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Alexander 'Hurricane' Higgins dies at 61; two-time world snooker champion

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Alex "Hurricane" Higgins, a two-time world champion of the billiards sport known as snooker who galvanized the game with his wild antics and quick play, was found dead Saturday at his home in Belfast, Ireland. He was 61.

Despite being diagnosed with throat cancer 10 years ago, Higgins played professionally as recently as 2007.

The volatile Irishman had a fast and thrilling style as well as a foul mouth and fiery temper that once prompted him to head-butt a referee.

He claimed the world title in 1972 and 1982 and lost in the finals in 1976 and 1980.

Higgins helped elevate snooker from a niche sport played in private clubs to one that was eventually televised worldwide. His appeal was also credited with luring heavyweight sponsors to snooker.

"He had a magnetism that is very rare in sport," Steve Davis, a six-time snooker world champion, told Britain's Sky Sports television. "He drew a lot of people … to the game. He dragged the sport kicking and screaming forward."

Controversy was never far from the competitor who attracted tabloid headlines for his drinking, love affairs, fights and rows with officialdom. In a 2003 profile, the British Broadcasting Corp. gave him a "bad boy" rating of 11 on a scale of 10.

Alexander Gordon Higgins was born March 18, 1949, in Belfast, and had three sisters. His father worked on the railway.

By age 11, he was playing competitive snooker and funding the pastime with his winnings.

On his first attempt, he won the world snooker championship at 22, making him the game's youngest champion at the time.

Originally, he was nicknamed "Hurricane" because he played snooker so fast, but in later years it came to reflect his destructive personal streak.

In 1986, he gave a tournament director a head-butt after being asked to take a drug test. Higgins was subsequently fined and banned for 10 months. When asked whether he could live without snooker, he replied, "Can snooker live without me?"

Twice divorced, Higgins had four children.

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