ALEX HIGGINS will always remain an inspiration to the next generation of snooker players looking to emulate the ‘Hurricane’ and reach the very top of the game.
Higgins – world champion in 1972 and 1982 – died after a long battle with throat cancer in his home city of Belfast on Saturday, aged 61.
However, the images of the Northern Irishman at his flamboyant best remain as colourful now as they did when first broadcast.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, the three-time world champion and, much like Higgins, arguable the most naturally gifted snooker player of his generation, was moved to pursue a career in the sport after witnessing the Hurricane’s quickfire approach.
“Alex was one of the real inspirations behind me getting into snooker,” said the 34-year-old, who like Higgins has often been a controversial figure within the sport.
“He is a true legend and should be forever remembered as being the finest-ever snooker player.”
Irishman Ken Doherty, 40, was world champion in 1997 and also paid tribute to the influence of Higgins. “He certainly was an inspiration to me,” Doherty said. “Nobody could emulate what he did. He was such a once-off. He was so charismatic, unpredictable, the way he played the game, his character himself, he was just a genius.”
Scottish player John Higgins, 35, also followed in the footsteps of his namesake, winning the world title in 1998, 2007 and 2009.
“As a youngster it was the magical play of players like Hurricane Higgins that inspired me and many of my generation to fall in love with snooker,” said Higgins, the world number one who was suspended by World Snooker in May 2010 following allegations of match-fixing, which the player denies.
“During one tournament I remember my father and Hurricane sitting in our hotel talking about snooker into the early hours. The next morning the concierge knocked on my door with a present from Hurricane; it was a beautiful blue snooker suit made by a top Irish tailor. It was a lovely gesture that meant so much to me and my dad.
“This will be a sad time for Hurricane’s close family and friends and also sad for the wider snooker community. When people write about the history of snooker they will have to devote many pages to the skills of Hurricane Higgins.”
While Higgins, who in claiming the 1972 title became the youngest World Championship winner at his first attempt, helped raise the profile of the sport, there was also a darker side to his personality.
Higgins was banned from five tournaments and fined £12,000 (€14,400) in 1986 when he headbutted UK Championship tournament director Paul Hatherell.
In 1990, Higgins threatened to have fellow player Dennis Taylor shot and he was banned for the rest of the season after he punched a tournament director at the World Championships.
Higgins underwent surgery to remove cancer from his throat in 1998.
By then he was a heavy drinker and smoker, with both addictions seriously affecting his health.
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn reflected: “You remember his genius, but also there was the other side. There was one occasion when he and I squared off against each other in my Romford office, when he said he was not coming back to finish a game I had paid him for.
“I think it is very refreshing that we can remember both the good bits and the bad bits.”
Hearn, who mentored six-time champion Steve Davis, continued: “Alex asked me to manage him several times, but I said ‘you would be a nightmare, mate, we would end up rolling around in a backstreet killing each other’.
“But he never said a bad word against me, we had a mutual respect.
“Alex never let me down – he should have done and almost did a lot, but he never actually did.”
Hearn also paid tribute to Higgins’ unique approach to the game.
“Alex was a fabulous player and played shots which had not even been thought of at the time – people gasped,” he said. “He helped to take the game from the working-class background of misspent youths into more global entertainment during his period.
“But Alex re-wrote the book on misspent adulthood. He was a dreadful gambler and I cannot remember him winning one bet – he would go through his pockets and bet every single penny, and the evening would always finish with him asking ‘you could not lend me £50 for my train fare home?’, and you would obviously never see that again.”
Some £10,000 (€12,000) raised to help Higgins receive medical treatment prior to his death will go towards his funeral, which will be delayed to allow friend and former player Jimmy White to return from Thailand to attend.
Higgins’ former personal assistant Will Robinson said: “There’s two things that made snooker what it is today – one is colour television and the second thing is Alex Higgins.”
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