Still wrestling despite heart issue, Vader prefers to die 'having fun in the ring'

Wrestling legend Leon “Vader” White now regrets a recent tweet in which he said doctors gave him less than two years to live due to congestive heart failure because he wants to keep taking bookings for wrestling matches until his health fails him for good.

Vader made the comments in an interview with the Two Man Power Trip of Wrestling podcast, in an episode released early Friday morning

“I kind of wish I hadn’t brought it up, and I am continuing to wrestle,” Vader said in the interview, which CBS Sports obtained upon its release.

Vader said if he’s going to die, he wants it to happen in a wrestling ring.

“Someone said, ‘Aren’t you afraid? Why would you get a booking [to wrestle] at this point when you’ve had this type of diagnosis?’ I said, ‘Brother, where would you rather die -- in a bed at home, or in the hospital, or would you rather die in front of 10,000 people having fun in the ring?”

Vader continued: “So, if it’s true, if this doctor isn’t just totally full of shit -- which, that’s what I’m betting on, and I should say ‘these doctors’ at this point -- you know, that’s my choice, and that’s the way I decide to go out. If this thing’s gonna happen, I’d rather be in a ring, anywhere, compared to sitting in a hospital room in a hospital bed, sitting there like some sheep getting ready to be slaughtered. It’s not who I am, and it’s not the way it’s gonna happen with me.”

Vader tweeted late last year that a doctor had diagnosed him with the fatal heart condition. Fans and fellow wrestlers immediately showed their support online, notably former wrestling rival Mick Foley, who made a public plea for Vader to get into the WWE Hall of Fame.

After going public with his diagnosis, Vader turned some heads by continuing to accept work in wrestling matches. He told the Two Man Power Trip of Wrestling podcast he wishes he hadn’t ever mentioned it. Even if the diagnosis proves correct, he intends to wrestle until the end. Besides that, Vader now refuses to believe he’s on such borrowed time.

“I don’t know if I’ll live to be 80 years old, but I can tell you this: This two-year diagnosis is just wrong,” he said. “I’m gonna prove it wrong. I don’t really care what they’re saying. So, you know, we’ll see what happens, I guess. Certainly there’s no way around that. I’m booked in Japan to wrestle, and I’m booked throughout America to wrestle.”

Vader, 61, is widely regarded as one of the greatest super-heavyweight pro wrestlers of all time. He is legendary in Japan, where he was given the menacing Big Van Vader gimmick and ring attire after his early stint wrestling in the United States for Verne Gagne’s AWA under the name “Baby Bull” Leon White.

Billed at 6-foot-5 and over 400 pounds, Vader became known for brutalizing his opponents; he would club them with fists, forearms and clotheslines before ending matches with a ferocious powerbomb. In his prime, he regularly performed a moonsault off the top rope, which was virtually unheard of for a wrestler his size.

Back in the United States, he enjoyed his greatest success in WCW, where he was a three-time world heavyweight champion and had memorable feuds with Hulk Hogan, Sting, Ric Flair and Foley (as Cactus Jack). The latter feud was famous for its brutal, sometimes bloody matches, one of which resulted in Foley losing part of his ear after his head became entangled in the ring ropes.

Vader’s late-90s stint in WWE is often viewed as a disappointment compared with his other accomplishments, but he did work main event programs with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker and Foley. While he never won a title in WWE, he was still a memorable nemesis for some of WWE’s all-time biggest stars.

Vader last appeared in WWE on April 2, 2016, making an induction speech on behalf of 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Stan Hansen.

CBS Sports Staff

Denny Burkholder has been a writer, editor and producer for CBS Sports dating back to 1999. He has covered everything from the NFL to the UFC during his tenure, with a specialty in all things WWE and pro... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories