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Cue genius who was his own worst enemy

He wanted to be known as Alexander the Great. Instead, he became the 'Hurricane', the 'People's Champion', or to many, simply the best snooker player who has ever picked up a cue.

There are better claimants to the latter description: Joe Davis, Ray Reardon, Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry. None, though, were as charismatic, entertaining or downright unpredictable as the boy from Belfast who became the most famous snooker professional of the modern era.

The advent of colour television and the arrival of a skinny, hyperactive and mesmerising Ulsterman in the North of England in the late 1960s are regarded as the catalysts for the resurgence of a game that had stagnated during the previous decade.

Higgins made people sit up and take notice, not just by his lightning-quick approach to potting balls but by the scrapes he found himself in away from the table.

He brought a new dimension to the sport, raising its profile. He became public enemy No 1 to the snooker authorities: the more they tried to ban and fine him, the greater his popularity and appeal grew with the public.

But there was a dark side to Higgins that his supporters didn't often see. They believed him to be victimised and persecuted by his peers, a belief he himself perpetuated. He railed against 'the system', his opponents, the referees, the press, the authorities. In fact anyone and everyone apart from the true cause of his decline in later life -- himself.

Higgins is one of an exclusive list of players whose career earnings are in excess of £1m -- all the more commendable given that he largely missed out on the big-money paydays. His first world title victory in 1972 was worth £480; his second 10 years later brought him £25,000. This year's winner got £250,000.

But his fortune went on the pitfalls of many a wayward genius: gambling, drugs, drink and women. While his countryman and one-time Northern Ireland team-mate Dennis Taylor secured for himself a lucrative retirement, Higgins was left almost penniless, scraping a bed and a meal from those few people left prepared to give charity in return for little thanks and much abuse.

When his body was found in his flat, he appeared to have been dead for some time.

For all his talent, Alex Higgins laid waste to his career and, ultimately, his life. In his last interview, he said he had considered suicide but added: "I just haven't got the courage to kill myself."