Sunday, 25 July 2010

Alex Higgins RIP

Alex Higgins

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.

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).

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.

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."

See also:


  1. Once he ran into trouble in India after getting drunk, stripping off and putting his hand up an old man's dhoti.

    Reminds me of a well known ex-FNB?

  2. Higgins's principal hobby was alcohol. When Oliver Reed offered him some Georgio Armani scent, he drank half a pint of it off pat.

    Definitely an honourary FNB!

  3. The Jerry Lee Lewis of the green baize.

  4. A genkius of the game but a dipso loser. What a waste.

  5. Being an Irish boy, I grew up loving Higgins - can still remember clearly the night he won the 1982 world championship (though, of course, it was the semi-final against Jimmy White that was the classic in that tournament).

    In amongst all the praise, I'm glad to see that the mess he made of his personal life hasn't been left out. Thinking of Alex and then George Best makes me wonder what it is about growing up in Belfast that really screws a guy up. Having lived there a large part of my life I can see where the dysfunctions could have arisen from - primarily the weird guilty attitude towards alcohol that lends itself to secretive drinking and remorse.

    Still, can't help but be a little sad about seeing Alex pass over.