The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Pat Convery, paying tribute to the late Alex Higgins, told reporters: “He was a controversial and colourful character, but we have to remember the good things that Alex did for this city in the international sporting arena of snooker.”
A comment which, when you examine it, gives the distinct impression that the Lord Mayor believes “controversial and colourful” to be a bad thing
Of course, Mr Convery was trying to be kind.
There were times during his career when the late Alex acted the maggot. Even his greatest fans would acknowledge that. He was occasionally guilty of what, in today’s beige language, would be called inappropriate behaviour.
But let‘s keep this in perspective. There’s acting the maggot — and then there are some of the vile excesses of today’s sporting scene. Like “roasting”. Alex was never part of that dark world.
In fact, like George Best, most of the harm the man ever did was to himself. He threw away a fortune but he never complained. Not for Alex the avaricious calculation of many of today’s sports stars whose lives, personal and professional, are entirely dictated by what they can rake in via sponsorship.
Nor did he try to hide his addictions. Again like Best, Alex didn’t do excuses.
The final thing he didn’t attempt to hide, couldn’t hide, was his degree of physical decline.
Those heartrending pictures of the man which surfaced a few months back alerted us all to the shocking state of his health.
And staring us in the face, beneath the familiar oul’ Fedora, with pleading eyes and canyon cheeks was the fact that Alex Higgins was horrifically malnourished. You didn’t need a stethoscope and a medical degree to spot that one.
Couldn’t more have been done to save the man?
His close friend Jimmy White erupted this week with the sort of grief and anger we’d surely all feel if that was our close mate.
“In the end it wasn't cancer that killed him,” he said. “The cancer had gone, he died from lack of nourishment. How sickening is that?”
We know that Higgins was surrounded by good and loving people who did their very, very best for him.
His sisters Anne and Jean were magnificent, trying everything in their power to help him.
We also know that Alex was prepared to seek medical help. After money was raised by a group of his good friends, he travelled to Spain for treatment that would have given him new teeth to help him eat. Sadly he was too weak for that operation to be carried out.
But why did he have to go to Spain in the first place? Couldn’t the operation have been carried out here on the NHS?
At 61, Higgy was still relatively young. He’d beaten the cancer. He should have had years ahead.
Surely the NHS could have provided some sort of in-hospital treatment which might, at least, have built him up again?
Of course, we don’t know details of any treatment he was offered. Or how he may have responded.
Yet the haunting thought is that somehow the system let him down.
This week with the spotlight so much on his spectacular life, there hasn’t been a whole lot of discussion about the nature of his death.
Words like “inevitable” have even been mentioned. But was it really?
Could Alex Higgins really not have been saved?