Former WCW and IWGP Heavyweight Champion Big Van Vader died on Monday; Vader’s son announced the news on Twitter.
Vader wrestled for WWE from 1996-98 before returning to Japan.
Vader, whose real name was Leon White, died after complications from pneumonia; he was 63 years old and has been battling health issues for more than a decade. In 2007, he underwent knee replacement surgery and the wounds from the surgery became infected. After recovering, he passed out on a plane en route to Japan for an autograph signing and was in a coma for 33 days.
Vader announced in 2016 that he was suffering from congestive heart failure and a pair of doctors told him he had just two years left to live. Vader underwent heart surgery in March of this year. He had a second heart surgery in May to treat an arrhythmia, and had been in the hospital for more than a month due to pneumonia.
A former football player at the University of Colorado, White played two seasons in the NHL with the LA Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. He then transformed into Vader and began his rise to fame with the AWA in 1985. In 1987 he moved on to Japan, where he popularity reached its highest and he was IWGP Heavyweight Champion for more than a year, becoming the first non-Japanese wrestler to hold the title.
From there, Vader debuted for WCW in 1990 and he began working full-time for the company in 1992, winning the WCW World Title in July of 1992 over Sting.
Vader signed with the WWE (then WWF) in 1996 and had a short and unceremonious run with the company. He made a big impact at the 1996 Royal Rumble and then infamously powerbombed WWE president Gorilla Monsoon the next night on Raw. Vader had a rough feud with Shawn Michaels in the summer of 1996 — Michaels reportedly hated working with Vader — and he then moved on to feuding with the Undertaker before getting pushed considerably down the card.
Vader had a short run with TNA in 2003 and then briefly returned to WWE in 2005 before wrestling mainly in Japan and on independent shows afterward.
Vader made one appearance for WWE in 2012, beating Heath Slater in a match on Raw as the company promoted the Raw 1000 episode that summer by bringing in former Raw main-event wrestlers.