Snooker legend Alex Higgins 'struggled with fame'
Monday 02 August 2010
Snooker legend Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins struggled to cope with the fame and fortune thrust upon him at a young age, a memorial service heard today.
Dean of Belfast Houston McKelvey addressed hundreds of mourners, including snooker greats and famous faces from the world of entertainment, in St Anne's Church of Ireland Cathedral in the centre of the city.
The service followed emotional scenes after a tearful Jimmy White helped carry the coffin of the troubled snooker genius who was found dead in a flat last month after a long battle with cancer and alcohol.
Following a funeral in the family home in Roden Street in the south of the city, a cortege led by a horse drawn carriage wound its way through the centre of Belfast.
Hundreds who gathered in the Sandy Row area, where the 61-year-old Higgins had grown up and where he died, applauded as his funeral procession passed.
Dean McKelvey told the thanksgiving service: "Alex at a very young age encountered two of the greatest temptations possible - fame and fortune.
"He found it difficult to cope with both. He was not the first to find this difficult and he certainly will not be the last."
And he warned against judgmental comments on the life of the two-time world snooker champion, who was credited with creating the modern game, but who famously had an explosive temper and whose drinking often attracted negative headlines.
"Many people - informed and ill informed - have commented publicly on Alex, his life and his lifestyle over the past few days," he said.
"It has been a media-fest fed by a public which turns and, often like a shoal of piranha fish, from one personality to another.
"Since Alex's death many have been judgmental despite the fact that there are few Irish families that I know of who don't have their own 'character' to cope with in the family system.
"The only difference being that their character was not quite so famous."
Earlier the cortege left the family home in Roden Street in the south of the city to pass through the Sandy Row area, stopping at the street where Higgins grew up, before passing the social housing apartment where he was found dead last month.
A fresh mural to the former world champion featured on the wall opposite the scene of his lonely death.
Higgins was found in bed at his flat just over a week ago and it is believed he had been dead for several days after a long battle with throat cancer, plus the impact of a life of heavy drinking.
Sections of Belfast city centre were closed off for the funeral cortege prior to the service which was held to pay respect to a former champion considered to be one of the finest snooker players of all time.
Taking up the sport at the age of 11, he won the All-Ireland and Northern Ireland amateur championships in 1968.
After turning professional he became the youngest World Championship winner at his first attempt, beating John Spencer in 1972. The record was eventually beaten when 21-year-old Stephen Hendry claimed the trophy in 1990.
Higgins claimed the title for a second time in 1982.
A controversial figure, Higgins was banned from five tournaments and fined £12,000 in 1986 when he headbutted UK Championship tournament director Paul Hatherell.
In 1990 Higgins was banned for the rest of the season after he punched a tournament director at the World Championship.
But despite his numerous fights and rows with referees, he continued to play the game regularly and appeared at the Irish Professional Championship in 2005 and 2006.
He inspired a generation of players to take up the game, with his influence seen in the style of later crowd favourites such as White and Ronnie O'Sullivan.
Higgins' daughter Lauren read a tribute poem.
"In life I loved you dearly in death I love you still.
"In my heart you hold a place that no one could ever fill.
"It broke my heart to lose you but you did not go alone. For part of me went with you the day God took you home."
White recalled watching his friend play and travelling the world with him.
"It angers me that he never listened to anyone, close friends or family but that was Alex, he was an individual, his own man.
"He was the Hurricane, I will miss him to the end."
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