Leon White, a center who had a brief career for the Rams but was better known as the professional wrestler Big Van Vader, has died at the age of 63.
“It is with a heavy heart to inform everyone that my father, Leon White, passed away on Monday night (6/18/18) at approximately 7:25pm,” White’s son wrote on Twitter. “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.”
White was a center at Colorado and was selected in the third round of the 1978 NFL draft. But his career with the Rams never got off the ground because of a bad knee. After retiring from football, however, a wrestling promoter was impressed by his size, strength and athleticism and offered him a job.
“The promoter knew who I was and decided to give me a chance,” White recalled in 2005. “Six months later, I was fighting for a world title.”
White started off in the American Wrestling Association as Baby Bull, then began going by Big Van Vader in New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1987. He later wrestled in World Championship Wrestling, and the World Wrestling Federation, among other pro wrestling circuits. He faced the likes of Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan in his wrestling career.
In recent years White had a number of health problems, including congestive heart failure, and he said in 2016 that he had been told he only had a couple years to live.