June 24, 2024

In this new series of only-just-slightly-morbid, I thought it would be interesting to occasionally focus on the passing of men and women who once ignited a certain spark in the public imagination – even if never having necessarily achieved a star’s magnitude of infamy or indignity.  Alex Higgins, our first subject, certainly fits those parameters. My thanks go out to snooker fan Eamon Lynch, who recently quoted to me a string of Higgins’ epithets that sent me running in search of his obituary in the Guardian, copied below.

The snooker player Alex Higgins, who has died aged 61, led a life clouded by drunkenness, drug abuse, gambling, violence and tempestuous personal relationships. Yet for many of his fellow players and millions of fans, hooked on snooker with the advent of colour television, he will be forever viewed as a flawed sporting genius whose rock’n’roll lifestyle and brushes with officialdom made him all the more appealing, while a sometimes astonishing natural talent allowed him to brush aside more staid opponents and carried him to two world snooker titles.

He was a man who would bet on virtually anything, and frequently did. His prodigious thirst for alcohol took him into more scrapes than he would ever be able to recall, while friends and enemies alike spoke of his volcanic temper, irrational outbursts and dark mood swings as he struggled, in his declining years, to cope with the ravages of throat cancer that had left him an emaciated figure living out his final days where he began, in the snooker halls and bars of Belfast.

Yet most would prefer to remember Higgins as the one-time boy snooker hustler, nicknamed “Hurricane” because of the speed of his play, who became a sporting superstar. In his prime, whomever he might have been playing, he was able to command the spotlight in a manner no other snooker player has – Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan included. A waif-like figure, with his shirt left open-necked as he openly flouted the rules of the time that insisted bow ties should be worn, with a cigarette and strong drink invariably by his side, when Higgins began a break the nation seemed to collectively hold its breath in anticipation.

In 1986, when asked to take a drugs test during the UK Championship, Higgins headbutted the official who made the request, which earned him a £12,000 fine and five-tournament ban as well as a court appearance, where he was handed a £250 fine for assault and criminal damage. Money worries were escalating as Higgins’s gambling continued unchecked, and he was banned for an entire season after punching another official in the stomach in 1990 after losing a second-round match in the World Championship around the time he threatened to have his Northern Irish Catholic rival Dennis Taylor killed, saying: “I come from Shankill and you come from Coalisland, and the next time you are in Northern Ireland I will have you shot.”

Read the complete story HERE.

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