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Obituary: Alex Higgins

Alex Higgins

Archive - Higgins pips White to 1982 final (UK users only)

Alex "Hurricane" Higgins, who has died at the age of 61 from throat cancer, was snooker's first television superstar.

At the age of 23, he became world champion at his first attempt. But his violent temper, drunkenness, gambling and drug-taking alienated him from some of his fellow professionals and from the game's authorities.

The fame and adulation were a far cry from Alexander Gordon Higgins' beginnings in Protestant working-class Belfast where he was born on 18 March 1949.

His addiction to snooker began early. By the age of 11 he was hustling at the Jampot, a seedy hall where he developed the speed around the table that earned him his nickname.

ALEX HIGGINS: 1949-2010
Born: 18/3/1949
Highest ranking: 2 (1976/77, 1982/3)
Career highs: World champion - 1972, 1982

He won the Northern Ireland championship in 1968 as an amateur. He turned professional in 1971 and, within a year, he defeated John Spencer in the World Championship when he became the youngest ever winner.

But within weeks he began a 20-year trail of self-destruction, wrecking hotel rooms in Australia and being kicked out of India for drunken behaviour.

These violent, drunken outbursts brought him into frequent conflict with snooker's governing body, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA).

Archive - The Hurricane's Whirlwind Trick Shot

The WPBSA fined him thousands of pounds throughout his career, usually for abusive language and ungentlemanly conduct.

Higgins was an obsessive gambler and was reported to have lost £13,000 on horses in one day.

He admitted to smoking marijuana and using cocaine. His wayward behaviour ended his two marriages, but throughout the 1970s and 1980s he was still drawing the crowds and winning tournaments.

In 1982, he became world champion again by defeating Ray Reardon in the final. He was UK champion in 1983, and won the Irish Masters in the same year and again in 1989.

But by 1990 he was in serious trouble again. After losing in the first round of the World Championships he announced his retirement saying that snooker was the most corrupt game in the world.

On the way to making this announcement, he was alleged to have punched the tournament's press officer in the stomach.

This incident, and a number of others, including a threat to have the Northern Ireland captain Dennis Taylor shot, brought a one-year playing ban.

Alex Higgins
Higgins pictured in 1999, two years after developing throat cancer

His playing career never recovered and Higgins continued to slide down the rankings. His closing years on the pro-circuit were spent competing in interminable qualifying rounds for major tournaments with little success.

He developed throat cancer in 1997 but continued to play smaller events in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland.

But although his enthusiasm for the game remained, his health and financial welfare began to deteriorate rapidly.

In 2010, Higgins had been in remission from the cancer for almost a decade, but he had undergone several operations and suffered pneumonia and breathing problems earlier in the year.

In May, a charity dinner was held in Manchester in order to raise £20,000 for the snooker legend, who had been living off baby food after losing his teeth as a result of radiotherapy. He attended the event but looked shockingly gaunt.

On Saturday 24 July 2010, Higgins was pronounced dead.

It was a sad end for a man who was often obnoxious and unruly and whose defeats were, in his view, seldom down to him.

Yet, Higgins did as much as anyone to popularise the sport of snooker through his rare talent and undoubted charisma.

Steve Davis once lauded Higgins as "the only true genius snooker ever had".

Higgins was once asked if he wished things had been different in his life.

He replied, "Yes, I could have been a golfer."

Alex Higgins wins the 1982 Snooker World Championship

Archive - Alex Higgins wins second World title in 1982 (UK users only)

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see also
Remembering the Hurricane
25 Jul 10 |  Snooker
Snooker star Higgins dies aged 61
24 Jul 10 |  Snooker
Tributes paid to iconic 'Hurricane'
24 Jul 10 |  Snooker
Alex Higgins: A life in pictures
24 Jul 10 |  Northern Ireland
Alex Higgins makes bribery claim
09 May 10 |  Snooker
Snooker goes back to the future
19 Apr 10 |  Snooker
Higgins goes back to his roots
09 May 09 |  Snooker
Alex Higgins interview
06 Jun 07 |  Snooker
An evening with Alex Higgins
28 Apr 04 |  Funny Old Game
Alex Higgins 'almost stopped breathing'
16 Apr 00 |  Northern Ireland
Snooker on the BBC
08 Apr 11 |  Snooker

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