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Joe DiMaggio `gravely ill' with cancer

JOE DIMAGGIO, one of the greatest baseball players in American history, is gravely ill, a television station in New York has reported. It said on Monday that he had been in hospital to have a tumour removed from his lung, and suffered a heart attack last week.

His lawyer denied yesterday that he had suffered a heart attack. "Mr DiMaggio never had a heart attack - this is totally false, and he is not in a grave condition," Morris Engelberg said.

He added that Mr DiMaggio would spend his 84th birthday today with his family at his hospital bedside in Florida.

Mr DiMaggio was an outfielder for the New York Yankees team of the 1940s. Nicknamed the "Yankee Clipper" for his fielding abilities, he played in 10 World Series before retiring in 1951. He had a 56-game hitting streak in 1941, a record that remains intact despite this year's new home run records.

Most of the rest of the world will remember him for his brief marriage to Marilyn Monroe in the late Fifties, but he was a legend on the baseball field and off it he served as a role model for young Italian-Americans in the 1950s, along with Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia of New York, and Frank Sinatra.

The Yankees have once again enjoyed a miraculous season this year, with many comparisons drawn between the team of the Nineties and that of the mid-century.

George Steinbrenner, the owner of the team, was due to visit Mr DiMaggio in hospital, but cancelled his visit when told that he would probably not recognise him.