it back in and continued to wrestle. He talked about it with That Wrestling Channel here.
This became a staple of his style and it helped push him to epic level status where he challenged and won various major championships.
For all his physical abilities, his size and style of wrestling started to catch up with Vader over the years as he suffered a bad wound infection following a double knee replacement that kept him bedridden for six months. Shortly after that, he was traveling to Japan for an autograph signing when he passed out. This resulted in a coma for thirty-three days.
In 2016, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He saw two heart doctors, and the consensus was given two years to live. Not satisfied, he sought another opinion and it was more optimistic.
In typical Vader fashion, in an interview with Go Pro Wrestling in February 23, 2017 (special thanks to @awrestlinghistorian, he said:
“If I’m supposed to die, so be it. I lived a Hell of a life. I really have. I’ve been around the world. I never missed a meal. I was an All American in college. I played in the Super Bowl. Wrestled in Madison Square Garden. Twenty plus titles around the globe. I’ve had a cold beer everywhere after a match. It’s been a ball. I’ve never been afraid to live and damned if I’m afraid to die.”
Following a pair of heart surgeries beginning in March 2018, he was hospitalized for a month before passing away from pneumonia at sixty-three years old.
It always hurts to see another favorite leave us, but Leon White will always be remembered for his Vader character and his son is running an Instagram account in tribute to him.
He made this day in history his through his ability and drive, and he’ll be missed.
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