Image: Wikimedia Commons / DerHexer
Image: Wikimedia Commons / DerHexer

The world of snooker mourns the loss of Willie Thorne

One of snooker’s most likeable players, Willie Thorne, has passed away at the age of 66. Recognised for his premature bald head and moustache, Thorne’s career was defined by incredible proficiency with a cue and a gambling problem that would haunt his later years.

Born in Leicester in 1954, Thorne only started playing snooker at the age of 14, using a Maplewood cue his mother bought him. Within two years, he was crowned national under-16 champion. Swiftly turning professional, he came to be regarded as one of snooker’s finest break builders, earning the nickname Mr Maximum. He would become only the third payer to secure 100 competitive centuries, and rose to seven in the world rankings.

Thorne was undeniably talented but failed to translate his talent into titles. He reached two World Championship quarter-finals and won his only ranking title, the Mercantile Credit Classic, in 1982. He missed out on his biggest title in 1985, when he blew a 13-8 lead over Steve Davis in the final of the UK Championship.

His struggles were hidden behind a lifestyle that made Thorne incredibly popular

Thorne missed a blue off its spot and admitted that self-doubt then cost him the win. He said: “I went back to my seat and the doubts kicked in straight away. I was still 13-9 in front, but all I could think about was the way I’d failed in big games in the past.”

At this time, Thorne was already struggling with a gambling addiction, and his acute financial problems worsened as his playing career declined in the 90s. He estimated that he had gone through more than £3.5 million in gaming, and was declared bankrupt in 2015.

In one incident, Thorne bet £38,000 on John Parrott to lose a match and had to watch in despair as the player made a comeback. Gambling woes weighed heavily on Thorne – he attempted to take his own life twice, and he blamed his addiction for the collapse of his first marriage.

By 2015 he had suffered a minor stroke and needed treatment for prostate cancer

His struggles were hidden behind a celebrity lifestyle that made Thorne incredibly popular with fans. He was one of the players afforded a place in Chas ‘n’ Dave’s ‘Matchroom Mob’, which reached number six in the charts with the song ‘Snooker Loopy’. He worked as a commentator for BBC Sport for 30 years and competed in the 2007 series of Strictly Come Dancing. Partnered with Erin Boag, Thorne was voted out in twelfth place. He was renowned for his ability to make people laugh – after his retirement in 2001, he would introduce himself as “Willie Thorne, big star in the 1980s”.

But troubles would resurface in his later years. Last year, Thorne and second wife Jill’s home in Leicester was repossessed, and they moved to a rented flat in Spain. Jill, who had stood by Thorne throughout his addiction and claims he had cheated on her, left him in October.

Thorne’s health worsened towards the end of his life. By 2015, he had suffered a minor stroke and needed treatment for prostate cancer. The player revealed that he had leukaemia in March, and he was taken to hospital last week with low blood pressure.

Over the weekend, his condition took a turn for the worst – he was placed into an induced coma after suffering respiratory failure. Fans contributed more than £17,000 towards his care, but Thorne’s illness would eventually claim his life.

The world of snooker is a little less bright for Thorne’s loss.

Tributes have been paid to Thorne throughout the world of sport. Ronnie O’Sullivan, who sported a moustache in the player’s honour at the Snooker Championship League, tweeted: “Just want to say what a beautiful man, big heart, great company. Had a week in Ireland with him I’ll never forget.”

Stephen Hendry described Thorne as “one of my favourite people in snooker”, adding that “I know he had faults and weaknesses (we all do) but he was one of the game’s greatest ever characters, I’ll miss him”. World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn described him as “a larger than life personality”, and his long-time friend Gary Lineker said he was “deeply, deeply saddened” by the news. Thorne, he said, had “potted his final black much too soon”.

The world of snooker is a little less bright for Thorne’s loss.

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