Leon White, one of the most recognizable figures in the world of professional wrestling, died Monday at his home in Colorado at the age of 63. The big man known for his character, “Big Van Vader,” built a long-standing career inside the ring over the past 30 years, most notably with World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment.
White suffered from numerous health complications since being diagnosed with congestive heart failure two years ago, and underwent open-heart surgery in March. He was said to be recovering from the procedure, but was also battling a severe case of pneumonia as of late.
The 6-foot-4 and 275-pound offensive lineman was a two time All-American at CU from 1973-77. He was a starter at left tackle for coach Bill Mallory, who helped guide the Buffs to a Big Eight title during the 1976 season.
According to CU athletics, “White lettered at three different positions on the offensive line: guard (1973-75), tackle (1975-76) and center (1977), and is believed to be the only player in Big Eight history to have done so at all three O-line spots. He started at least one game in each season, the only known player to this day in CU history to start games in five different years.”
White went on to be a third-round pick in the 1978 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams and played in Super Bowl XIV against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980. Unfortunately, his football career was cut short due to a knee injury after two seasons in Los Angeles.
Vader in his college football days at Colorado, 1975.— Denny Burkholder (@DennyBurkholder) June 20, 2018
He was a top-ranked prospect at center heading into the '78 NFL Draft but a knee injury suffered while jogging caused him to fall to the Rams in the 3rd round. pic.twitter.com/5uVqimlWNh
White’s focus turned to wrestling in the 1980’s with brief appearances in the American Wrestling Association and New Japan Pro-Wrestling as a 400-pound super heavyweight. It wasn’t until the mid-1990’s, during the clashes between WCW & WWF, that “Vader” would become a household name within both organizations. An original product of WCW starting in 1990, he made the jump to Vince McMahon’s now WWE shortly before the brand’s growth years in 1996.
White’s popularity sweltered in the 1990s with guest appearances on television shows such as ‘Baywatch’ and ‘Boy Meets World’. He was even cast in ‘Fist of the North Star’, based on the Japanese manga series written by Buronson.
Over the course of his career, “Vader,” was a 27-time World Champion in fourteen different international wrestling circuits with his last appearance coming in April 2017. White participated in a 45-year celebration of “Dradition” in Toyko, where he collapsed after being dropped on his head during a match. Although the longtime Colorado resident had yet to be inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame, he’s likely to receive the honor posthumously.