Former WCW World Heavyweight Champion Big Van Vader is profiled in the latest edition of “Where Are They Now?” on WWE.com. “The Man They Call Vader” discusses his meteoric rise in the professional wrestling industry, “the demons” that brought him down and the way he got back on his feet.
Towards the conclusion of his successful run with WCW, Vader, who’s real name is Leon White, began struggling with bad personal habits. “I drank way too much. I was in a lot of pain with my knees and my back and my shoulders and started taking way too many pain pills,” he said. Following runs in WWE and Japan, “everything caught up with him” at the turn of the century.
“It got to the point where I physically couldn’t get on a plane and go do it anymore,” White said. “It didn’t matter what I took, didn’t matter how much alcohol I drank — I was just physically unable to continue.” The article then states: “It has been said that an addict must hit rock bottom before they can begin to recover. For Vader, that moment came in 2007 when he returned to his beautiful house in Colorado, which was now empty. His wife had left him.”
“That was the low part of my life,” he said. “At that point I realized something had to change. Either I had to get busy dying or get busy living.” After quitting his “ill habits cold turkey,” Vader underwent double knee replacement, which became infected and forced him into bed for six months. He then attempted to take a trip to Japan for an autograph signing and went unconscious on the plane. The former champion was in a coma for 30 days. When he awoke, he had lost 112 pounds and struggled to walk and talk again. Vader says this was the moment of his rebirth.
“Did I really think that after misbehaving for so many years that I was just going to quit and go through a couple of weeks of misery and be done with it and be healthy and happy? Vader said. “For me, that didn’t make sense. If you want to get your life back this is what you have to do.” After returning to Colorado following his coma, he was put in touch with the Wounded Warriors Alliance. Though designed for military veterans, the group heard his story and recognized him as a wounded warrior. He was invited to attend a program at their ranch in Pueblo West, Colorado. He says the experience changed his life.
“These beautiful people allowed me to come into their program and they taught me how to give my testimony — that’s what has value,” he said. Since completing their course, he has become a motivational speaker and a counselor with the faith-based group.
“These guys may have one arm or one leg, may have been shot in the shoulder or the chest two or three times,” White said. “What I do with these kids is I stand up in front of them and tell them that throughout my career, I’ve had 45 surgeries to date, I’ve had 19 concussions, I’ve had both knees replaced, I’ve actually been in a coma for 33 days in Japan. “If this old man can do what he did and come out on the other side and actually be here tonight,” he added, “then what can someone do at 23 with their whole life ahead of them?”