How did Alex Higgins ever make it to 60?
There must have been times in his turbulent life, in which controversy, aggro and unrest have been constant bedfellows, when reaching 50 or even 40 looked unlikely.
But Higgins, who celebrates his 60th birthday today, has always been a survivor.
What an extraordinary character. He’s one of those people about which everything that has been said is probably true, or not far off, even that that contradicts the other stuff.
Higgins’s life has been well documented, not least in his own recent autobiography, ‘From the Eye of the Hurricane.’
Nobody should doubt the remarkable reaction to his emergence in the early 1970s and the way it transformed the sport from a pastime which demanded very little television coverage to a major frontline TV sport that, for a while in the 1980s, beat every other sport, including football, in the ratings in Britain.
All good stories need heroes and villains. Higgins was the villain in snooker’s rise to prominence.
Blessed with incredible natural talent, he had – indeed still has – a self destructive personality.
He has done things I would never defend, both in the sport and out in the world.
I would doubt anyone could dispute the year’s ban he was given for a catalogue of disciplinary offences during the 1989/90 season, which included threatening to have Dennis Taylor shot and punching – without any provocation – the press officer at the World Championship.
This ban ultimately precipitated the end of his professional career.
Higgins deserves little sympathy for this but it is also true that he has been sinned against.
At the height of snooker’s popularity, he was public property and newspapers were keen to exploit his reputation as a bad boy, sometimes with stories that had little basis in fact.
Hangers on and those looking for trouble or easy headlines got their claws into him.
But many have also tried to help him and been rebuffed because, ultimately, Higgins is a one off and will go to the grave doing things his own way.
He’ll be remembered for all of this but also for his snooker, which was, at times, spellbinding.
His 69 clearance to level his 1982 World Championship semi-final with Jimmy White is widely regarded as the best break ever because of the circumstances and dramatic way it was compiled.
And Higgins’s emotional capture of the title a few days later, tearfully beckoning his wife and baby daughter on to the Crucible stage, is one of snooker’s most iconic moments.
And that’s why – despite everything – the sport is lucky to have had the Hurricane.
Because, like him or loathe him – and it’s possible to do both at the same time – Alex Higgins is the most exciting thing that’s ever been seen on a snooker table.
A force of nature unpredictable, uncontrollable and, it would seem, unstoppable.