A Brief History of Snooker’s Rock Star Personalities Ahead of O’Sullivan-Vafaei Grudge Match

  • Ronnie O’Sullivan and Hossein Vafaei have exchanged insults before their clash on Friday
  • O’Sullivan is one of snooker’s rock star personalities, with plenty of arrogance and partying
  • Kirk Stevens, Jimmy White, and Bill Wurbeniuk all had a rock star-like love for intoxicants
  • Alex Higgins made a name for himself through his snooker skills and violent behavior
Snooker rock stars
As we count down to the grudge match between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Hossein Vafaei, VSO News has taken a look at the sport’s biggest rock star personalities.

A heated rivalry

While it might have been regarded as a gentleman’s sport up until the 1960s, snooker’s explosion in popularity in the late 20th century prompted a new breed of snooker player. They were less inclined to adopt the gentlemanly conduct of their forbearers and more likely to dabble in drugs, violence, and booze.

a highly charged conflict between two top players

In the ongoing Snooker World Championship 2023, this new breed of snooker player is exemplified in a highly charged conflict between two top players – a rivalry in which sportsmanship and class appear to be out the window. The men in question, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Hossein Vafaei, are scheduled to play each other in a grudge match on Friday.

In the build-up, the rivals have engaged in a war of words:

Vafaei has urged O’Sullivan to retire to “let the younger generation make the game bigger,” deeming his former idol “a nice person when he’s asleep.” Meanwhile, O’Sullivan has taken a more considered approach, highlighting his countless records before concluding: “I won’t go on about them as Hossein Vafaei might get the hump.”

As we count down the hours to the momentous face-off, VegasSlotsOnline News has taken a look through the history books to provide a brief rundown of snooker’s biggest rock star personalities, starting with O’Sullivan himself.

Ronnie O’Sullivan

English pro Ronnie O’Sullivan, otherwise known as the Rocket, is a legend of snooker. He’s won everything there is to win, including seven Masters and seven UK Championships, breaking just about every record along the way. Most recently, he became the oldest world champion in snooker history when he won his seventh title last year.

wasted around nine years of his professional career on excessive partying

In addition to his accolades, O’Sullivan is known for his dubious behavior, recently admitting that he wasted around nine years of his professional career on excessive partying. In 1996, he served a two-year suspended prison sentence for assaulting a tournament official. Then, two years later, he tested positive for marijuana after winning the Irish Masters, losing his title in the process. 

Not only has the snooker legend acquired rock star status through questionable behavior, he is also known for his quick wit and general “I don’t give a f*ck” attitude. Evidence of this came when the snooker pro refused to complete a max score of 147 in protest at the ‘low’ prize of £10,000 ($12,429) in the 2016 Welsh Open:

When confronted with social media criticism from viewers who felt cheated by his decision, O’Sullivan said in his classic matter-of-fact style: “I’ll try not to have any fun next time I’m out there.”

Kirk Stevens

Kirk Stevens was a Canadian snooker player who rose to fourth in the world rankings in the 1980s. Often also making it to the latter stages of major tournaments, Stevens won the Canadian Open Championship five times.

a renowned penchant for drug-taking

The 80s were a time when snooker players turned to sex, drugs, and booze as the sport’s popularity shot through the roof and pros struggled to handle the weight of fame and fortune. Stevens was a perfect example of this, with a renowned penchant for drug-taking. His hotel-room cocaine sessions with fellow pro players such as Jimmy White are the stuff of snooker legend.

This all came to a head in 1985 when Silvino Francisco accused him of being high on drugs during the final of the British Open, which Stevens unsurprisingly lost. He ultimately acknowledged that he had a cocaine addiction on which he had spent around £250,000 ($310,965). The Canadian subsequently dropped out of the top 50 after returning to his native country, later becoming a car salesman.

Stevens’ name actually resurfaced on Twitter again recently after an orange powder protest by Just Stop Oil, although it’s probably not in a way he would have liked:

Jimmy White

It would be very difficult to compile a list of snooker’s most outlandish characters without Jimmy White. Like Stevens, the English pro rose to stardom in the 1980s, winning two of snooker’s three majors – the  Masters in 1984 and the UK Championship in 1992. He also reached the final of the World Championship on six occasions, amazingly without a win.

In 1984, he produced this masterclass table clearance against Stevens in the World Championship:

White’s struggles with gambling and drug addiction throughout his tumultuous career are well documented. The star began with cocaine before eventually turning to crack later on in his career. He also recently admitted that he lost around £3m ($3.7m) through his gambling, leading him to declare bankruptcy.

I would have died if I’d beaten Higgins”

White actually attributes his survival during these years to never winning a World Championship. Commenting on his loss to John Higgins in the 1982 edition of the tournament, White said: “I would have died if I’d beaten Higgins and won the World Championship in 1982 because I’d just found cocaine and I liked to drink.”  

After surviving cancer in the late 1990s, White has since turned his life around, supposedly cutting ties with his drinking, drug-taking, and gambling habits.

Bill Wurbeniuk

While White and Stevens tended to dabble into the illegal variety of intoxicants, our next snooker pro tended to stick to the cold stuff. Bill Wurbeniuk, another player who hailed from Canada, achieved much of his success in the 70s and early 80s. He won both the Canadian Snooker Championship and the North American Championship, ultimately reaching two major finals in his career.

Only he could get tanked up with ten pints before a match and still win.”

Wurbeniuk was well known for consuming copious amounts of alcohol, some even claiming that he drank around 50 pints of beer in one day. Commenting after Wurbeniuk’s death from heart failure in 2003, Jimmy White paid tribute by saying: “He was a great drinker but also a very good player. Only he could get tanked up with ten pints before a match and still win.”

Some of his rumored feats include drinking:

  • 76 cans of lager during a game against John Spencer.
  • 28 pints of lager and 16 whiskies while playing Nigel Bond.
  • 43 pints of lager in a snooker match with scotsman Eddie Sinclair.

Eventually the drink got the better of Wurbeniuk. A doctor ordered him to take a drug that was banned by the governing body of snooker, causing him suspensions. He eventually fell through the rankings until he played his last professional game in 1990. Wurbeniuk retired and lived on disability benefits until his death at 56.

Alex Higgins

Our other snooker stars might have focused on intoxicants, but Alex Higgins was more into general hell-raising. Rising to stardom in the late 1970s, the Northern Irishman won Masters titles in 1978, 1981, and 1983. He is also one of just 11 players to have completed the triple crown, winning the World Snooker Championship, the Invitational Masters, and the UK Championship in his career:

Higgins’ accolades are slightly tarnished by his violent behavior, however, which has gotten him into a lot of trouble over the years. In 1986, Higgins earned himself a lengthy ban and a £12,000 ($14,956) fine after head-butting an official. The incident took place during the UK Championship after Higgins was supposedly asked to take a drug test.

Higgins threw his fist into the stomach of the press officer

Aptly nicknamed the Hurricane, Higgins followed this up in 1990 by assaulting a press officer backstage at The Crucible after a disappointing first-round exit at the World Championship. Higgins threw his fist into the stomach of the press officer who was holding the door for him as he entered the room. He has since issued a letter of apology for the incident insisting he regrets the violent outburst.

Other high-profile incidents include Higgins threatening to have snooker pro Dennis Taylor shot in 1991 and getting stabbed three times by his girlfriend during a domestic argument. The snooker legend died at the age of 61 in 2010, leading O’Sullivan to pay tribute: “He is a legend of snooker, and should forever be remembered as the finest ever snooker player.”

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