Willie Thorne: Snooker favourite dies aged 66

Willie Thorne
Willie Thorne began his professional snooker career in 1975, reaching a career-high world ranking of seven in 1987 and 1994

Former snooker star and BBC commentator Willie Thorne has died at the age of 66, says World Snooker.

Thorne was diagnosed with leukaemia in March and was taken to hospital in Spain last week with dangerously low blood pressure.

He retired from professional snooker in 2001 and for many years was a respected BBC commentator.

Thorne reached two World Championship quarter-finals during his career and won the 1985 Mercantile Credit Classic.

He twice reached a world ranking of seven and spent 20 years among the top 32, before moving into a commentary career spanning more than 30 years with BBC, ITV and Sky.

With snooker's popularity soaring during the mid 1980s, Thorne featured in a group of leading players who joined Chas and Dave to perform their song Snooker Loopy, which reached number six in the UK charts in 1986.

A GoFundMe page set up to help pay for his treatment had passed £17,000 by Tuesday afternoon, when it was disclosed he had been placed into an induced coma.

His carer, Julie O'Neill, wrote on the page on Wednesday: "It is with a very heavy and broken heart that I have to officially announce that at 1.55am this morning Willie Thorne lost his battle and passed away.

"Willie went into septic shock and was not responding to any treatment so the decision was made by the hospital to turn off the machines.

"I was with him all the way to his end and reading out messages to him from people. He passed away very peacefully and without pain, listening to his children saying they love him. That gives me some comfort in this difficult time."

Known as Mr Maximum, Thorne was the third player to reach the landmark of 100 centuries and made a 147 in the 1987 UK Championship.

'A marvellous snooker player and a lovely man'

Archive interview: I'd much rather play the attractive game - Willie Thorne

Born in Leicester, Thorne was a long-term friend of ex-footballer Gary Lineker and the former England and Leicester City striker said he was "deeply saddened" by the news.

Writing on social media, the Match of the Day presenter added: "One of life's great characters. A marvellous snooker player and a lovely man, who's potted his final black much too soon. RIP Willie."

Five-time Crucible winner Ronnie O'Sullivan wrote: "Just want to say what a beautiful man, big heart, great company. Had a week in Ireland with him I'll never forget. Will be missed by a lot of people in the Snooker world. RIP WT."

Former world champion Dennis Taylor, a long-standing colleague of Thorne in the commentary box, said they had "laughed our way around the world for 45 years", adding: "RIP Great One. That was my name for him. The Great WT. Lots of love to his family."

Shaun Murphy, who won the world title in 2005, was a junior player when he first got to know Thorne. He described him as "a beautiful, beautiful man".

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Someone said to me your reputation is built on what people say about you when you're not in the room.

"While Willie Thorne did have these issues which have been talked about for a long time, the tributes that are pouring in are not talking about those things. They're talking about what a great guy he was, what great charity work he did, how many great players he and his family helped through the Willie Thorne Snooker Centre in Leicester.

"There's me, [three-time world champion] Mark Selby, a lot of the players who people know today - we all came through that club. Without him and the work he and his family put in, we just wouldn't be here."

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn said: "I had the pleasure of managing the Great WT as part of the Matchroom team in the 1980s. He was a larger than life personality and he was a major part of the rebirth of snooker at that time. It's so sad to hear he has passed away and our thoughts are with his family."

Six-time world champion Steve Davis, part of Hearn's Matchroom stable, said: "I hope you had a lovely time on the planet, Willie, and any regrets were overshadowed by the fun and games you had and the smiles you put on other people's faces."

Stephen Hendry, a seven-time world title winner, wrote: "Very sad news today, Willie was one of my favourite people in snooker. 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."

In 2016, Thorne was declared bankrupt after admitting borrowing £1m to fund his gambling addiction.