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Last Updated: Monday, 10 March, 2003, 06:40 GMT
A hero on and off the track
Barry Sheene
Sheene was an archetypal 1970s hero

Double world motorcycling champion Barry Sheene made headlines both on and off the track and attracted a whole new audience to the sport during his 1970s heyday.

But controversy and disaster were never far away, with Sheene's playboy lifestyle and injuries sustained in several high speed crashes occupying the front and back pages of the newspapers.

Born in London in September 1950, Sheene had motor racing in his blood. He was the son of a Grand Prix motorbike mechanic and was riding by the age of five.

Record of success
1970 British 750cc champion
1973 European 750cc champion
1976 First 500cc world title
1978 Sheene awarded MBE
2001 Enters Motorcycle Hall of Fame

He made his professional debut at 18, riding a 125cc Bultaco, and two years later won his first major honour, the 1970 British 750cc title.

The European 750cc title followed in 1973, but two years later he suffered his first major crash.

In Daytona, Florida, he came off at more than 175mph, breaking his thigh, wrist and collar-bone, but, incredibly, he returned to riding within six weeks.

And just one year later, he won the first of his two 500cc world championships for Suzuki, with five wins and a second place.

Sheene successfully defended his title in 1977 with six wins from nine starts, and his great rivalry with American Kenny Roberts helped draw a huge new audience to the sport.

Barry Sheene on his traditional number seven bike
Sheene powers to yet another victory

Between 1975 and 1982, Sheene won more international 500cc and 750cc Grand Prix races than any other rider, and he was awarded the MBE in 1978.

To add to his two world championships, Sheene also won two prestigious Seagrove Memorial trophies.

But in 1982, he smashed into a bike lying across the Silverstone track during a British Grand Prix practice.

Surgeons rebuilt his shattered legs using metal plates held together by 27 screws.

"The Silverstone crash was different," he said. "That was major - I could have ended up legless. My left leg was hanging on by the femoral artery."

From then on, Sheene struggled to find a bike capable of matching his talents and eventually announced his retirement in 1985.

The pain caused by arthritis brought about by broken bones - and exacerbated by Britain's cold climate - prompted him to move to Australia in 1987.

Barry Sheene
Sheene made a career for himself in Australia

In October, 2001, he was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame with a ceremony at Phillip Island, off the coast of Victoria.

But Sheene was always more than just a bike rider.

He appeared in the opera Tosca at Covent Garden alongside Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi for three seasons, and has been a successful television presenter both in Britain and Australia.

In 2002, he was diagnosed with cancer of the throat and stomach. But, displaying his forthright approach, he vowed to fight it.

"Although this is a complete pain in the arse, it happens to a lot of people and a lot of people get over it," he said.

Sheene may have lost that final battle, but for many, even those who had no interest in motorcycling, he was a national icon.

Former team-mate Steve Parrish
"He was a fighter"

Former Formula One champion Damon Hill
"He was incredibly brave"

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