'90s wrestling fans will remember the cries of 'Its Time...Its Time...Its Vader Time' as the near 400-pound 'Mastadon' entered the arena. The man behind the red mask, Leon White, has died from pneumonia at the age of 63 after battling a number of health issues in recent years.
Vader debuted in WWE at the 1996 Royal Rumble, having already established himself as a 'monster heel' in the industry during spells with New Japan Pro Wrestling and WCW. His distinctive style and look caught the attention of fans around the world, as he combined brute physicality with an agility unlike anyone of his size.
Originally coming to fame in Japan as 'Big Van Vader', his legend grew during a match with Stan Hansen in 1990 remembered for one of the most gruesome sights in wrestling history. An accidental eye-poke caused Vader's eye-ball to dislodge from its socket. The big man from the Rocky Mountains chose to push his eye back into place and continued the match for several minutes.
He went on to have huge success in the States when he joined WCW, winning the World Heavyweight Championship and having memorable feuds with Ric Flair and Cactus Jack, AKA Mick Foley. Foley credits Vader with some of the best and most brutal matches of his career, including an infamous match in Germany where Foley lost one of his ears.
His three year run in WWE as 'The Man They Call Vader' never quite reached the heights many expected after his previous success, although he reached a larger global audience feuding with the likes of The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels & Goldust.
Vader's intimidating presence extended beyond the ring in 1997 when he physically threatened a chat show host on live TV during a promotional tour of Kuwait, after taking exception to a question about wrestling being fake. The incident led to White's arrest and he was detained in the country for several days before WWE eventually negotiated his release.
After leaving the company in 1999 he spent the remainder of his career appearing for a number of independent promotions, and made a few brief returns to WWE television, most recently in 2012.
In late 2016 he revealed on Twitter that he had been given two years to live due to a heart condition. This led to a campaign driven by Mick Foley to have Vader inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He is yet to be inducted but calls for his career to be recognized will likely grow following the news of his passing.
Legends of the ring have been commenting on his passing since the news broke earlier today.
My heart is heavy with the news of Leon White’s passing. He was an amazing performer who brought out the very best in so many. Best big man ever, the most effective monster heel of his generation. My heartfelt prayers to his loved ones, and my gratitude for having known him. pic.twitter.com/uy3yBfwZOs
— Mick Foley (@RealMickFoley) June 20, 2018
Leon White entertained (and intimidated) audiences all over the world with his size, strength, and agility. Saddened to hear of his passing and our thoughts are with his family at this time. #RIPVader pic.twitter.com/5jtryoSvpI
— Triple H (@TripleH) June 20, 2018
Sorry To Hear About The Loss Of Another Great! Rest In Peace My Friend! pic.twitter.com/O0NvIINS3l
— Ric Flair® (@RicFlairNatrBoy) June 20, 2018
— Booker T. Huffman (@BookerT5x) June 20, 2018