Best hoped the publicity surrounding his plight would act as a warning to others

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The Independent Online

Once a pin-up boy for his generation, the last, harrowing photographs of George Best graphically show the extent to which decades of alcohol abuse ravaged his body.

Taken at the end of last week, just hours before he was admitted to intensive care, Best's skin is yellowing and his body is covered in tubes. He authorised the pictures himself, telling his agent: "I hope my plight can act as a warning to others."

It was not his transplanted liver that finally gave up on him, but his lungs and kidneys that became fatally infected. His body weakened by his continued drinking and his immune system compromised by the anti-rejection drugs that he had taken since his transplant in 2002, his vital organs could not withstand the onslaught of a flu-like infection that other people would have shrugged off.

Best's drinking problem was affecting his health by the time he was 25, when he admitted he was drinking a bottle of spirits a day.

As his footballing career began to decline, his drinking increased and so did his girth. By the 1980s, he was living in America and already in a cycle of drinking and treatment that characterised his life.

He recalled: "I was in fights. I was in and out of hospital for treatment. I tried having implants. I went to prison. It was all related to booze and really I wasn't going anywhere."

He was one of the first people to have pellets sewn into the lining of his stomach that were supposed to make him violently sick if he drank alcohol. But two separate attempts at the implant treatment, in Scandinavia and the US, failed to stop him drinking.

He went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings but said they made him "edgy", while rehabilitation clinics also failed.

By the mid-1980s, a bookmaker Best knew offered him odds of 6-4 on making it to his 40th birthday.

In 2000, he collapsed and was rushed to hospital. It was then that he became a patient of the renowned liver specialist Professor Roger Williams, who told him that one more drink would kill him. Best did stop, but the damage was done. A strict diet and drug regime failed to stop his condition deteriorating, and Professor Williams decided the only option was a transplant.

Best endured an eight-month wait before a suitable organ was found. The transplant was performed in July 2002 at the private Cromwell Hospital in London. Best almost died during the 10-hour operation and lost 40 pints of blood. He needed two further operations in the days after the transplant, but battled through infections and setbacks. Then depression - a common condition following a transplant - set in and Best began drinking once more. He had been warned that the immunosuppressant drugs he had to take every day would leave him vulnerable to infection.

It became clear later that his kidney function could not be improved with dialysis and his damaged lungs made breathing so hard that he was put on a ventilator.

Best had suffered internal bleeding related to a bowel infection at the end of October, and the problem returned. The weeks in intensive care had weakened his body and this time, his medical team could not stem the bleeding, as his organs began to shut down.

With the failure of his lungs, kidneys and liver, even George Best's legendary ability to beat the odds was coming to an end.