On June 20th, 2018, Vader passed away. We sadly learned the news of the death of Leon White, better known to fans as Big Van Vader, through his son on Twitter. Despite a seemingly successful heart surgery on May 8th, 2018, Vader’s son reported the following update on his father’s Twitter account: “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.”
Vader died Monday, June 18th, 2018 at the age of 63. He leaves behind a legacy of being one of the greatest big men ever to step foot in the ring.
Those who knew him personally would say that Vader was a kind-hearted and sensitive man. Mick Foley once wrote in his highly recommended book ‘Have a Nice Day‘:
“Guys were terrified of [Vader]. His style was the stiffest in all wrestling.
Some guys have a style that looks like they’re hurting guys when they’re not, which is good. Some guys’ stuff looks like crap, but it hurts like hell, which is bad.
Vader left no room for error; his stuff looked like it hurt, and believe me, it did.
Some of the newer guys would actually leave the arena if they saw their name on the board opposite of Vader. Other guys would hide until the evening card was drawn up, and then come out of hiding if Vader wasn’t their opponent.
Really, underneath it all, Vader was a nice, sensitive guy. I even saw him cry in the dressing room after he had paralyzed a young kid named Joe Thurman (Joe recovered the feeling below his waist a few hours later). Still, when the red light turned on, the ’94 Vader’s sensitive side seemed to turn off. He just crushed people.”
He wrestled stiff but was also able to take a beating. This infamous story shows just that!
VADER and Stan Hansen discuss the incident when Vader’s eyeball popped out of its socket during their 1990 Tokyo Dome Super Fight for the IWGP championship
“Yeah, that was a brutal match…
Vader is the real deal. I mean, he’s a huge guy, much bigger than me – at that time even, a hundred pounds more – and he’s a legitimate athlete.
He’s got his own agenda that he’d like to promote…and that’s where the real battle comes in – and it WAS a battle. A lot of people talk about that to this day as one of the most physical battles, and it was.
Just because Vader’s eye was all busted up, doesn’t mean that I wasn’t beat up and bruised…he beat me up pretty good too!
Blind as I am – you know, I wear pretty thick glasses, I can see [only] about to the end of my hand (laughs). I, of course, was close enough that I could see something was wrong but until I saw him later I didn’t really [realize the extent of it].
I was seeing so many stars from him hitting me that I wasn’t really concerned about his eye…” (laughs)
VADER (Leon White):
“A lot of people said, ‘You’re crazy, you should have stepped out of the ring…’ But it never crossed my mind not to [finish the match].
When I was approaching the ring – Stan had entered the ring first – I took a step forward, and he pushed [Tiger] Hatori aside, took his cowbell and swung over the top of the rope and hit me in the forehead with it and busted my nose. It just shattered.
Man, I couldn’t see, my ears were ringing, and blood was pouring out…
And I stood there like that…I was well out.
When I finally came to, probably about forty-five seconds, I entered the ring, walked up to Stan and hit a big right, right in the ear. And that created the exchange that resulted in Stan thumbing me in the eye.
So, the big fights on, and I’m punching him, I’m drilling him, bam, bam, bam, bam!
He got back in the corner, and I was looking for the right and forgot he was a leftie – he went ‘wham, wham,’ and about the third one, my eye literally came out of the socket, hanging out. The sucker popped right out of my cheek…you couldn’t see it because the mask was on.
So I went, ‘Stan, you popped my eye out, you motherfucker!’ And I pushed it back in.
Everything happened so quickly…it popped out, I shoved it back in and kept fighting.
I really didn’t think that the thumb was necessary.
I lost a great deal of sight in the right eye. And of course, my nose had to be rebuilt entirely.
So you know, a lot of time off work – very costly too. The fight itself, you know, I earned pretty good money…but it ended up costing me.”
Watch the match between Steve Hanson and Big Van Vader (incident happens at 8:10):
SOURCES: In Your Head Online, Dropkick radio, bigvanvader.com, nzpwi.co.nz
If you enjoyed this article, you might like: MICK FOLEY: How He Lost His Ear During a Match
Quotes used in this article originally compiled by Matt Pender and shared here with thanks to our friends over at ‘Wrestling’s Glory Days’ Facebook page.
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