When a wrestler who had previously worked for WWE passes away, it is customary for the company to play a video tribute on both Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live, one that recaps highlights from the deceased wrestler’s career and also references him or her by name. Announcers also do this as they introduce these video tributes and comment on them after they play. However, things were different with the late Leon White, better known as Vader, who died last month, but only got a graphic detailing his passing, but no video tribute.
As detailed by WrestlingNews.co, Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer reported that the decision was the idea of WWE chairman Vince McMahon, who supposedly asked announcers not to mention Vader’s name on Raw or SmackDown Live. WrestlingNews.co said that this was a “weird” move on WWE’s part, as both “Macho Man” Randy Savage and “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka got video packages and were mentioned on air when their deaths were announced; the former was not in WWE’s good graces at the time of his death and was only inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame four years after his passing, while the latter faced murder allegations stemming from a 1983 case shortly before he died.
It’s still not clear why WWE chose not to reference Vader’s name on air after news of his death broke. As noted by WrestlingNews.co, announcer Lance Russell got similar treatment from WWE after his death, but his case was ultimately different, as he had never actually worked for the company. That wasn’t the case with WCW and WWE veteran Vader, as WWE has owned WCW footage since buying out its old rival in 2001. Furthermore, the legendary super-heavyweight had made appearances for WWE in recent years, as he inducted Stan Hansen into the Hall of Fame in 2016, and competed in a one-off match against Heath Slater in 2012.
News of Vader’s death was first confirmed by his son, former NXT wrestler Jesse White, on June 20, as he explained that his father passed away one month after he was diagnosed with a “severe” case of pneumonia, according to TMZ. His death came three months after he went through open-heart surgery, and less than two years after he took to Twitter to say that doctors diagnosed him with congestive heart failure. Prior to his wrestling career, Vader was an All-American offensive lineman at the University of Colorado and had briefly played for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams before injuries shortened his pro football career.