Leon “Big Van Vader” White died on Monday, June 18, after a two-year battle with congestive heart failure. He was 63.
The WWE legend’s son, Jessie “Jake Carter” White, announced the news “with a heavy heart” on his father’s Twitter account on Wednesday, June 20. Carter, 32, tweeted, “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.”
Before becoming a professional wrestler, Vader had a brief career in football. He was drafted as a center by the Los Angeles Rams in 1978. During his second season, he played against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. He was forced to retire from the NFL soon after due to a ruptured patella.
The athlete began his wrestling career in 1985 as part of the American Wrestling Association. He joined New Japan Pro-Wrestling two years later before returning to the U.S. to sign with World Championship Wrestling in 1990. He went on to become a three-time WCW world heavyweight champion.
Vader made his WWE debut in 1996. He famously feuded with fellow superstars including Michael “Shawn Michaels” Hickenbottom and Mark “The Undertaker” Calaway. He continued to wrestle in the years that followed, and even had a match as recently as 2016 in the U.K. He also found success on TV with a guest role on Boy Meets World.
The wrestler announced in November 2016 that two doctors had given him two years to live. He tweeted at the time, “My heart is wore out from footbal [sic] &wrestling.” He underwent open heart surgery this March.
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