One of the most famous and colourful Newoundlanders in history, “Sailor” Ed White, has died in his native St. John’s. He was 56.

Covered in tattoos, and sporting unkempt hair, the world-traveller excelled in South Africa as Big John Strongbo, and caused havoc throughout eastern Canada as Sailor White. He made numerous trips to Japan as well.

But fans perhaps know the 5-foot-11, 283-pound White best for his short stint as Moondog King, as a part of the WWWF tag team champions (with Randy Colley) in 1981. When White was denied re-entry to the United States at the Canadian border, he was ousted from the WWWF, replaced by Larry Booker, aka Moondog Spot. (The WWWF made the memorable announcement that Moondog King had been hit by a car to explain the new member of the Moondog team.)

Colley recalled that White’s incident at the border – some described it as drug-related, Sailor always maintained it was a rival promoter who tipped off the guards about his criminal record – cost him a lot of money. The Moondogs had a trip planned to Japan. The WWWF was forced to scramble, and AndrĂ© the Giant recommended his friend Larry Booker.

“They gave Sailor all the time that they could,” said Colley. “They gave different people to me as a partner. Every show, there was a substitute. I think Stan Hansen was my partner a couple of nights, Hogan was my partner a couple of nights, Albano filled in a few nights, even Sgt. Slaughter had to fill in. … We had championship matches coming up, so they just had to make the switch. They gave him all the time they could.”

Colley never really got the true story at the border either. “The only thing that I ever heard was that he was going to come back across and they wouldn’t let him. They took his passport and wouldn’t let him cross the border.”

Born Edward John White on May 18, 1949, in St. John’s, Newfoundland-Labrador, White grew into a big young man and had a few run-ins with the law while still in his teens. Among many odd jobs for White was working on ships, both in Newfoundland and in Montreal.

Eventually, he found his way into the wrestling world, and had his first match May 22, 1972 in Pembroke, Ontario under promoter Larry Kasaboski. He had done some initial training under Luigi Macera in Montreal.

White also competed in Stampede Wrestling, during the winters of 1974 and 1975. “He was a great bump taker,” said Ross Hart. The first year, White was primarily an underneath performer. “He was just coming into his own after Grand Prix [in Montreal],” said Hart. White’s most notable match in Stampede was a Coal Miner’s Glove Match against “Cowboy” Frankie Laine in January 1975, the first such match in Stampede.

In Quebec, he held a number of titles, including the Grand Prix tag team titles in 1976, the International Heavyweight title in 1982, the International tag team titles on two occasions during 1982-84, and the Canadian Television title in 1984.

He battled drug and alcohol addictions after his wrestling career faded away, though in recent years cleaned himself up. In the late ’80s, he became a born-again Christian. “Becoming a Christian turned has turned my life around 365 degrees,” White told the Montreal Gazette in 1990.

Upon moving back to Newfoundland in the late ’90s, White campaigned for a youth centre in St. John’s, drove a taxi, and even ran — unsuccessfully — for various government positions. He explained his reason for running the first time. “I grew up here, I’m part of the community,” he told SLAM! Wrestling. “It was just on whim. The boys said ‘You should go after it.’ I said ‘Okay, let’s go!’ I was expected help from all my wrestlers down here, and none of them helped me really. I asked my school to have a fundraiser for me, and they said no.”

“Since I got off the booze and drugs, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t remember,” White told SLAM! Wrestling in 2003. “All the stuff I don’t remember, I guess I didn’t want to remember it anyway. I remember all the good stuff. The bad stuff, I’m not too hard on.”

In Newfoundland’s Jesperson Press published a book written by Dave Elliott on White entitled Sailor White. Written with White’s co-operation, it’s a harrowing tale of the ups and downs of his life, including his separation with his wife and daughter.

He couldn’t get wrestling out of his blood, and was involved for years with the Cutting Edge Wrestling promotion in Newfoundland. In his last conversation with this writer, he lamented being away from the spotlight. “I miss being in the ring, I miss the fans, the booing, the cheering … the bright lights, Sheiks, geeks and freaks.”

White had many health issues over the last number of years. In 1999, bells palsy paralyzed the left side of his face, and by that point, he’d had two heart attacks and dealt with diabetes. White had triple bypass in 2002, and had another blockage in his leg that doctors couldn’t do anything about.

Then, on December 2, 2004, his taxi hydroplaned and crashed. According to the St. John’s Telegram, White broke two bones in his neck and pinched a nerve in his spinal cord. He’d been in hospital ever since the accident.

A family member, who declined to be named, said that Ed went “very peacefully” and that it was her hope that everyone concentrated on all the good things that he had done over the last number of years, not on the negatives of drugs and alcohol.

White is survived by his his daughter Rozlynn and grandson Keygan; two sisters, Mercedes Murphy (Thomas) and Jean Simms, and brothers David (Valerie), Paul (Lara). Visitation is Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Caul’s Funeral Home on Lemarchant Road in St. John’s, NL. The funeral mass will be held on Monday at 9:30 a.m. from St. John Bosco Church.