Jimmy White is snooker's 'Whirlwind' star who battled cocaine and alcohol demons

November 30, 2021
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Jimmy White had the ability to go down as one of the greatest snooker players of all time - instead, he goes down as the greatest, and most popular, to have never won a World Championship.

Indeed, no reference to what 'The Whirlwind' brought to the sport is complete without a tinge of regret, or contemplation of the agony, that represents a destiny unfulfilled.

White reached six finals at the Crucible Theatre, first losing to Steve Davis in 1984. It was however between the period of 1990 and 1994 that sadly defined his ultimate quest - reaching the big stage on five successive occasions, and succumbing each time.

Jimmy White has spoken openly about his drug taking during his early career
Jimmy White has spoken openly about his drug taking during his early career

John Parrott scuppered him once in 1991, but it was arch-nemesis Stephen Hendry who really shattered dreams, denying him four times. The most famous of those occasions came last - when White, leading the final frame decider, missed a routine back before eventually losing 18-17.

What made White's failure to capture the world crown was that in the eyes of snooker fans, he was anything but a run of the mill professional. He was exciting to watch, he played attacking snooker, he had the swagger to confront risky pots that others wouldn't dare consider.

One of a select number of players to have made over 300 century breaks in professional competition, and the first left-handed player to record a maximum 147 break at the World Championship - there was something different about the man from Tooting.

And to compliment it all, was a likeable personality, a character, a man who prompted sports fans to reach for their remotes and turn over to the snooker, as opposed to turning it off.

The 'Whirlwind' is a popular figure within the sport
The 'Whirlwind' is a popular figure within the sport

It was a style that brought him ample success. School wasn't for White, he spent his youth playing truant in snooker halls, and was just 18 when he became World Amateur champion. After turning pro, numerous other titles followed, including the UK Championship and Masters, and perhaps most fittingly, in 1984 he became World Doubles champion with none other than Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins.

For that pairing had far more in common than weather-related nicknames. Exhilarating in his play, loved by the people, White was seemingly cut from the same cloth as the folk hero from Northern Ireland. The potential successor to his undisputed 'great entertainer' crown.

Sadly though, comparisons between the two delved beyond their flair on the snooker table.

It was perhaps no secret that White's flamboyant play wasn't fuelled by fruit and vegetables, but only when he released his autobiography in 2014, did the extent of the demons that plagued his career become truly known.

The book, Second Wind, centred around White's candid admissions of that he battled addictions to gambling, alcohol and drugs for much of the 80' and 90's, ironically his most profitable years in snooker. That first world final defeat to Davis prompted a three-month binge on crack cocaine that somehow, he masked via good form at the table.

Alex Higgins and Jimmy White were seen to be cut from the same cloth
Alex Higgins and Jimmy White were seen to be cut from the same cloth

It wasn't until 10 years, £200,000 on cocaine, £2million on gambling, and one ruined marriage later, that he made a conscious decision to drop the habit.

And yet amidst his misdemeanours, are universally knows stories that can't fail to trigger smiles, albeit perverse ones.

He once turned over and sank a speedboat in Hong Kong, forcing he and passenger Steve Davis to swim back to shore.

That incident, however, is dwarfed by the surreality of the tale deriving from his brother's funeral, when White opted to steal the body from the funeral home in order to have a final drink with his sibling, before returning him in a manner that amounted to considerably less than a shrewd operation.

There are many more examples of controversies which the average professional sportsperson would perhaps be vilified for.

The average professional sportsperson though, isn't Jimmy White.

In 2018, White began a relationship with beauty queen Jade Slusarczyk
In 2018, White began a relationship with beauty queen Jade Slusarczyk

He's since veered towards the straight and narrow, working with Narcotics Anonymous and taking on various punditry and commentary roles. And whilst his ability at the top level has long since waned, his worldwide appeal remains.

In fact, Barry Hearn continues to award him professional wild cards to ranking events, a decision not based on logic but White's "charm that affects many snooker fans."

Indeed, four computer games in the name of man who was never crowned world champion, in a sport that ranks far behind football and the likes in terms of popularity, is a pretty impressive return.

His relationship with former darts walk-on girl Jade Slusarczyk suggests his appeal on the dating scene remains considerable too.

So whilst the fact White never captured the one title he craved tainted his career record, overshadowed his other achievements, and left huge potential unfulfilled, there was thing that factor couldn't suppress.

His popularity. And even at the age of 59, White's face remains as recognisable as ever, and his status as one of the sport's great mavericks, is forever secure.

This post appeared first on Daily Star - Snooker.

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