Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Alex Higgins: His greatest fear was of dying without a woman in his life

Sunday Life reporter Aaron Tinney was the last |person to interview Alex Higgins. When they spoke just 11 weeks ago, the Hurricane was a husk of his former hell-raising self, haunted by demons and regrets

Alex Higgins. 10/5/85.
Alex Higgins. 10/5/85.
Alex Higgins: Snooker. 1972
Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, 1949-2010

Alex Higgins
'The Hurricane' played snooker with a style and verve never before seen and won the World Championship in 1972, beating John Spencer in the final and again in 1982. That latter triumph, against six-times champion Ray Reardon, is best remembered for Higgins' tears at the end as he cradled his baby daughter in his arms. Higgins' win over Jimmy White in the semi-final was regarded as one of the all time great matches, particularly the Belfast cueman's 69 break in the penultimate frame on the way to a 16-15 victory. The Hurricane is almost as well known for his off-the-table bust-ups and his many run-ins with snooker officialdom over the years. But despite his difficulties, he remains one of the most gifted players ever to pick up a cue, with Ronnie O'Sullivan the only current star worthy of a mention in the same breath.
Alex Higgins
Alex Higgins
This close-up picture of Alex Higgins taken by Ulster photographer Cathal McNaughton
Alex Higgins
ALEX HIGGINS Until the robotic Stephen Hendry turned up as a 21-year-old world snooker champion in 1990, Alex "Hurricane" Higgins had been the youngest ever winner of the title, when he beat John Spencer in the best-of-73-frames 1972 final. It was Higgins' first appearance at the tournament and his flamboyant style and break-neck speed around the table earned him the "Hurricane" sobriquet. It is a nickname that could just as easily have applied to his life away from the beize, although the notoriously sedate snooker arena also witnessed its fair share of storms. At the 1986 UK championships, Higgins was fined and disqualified for head-butting a referee. Four years later, after a first round defeat at The Crucible, Higgins punched a tournament official before going on to announce his retirement from the game.
Snooker legend Alex Higgins. 2010
Alex Higgins in 1999 at his friend Ollie Reed's funeral in County Cork
Alex Higgins pictured at a bar in Belfast
Alex 'Hurrican' Higgins
Alex 'Hurrican' Higgins.
Alex Higgins pictured at a bar in Belfast where he spoke about his his autobiography "Alex Higgins 'My Story' from the eye of the Hurricane".
Alex Higgins. 16/3/81.
Alex "Hurricane" Higgins pictured 19th April 1980.259/80
Former World Champion snooker star Alex Higgins enjoys a day out at the races despite fighting off the effects of throat cancer.
Alex Higgins pictured in the mid 1980's
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Alex Higgins considering his next shot during the 1983 World Snooker Championships in Sheffield.
Oliver Reid, Reg Presley & Alex Higgins
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Exhibition match at Waterfront. (19/06/1997)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Oliver Reed and Alex Higgins. (December 1992)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. (02/06/1993)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. A familiar sights for snooker fans... Irish professional champion Alex Higgins wiping his cue with a towel during last night's title match against Dennis Taylor in the Ulster Hall. Higgins won the first session 7-2 in the 41 frame decider which is being presented by the 'Belfast Telegraph' and Kearney Promotions. (03/02/1978)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Alex Higgins senior pictured with his son after Alex had regained the Smithwick's Irish Professional Snooker Championship in Maysfield Leisure Centre. Alex won the final against reigning champion Dennis Taylor by 16 frames to 11.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. World professional snooker champion Alex Higgins (right), who was in Belfast to-day for the wedding of his sister, Jean, of Abingdon Street to John Robson, Crumlin Road. The couple were married in St. Aidan's Parish Chursh, Blythe Street, Sandy Row, Belfast.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Four Ulster sportsmen were given Texaco Sportstars of the Year Awards (1982) at a banquet in Dublin last - John Watson, Barry McGuigan, Gerry Armstrong and Alex Higgins. Photographed at the ceremony were McGuigan, Northern Ireland team manager Billy Bingham, who collected the trophy on behalf of Armstrong and Higgins.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Alex Higgins, pictured with the championship trophy he intends to hold on to. (12/03/1983)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Snooker star Alex Higgins signs autographs for twins Brenda (left) and Geraldine Brammled at the press conference to announce the details of the Irish Professional Snooker Championship, which will be held in the Antrim Forum from February 9-12. (1988)
17-05-1982, World Snooker Champion, Alex Higgins is saluted by his baby daughter Lauren with his wife Lynne, after a nail-biting battle against six-times champion Ray Reardon at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre.
05-01-1980. Confetti scatters at the wedding of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins and bride Lynn, at the United Reform church in Wilmslow.
05-01-1980. Confetti scatters at the wedding of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins and bride Lynn, at the United Reform church in Wilmslow.
21-04-1986, Alex Higgins enjoys a cigarette during a moment's break during the Embassy World Snooker Championship match against John Spencer in Sheffield.
13-04-1973, world professional snooker champion Alex Higgins shows off his new look, as created by Tom Gilbey.
Noel Cairns holds a shopping list given to him by former snooker champion Alex Higgins, near Ulidia House in south Belfast where Higgin's body was discovered.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Surrounded by beautiful girls, the lightning Alex. 'Hurricane' Higgins signs autographs for fans Jacqui McFerran, Marion Allen and Catherine McFerran. (15/04/80)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. World snooker champion Alexander 'Hurricane' Higgins in Belfast. (08/11/1976)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. (February 1978)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Exhibition match at Waterfront. (19/06/1997)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Exhibition match at Waterfront. (19/06/1997)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Exhibition match at Waterfront. (19/06/1997)
Former World Snooker Player Champion Alex "Hurricane" Higgins at his book signing in Easons 02.06.07.
Snooker legend Alex Higgins spotted Tallaght 2005.
Alex Higgins 4/3/82
Snooker star Alex Higgins is taken to hospital with stab wounds after an incident involving a woman. 2008
25-7-2010Flowers for Alex Higgins are left at a muralon the Donegal Road to in honour of the snooker legend who died yesterday in Belfast.
Alex Higgins

