Leon White, a former college football All-American and NFL offensive lineman who gained much greater fame as Big Van Vader in various wrestling promotions, including WWE and its now-defunct rival, WCW, died on Monday after a lingering illness. He was 63.
According to a report from WrestlingNews.co, the news was confirmed Wednesday morning on Vader’s official Twitter account, as his son, professional wrestler Jesse White, said that the renowned super-heavyweight grappler died on Monday night at around 7:25 p.m. In a subsequent tweet, Jesse explained that his father passed away about a month after he was diagnosed with severe pneumonia.
“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.”
After a stellar career as an offensive lineman at the University of Colorado, Leon White was picked by the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams in the third round of the 1978 NFL Draft but didn’t enjoy much success in the pros due to injuries. White ventured into professional wrestling in the mid-1980s and soon made his name in the business as Big Van Vader, winning world championships overseas in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and back home in the U.S. in World Championship Wrestling.
Moving on to the company then known as World Wrestling Federation in 1996, White competed under the shortened ring name Vader, and while he never won any world titles, he was still recognized for his unusual agility and athleticism for someone who weighed well over 400 pounds. Still, he was mostly utilized in the upper mid-card during his time with the company and has yet to be inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame, despite the impact he left on the business as one of the top “monster heels” of his era.
Big Van Vader’s death came less than two years after he informed fans via Twitter that doctors had given him two years to live due to congestive heart failure, supposedly as a result of his time as a college and professional football player and pro wrestler, as Bleacher Report had noted in November 2016. Although he did not experience any serious health scares in the year or so that followed, he underwent heart surgery in March and was hospitalized a month later with pneumonia, according to a report from the Daily Star. It’s not clear at the moment whether this was the same bout with pneumonia Jesse White referred to when he confirmed his father’s passing.
Additionally, Big Van Vader tweeted last month that he went under the knife once again in May, in order to put his heart “in normal sinus rhythm,” and while he described that operation as a success, that was the last time he himself had posted any health-related statuses on social media.