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Pinning down the Hurricane.

Byline: By Karen Price Western Mail

He is one of sport's most colourful characters and has become an international legend.

But the Belfast-born star is as famous for his hell-raising, drinking and womanising as much as his sporting techniques.

No, we are not talking about former Manchester United player George Best.

The man in question is his fellow countryman, Alex Higgins, who was the most talked-about snooker player of his generation.

But, just like Best, Higgins - nicknamed Hurricane for his lightning-speed shots - has a self-destruct button.

He won the world championship twice, in 1972 and 1982, famously breaking down in tears and hugging his young daughter after the second triumph.

But his other headline- grabbing moments include urinating in a flower pot and head-butting a tournament director during the 1978 UK championship.

He has paid out almost pounds 25,000 in fines for misdemeanours, including abusing referees, swearing and bringing the game into disrepute.

And during the '90s he was diagnosed with throat cancer, which is now in remission.

Irish actor Richard Dormer was so intrigued by Higgins's story that he has based his first stage play on the snooker star's life.

The one-man show, simply called Hurricane, has won rave reviews, and Higgins has even told Dormer that it helped him turn his life around.

'He is the most complex person in sport,' says Dormer, who is also from Belfast and plays Higgins in the production. He has a great charisma and is the people's champion.'

Dormer premiered his show in Belfast two years ago, and now it is about to be staged in Wales as part of a UK tour, before going to New York.

His wife, theatre choreographer Rachel O'Riordan, is directing.

The man who the show is all about has watched the production a handful of times and has even given it his seal of approval. In fact, Dormer says it has helped Higgins realise how much people loved and admired him and has given him renewed hope for the future.

'He appreciates that it [the play] is not an attack on him. It's a celebration of his life,' says Dormer.

'And it's helped give him a new lease of life - he has remembered that he is the people's champion.

'He says the reaction from the audiences at the end gives him a real buzz.'

The first time Higgins watched the production was during a run-through.

His main concern wasn't the harsh tale of his boozing and womanising but the actor's expressions, with him wanting Dormer to reduce the number of his facial tics.

He later turned up unexpectedly at the show's first Belfast preview and sat right behind O'Riordan.

At the end, Higgins climbed on stage to deafening cheers from the audience and grabbed Dormer by the testicles, declaring, 'You've got balls, son.'

Initially, 34-year-old Dormer had planned to write a film screenplay about Higgins' life.

But it was a chance meeting with the man himself that led to his decision to tell the story on the stage.

In 2001, Dormer was at Dublin's main railway station after an unsuccessful audition for Martin Scorsese's film Gangs of New York when he ran into a friend and told him of his ideas for a film based on Higgins's life story.

'Look behind you,' whispered his acquaintance, and there was Hurricane, ordering a pint. Dormer leaned over and asked if he could buy it for him and have a chat, and Higgins agreed, provided the actor helped him carry his cases and golf clubs on to the Belfast train.

Higgins started a conversation about clothes, declared he had taken a fancy to the pigskin leather jacket Dormer was wearing, asked him to swap it for his own smart Italian one and, when his request was refused, angrily moved train compartments, refusing the actor's offer to help him shift his luggage.

But then he returned, with a beer for Dormer, and told the actor he reminded him of himself when he was younger.

When Dormer got home, he decided to forget the idea of a movie and collaborate on something over which they'd have control - the solo stage show.

It has gone on to win rave reviews and, perhaps more importantly, the seal of approval from the man it is all about.

Hurricane will be at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff on Tuesday. The box office number is 029 2064 6900.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 28, 2004
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