Leon White, better known to his fans as Big Van Vader, passed away at the age of 63 this morning. He was a mountain of a man both in stature and in heart. Vader worked all over the world, having great success in Japan, Mexico, Canada and here in the US. Many don’t know he was a standout college football center and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1978, even playing in the Super Bowl. He had storied feuds with the likes of Stan Hansen, Sting, Nikita Koloff and most memorably, Cactus Jack AKA Mick Foley.
Many from my generation will remember his appearances on the ABC comedy “Boy Meets World”. But what I’ll always remember most about Vader, was his kindness to fans. Several years back, Dave and I were covering the Lexington Toy and Comic Con. He and Mick Foley were there celebrating the 20 year anniversary of an infamous match in which Mick lost the upper half of his ear. The pair hosted a panel to relive that match for the fans in attendance of the con. At that time, my health was not at its best and I was forced to use a wheelchair to get around at shows. During the panel, the moderator lined up those who had questions on the far right side of the carpeted ballroom.
At that time, my social anxiety was strong, but at the cajoling of Dave, I wheeled myself across the floor and sat in line patiently waiting. I remember Foley being slightly annoyed with the crowd, as many questions were not on topic and fans were not showing Vader the proper respect. By the time my turn in line came, too much time had elapsed and the panel had to end. I was disappointed, but I understand that these things are timed strictly so the next panel can begin. Dave and I spent a little more time at the show, but as we were exhausted, we headed toward the elevators to go back to our hotel. I felt a large hand on my shoulder from behind. Dave spun me around and there smiling at me, was Leon “Vader” White. He spoke gently and apologized to me that my question didn’t get to be answered and kindly offered to do so right there. I wish i could recall what it was, but he stood there listening to me fanboy out, and gave me a thoughtful answer and a strong handshake. I’ll truly never forget that this man who had traveled the world for his craft, wrestled in front of millions of people and won countless titles, took the time to find me that day. Vader made my day, and as I write this with tears in my eyes, I hope he knew that. Thank you Leon, thank you Vader. Say hello To Owen and Eddie and I hope you can rest in peace.