The story goes that Alex Higgins kept himself alive over the final few weeks of his life solely by drinking Guinness. The man who made snooker a national event met a tragically sad end ravaged by cancer and alcoholism, but during the 1970s in particular, the man was a waistcoat-wearing force of nature.
He was known as ‘the hurricane’, and this epithet referred to his speed around the baize, but also to his volcanic temper. His many misadventures date back to even his early teenage years when he failed in an attempt at becoming a jockey in England — because he put on too much weight by drinking (Guinness again), and eating chocolate — being forced to return to Belfast. Then, during an early phase of his career, he was forced to move from house to house whilst squatting in Blackburn, because the street he was living in was being gradually demolished.
Over a lengthy snooker career, Hurricane Higgins found himself repeatedly on the wrong side of the game’s authorities, most notably in 1986 when, during a game, he decided to head-butt the referee.
1990 also saw a slew of unedifying incidents as, at a press conference to announce his retirement at the UK Championships, Higgins punched a tournament official. To make things worse, this later indiscretion came hot on the heels of Alex’s now infamous threat to have fellow player Dennis Taylor shot, and consequently he was banned from the sport for the following season, retirement or no retirement.
On another occasion, after he won his second world title in 1982, Higgins is said to have interrupted a disciplinary meeting three times: First to express his contrition at his offence and deliver champagne to the World Snooker board, secondly to bring his infant baby into the room repeat his apology, and then thirdly to angrily ask, “Is there a fucking decision or what?” Needless to say the board then revelled in imposing a £1,000 fine…
His friendships with the likes of Oliver Reed and Rod Stewart were well publicised, and they, along with the drinking — he often laced milk with vodka in order to hide his boozing — would drive his then-wife Lynn to divorce. There was then a girlfriend who stabbed him three times in the late 1990s, and there remains an apocryphal story about battering another ex with a hairdryer too. Women did not find Alex Higgins easy to live with.
It’s easy to forget amidst the cocaine use and the craziness, but the man was a seriously impressive snooker player. Snooker’s only real current superstar, Ronnie O’Sullivan, said of Alex that, “He was one of the real inspirations behind me getting into snooker in the first place”, whilst in his recent memoir about life with Higgins, his contemporary John Virgo explained that, “He could lose a frame but do so in such a style that when he returned to his seat the applause would be such that you would have thought he had won it.”
In spite of his many foibles, Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins was vital to the sport of snooker, and his death left the world short of a true rock’n’roll personality.