the great Willie Thorne
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Mr. Maximum: The Great Willie Thorne

The popular former world number seven was battling illness for most of this year and has sadly passed away.

The snooker world is in mourning after the death of the Great Willie Thorne at the age of 66 in Spain on Wednesday.

Tributes for the proud Leicester player have been pouring in after confirmation came through of his passing in the early hours of this morning.

After months of his condition deteriorating, having initially revealed his diagnosis of leukaemia in March, Thorne was placed in an induced coma earlier this week.

Unfortunately, he was unable to recover and carer Julie O’Neill announced his death on a GoFundMe page that was launched in order to help pay for his growing medical expenses.

O’Neill wrote: “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.”

Thorne has been one of snooker’s most well-known personalities for almost half a century.

In the latter years of his professional career, he was widely recognised as one of the leading voices on the BBC commentary team in tournaments including the World Championship, the Masters, and the Welsh Open.

A stint on Strictly Come Dancing in 2007 briefly brought him to an even wider audience, while he was memorably one the singers on Chas and Dave’s “Snooker Loopy” record.

Thorne will, of course, be remembered most fondly for his achievements as a player on the green baize, though, and in particular his contribution to his sport during the initial boom years of the 1980s.

A member of the fabled Matchroom Mob that was put together by Barry Hearn during the decade, Thorne was a mainstay of the top 16 and regularly featured at the business end of events as snooker expanded its reach globally.

The Englishman’s crowning glory was victory in the 1985 Mercantile Credit Classic, when he outplayed Cliff Thorburn 13-8 for his one and only ranking success.

Just a few months later, triumph in the more prestigious UK Championship looked likely when he led then dominant force Steve Davis 13-8 in the title decider in Preston.

A missed straightforward blue – a shot that has been replayed thousands of times since – would result in an unlikely turnaround as Davis reversed the deficit to win 16-14.

Thorne never properly recovered, but the year after he did gain revenge over Davis in the non-ranking Matchroom Professional Championship and earned success overseas in events in Hong Kong, China, and New Zealand.

Despite competing in the blue riband World Championship almost 20 times, Thorne was never able to fulfill his potential and could only feature at the quarter-final stage on two occasions.

However, he was known as one of the best break-builders of his era, one of only a few from that period to record more than 100 century breaks.

Affectionately known as Mr. Maximum, Thorne often boasted about his ability to compile 147 breaks in practice.

A fonder memory of the UK Championship transpired at the Guild Hall two years after his collapse to Davis, when he became only the fourth player in the sport’s history to make a maximum in competitive play.

Alongside his brother Malcolm, the former world number seven was a significant provider to snooker’s grassroots too.

Thorne was understandably proud to watch on as another Leicesterman in Mark Selby, who regularly played in junior tournaments hosted by the Thorne brothers, reached the very pinnacle of the game by lifting the world title.

In more recent years, Thorne has frequently stayed in the public eye despite the BBC curtailing his commentary duties.

Thorne separated with his wife in 2019 after years fighting gambling addiction and depression.

But proof that he was well-loved has been reflected in the sheer volume of condolence messages he has been sent on social media in the last few hours.

Celebrity friend Gary Lineker, who is also from Leicester and was an English football star around the same time Thorne was producing the goods on the table, was one of the first to express his sadness.

Piers Morgan, Jeff Stelling, and Gabby Logan have been other notable names to remember him fondly, and of course a host of familiar figures from the snooker scene itself.

Hearn, his former manager and now the chairman of WST, said: ““I had the pleasure of managing the Great Willie Thorne 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.”

The Great Willie Thorne has left the stage, but he’ll not be forgotten.

Featured photo credit: World Seniors Snooker

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