Inching open the door to his darkened Belfast flat like a petrified pensioner, Alex Higgins wheezed at me: “Come back later when I’ve got out of my pyjamas.”

The sight of his skeletal frame swamped in material was my introduction to an icon.

And it summed up his spectacular fall from grace — from hell-raising Hurricane to a haunted shadow of a man.

Higgins had told me to call at his door at 11am on May 8 for a “long interview” where he vowed to tell all about his “planet of heartache and regrets”.

And he lived up to his promise — once he’d dressed. I called back at 1pm, and he was ready.

But it had taken days of phonecalls to the famously stubborn 61-year-old to get that far.

Higgins told me over the phone: “I don’t trust anyone any more, so don’t screw me over.”

It was only after a few chats that he finally relented and invited me round to his sheltered housing flat at Ulidia House hostel on the Donegall Road .

I think it was the gift I took along that made him open up.

By this stage, radiotherapy had caused all his teeth to fall out and he was reduced to eating baby food.

So I took packets of the pate his pals said he loved, because it was easy for him to get down.

When he looked at the food, he looked genuinely moved.

“Come in, come in,” he told me and a photographer, ushering us into his living room.

For the next three hours, he sat slumped in an armchair and spoke about the women and cash he’d lost over the years.

“It’s all gone, all gone,” he said. “I used to play snooker in millionaires’ mansions with marble floors and eat at the best places, but that’s all over now.”

He relived his past glories, but always came back to how he’d seen two marriages crumble around him in a whirlwind as he boozed and gambled.

It was a pitiful confession that would never have happened in the Hurricane’s trailblazing, womanising prime as a two-time world champion.

Then, he would have swept into a room in a loud shirt and suit and blown away all in his path with his wit, cue — or fists, depending how he was feeling.

But when I spoke to him, the lightest of breezes would have knocked the former double world champ off his feet.

He tipped the scales at 6st 7lbs, could hardly eat and spoke in a puny, rasping whisper, his vocal cords ravaged by cancer.

He was spending his days shuffling between his flat and The Royal Bar opposite his home. He said he still drank rums and Guinness every day, and smoked four cigarettes — against doctors’ orders.

As he talked of his regrets, the only remains of his hell-raising spirit was in his eyes.

The green/blue orbs bulged from his gaunt, emaciated face, sparkling with rage and regret.

I noticed them after he told me that tears still filled his eyes when he thought of how he treated his “last great love” Siobhan Kidd — who ditched him in 1989 after he battered her with a hairdryer.

Higgins insisted that Siobhan was still his “one true love” and on his mind “every day”.

“I wish she was here to look after me now,” he said.

At that point, he told me he’d give me a tour of his flat.

Layered with a thin sheet of grime, the small home was filled with mementos of his hey-day.

But the trophies and medals lay unpolished, and a set of snooker balls and cues he’d kept for almost 30 years lay in a pile on his living room floor.

He showed me his pureed meals in his kitchen — he said his 10 sets of dentures were too painful to wear.

One part of his tour sticks in my mind. His bedroom had a huge poster of Audrey Hepburn on the wall.

Higgins told me: “This mattress hasn’t seen any action in years. I’ll die celibate.

“I f***ed it all up. Now I’m on my own... celibate. I’ve been celibate for years and years.”

His greatest fear was of dying alone, with no woman in his life.

On Saturday, his prediction came true when a neighbour found his body alone in that single bed.

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