Friends pledge lavish send-off as Hurricane loses cancer fight

FRIENDS of Alex "Hurricane" Higgins have vowed to send the snooker great off in style, using £10,000 raised for his medical treatment to fund a lavish funeral.

The troubled genius of the table was discovered dead in his Belfast sheltered home on Saturday after years battling throat cancer.

Despite squandering his snooker winnings in a life blighted by drink and gambling, friends were adamant that Higgins, 61, would be given a proper send-off.

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Some 10,000 raised from an auction and Manchester fundraising dinner to help Higgins receive medical treatment prior to his death will go towards his funeral, it was revealed by the Northern Irishman's friend and former personal assistant Will Robinson.

"There was 15,000, there's probably about 10,000 in total when we get everything in. Now that's going to pay for a great send off," he said.

Funeral details have not yet been finalised and Mr Robinson said there may be a delay to allow his friend and fellow player Jimmy White to return from Thailand.

"He's asked to hold things up until he gets back. That's the plan and the family have agreed to that," Mr Robinson said.

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Higgins's body was discovered after concerned friends broke into his Belfast flat having failed to contact him by phone. It is not known how long he had been dead inside the apartment.

Higgins died alone in sheltered accommodation in the Donegall Road area of Belfast.

It was a humble end for 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 snooker championships in 1968.

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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 threatened to have fellow player Dennis Taylor shot and he 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.

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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.

O'Sullivan was one of the many players paying tribute to Higgins yesterday. In a statement on his website, the three-times World Champion said: "Alex was one of the real inspirations behind me getting into snooker. He is a true legend and should be forever remembered as being the finest-ever snooker player."

John Higgins echoed O'Sullivan in citing the "Hurricane" as an inspiration.

He said: "As a youngster it was the magical play of players like Hurricane Higgins that inspired me and many of my generation to fall in love with snooker."

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Former World Champion Steve Davis also paid tribute to his former rival. He said: "To people in the game he was a constant source of argument, he was a rebel. But to the wider public he was a breath of fresh air that drew them in to the game.

"He was an inspiration to my generation to take the game up. I do not think his contribution to snooker can be underestimated."

A book of condolence will be opened for Higgins at Belfast City Hall this morning.

The city's Lord Mayor Pat Convery said: "Many citizens and visitors to our city will want to pay tribute to Alex Higgins in recognition of the contribution the Belfast man made to snooker and raising the profile of the sport to a worldwide audience."