Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Alex Higgins: Sad, lonely demise of the People’s Champion

Snooker legend Alex Higgins. 2010
Alex Higgins: Snooker. 1972
Alex Higgins

Alex Higgins could communicate in no more than a whisper in the painful final weeks of his life.

Years of the hedonistic highlife that accompanied his stellar snooker career had taken their toll on his body and the decline of the fiery snooker legend was hard for many to witness.

At just 61, he had already been battling throat cancer for more than a decade thanks to an almost lifetime diet of cigarettes and alcohol.

After losing his teeth because of decay caused by radiotherapy, Higgins was reduced to living off baby food for twelve years as he was unable to chew.

This diet took a heavy toll on his already slight frame, causing his weight to drop to only six stone in his final months of life.

He had undergone two throat operations and could only communicate via a whisper in recent times.

The man they called the People’s Champion fought off a bought of pneumonia in March, but found himself facing his mortality again two months later when he was admitted to Belfast City Hospital.

But there was still plenty of fight left in Higgins, although he admitted in interviews that he often contemplated suicide in the dark winter months, but thought better of it.

He defied doctors and signed himself out of the hospital after just six days, to travel to Sheffield to play against fellow former world champ Cliff Thorburn in the Snooker Legends Tour.

However, he realised attempts to re-ignite some sort of career by going on tour would take their toll on his health through endless hotels, struggling to eat, practising and playing. This was despite the £18,000 bonus he was offered for completing the tour.

“It would have killed me and I've decided that I don't want to die,” he said.

With his spirits seemingly lifted, Higgins battled on.

In an attempt to turn the tide on his ailing health, the snooker star travelled to Spain earlier this month for a dental operation. But medics deemed him too frail to go ahead with the procedure, which would have seen up to 24 false teeth implanted into his gums, leaving him able to eat proper meals for the first time in years.

Higgins had sought the medical care with the help of concerned friends who raised around £15,000 for him. Sadly, that money will now go towards his funeral.

At a fundraiser in March, friends and fans were shocked by his appearance. Anyone who saw The Hurricane in his heyday, his swagger and rugged good looks, found it hard to reconcile with his skeletal figure and sunken jaws.

There was still a sparkle in his eye, but he was swamped in a tweed jacket and looked decades older than he really was.

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