The man they called Vader left a mark on professional wrestling, and will be remembered for everything he did.
One of the absolute best big men to ever step foot in a pro wrestling ring has died. On Wednesday, Jesse White, son of wrestling legend Vader, confirmed via his dad’s Twitter account that his dad passed away on Monday evening.
Vader had been sick for some time and had even mentioned that he was on borrowed time. You’ll find plenty of news articles reporting his passing, this is simply a reflection of what Leon White, Big Van Vader, contributed to the ring and to wrestling fans across generations.
In his early WCW days, he was known as a lethal monster. There were often times when lower card guys or local enhancement talent would see their name across from his and run out the back door like they were escaping prison. What sane human would want to be across the ring from a guy that marched into the ring wearing a giant elephant mask, and could perform a 450-pound moonsault like it was nothing?
Hyperbole aside, Vader was huge. He had matches in WCW with the likes of Sting and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair for the World Heavyweight Championship. He also feuded with Hulk Hogan, when Hogan jumped ship to WCW in 1994. He was near the top of the company for his entire career.
He was one of the most feared superstars in wrestling during his time. Whether he was in Japan, WCW, or even WWE, few were able to stand up to the hard-hitting level he set. This was the same guy that ripped off Mick Foley’s ear in 1993, something that seemed straight out of a horror movie.
In 1996, he shocked a lot of people when he made the move from WCW to what was then known as the WWF. The first thing he did was attack the on-screen president at the time, Gorilla Monsoon. He let it be known from his first day at a new job that he owned the place and nobody would stand in his way.
It wasn’t until after his career that we saw another side of Vader, his true side. As huge as he was in the ring, as menacing and devilish, his heart matched in every way. We got to see the lighter side of a man that scared us all as kids, one who happily reflected with fans and spoke about his career. On social media, he was quick to give thanks to those who followed along and would interact with them on a regular basis.
One of the baddest dudes in wrestling history had turned out to be a guy we wanted to spend time with, not run out that back door away from.
To Vader, it was a pleasure growing up watching you. Thanks for the memories.