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Lineker leads tributes to friend Thorne

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BATTLE: Willie Thorne. Photo: PA

BATTLE: Willie Thorne. Photo: PA

PA

BATTLE: Willie Thorne. Photo: PA

Gary Lineker led the tributes to snooker star Willie Thorne, who has died at the age of 66 after a short battle with illness.

A long-time friend of the former two-time World Championship quarter-finalist, Lineker said he was "deeply, deeply saddened" by Thorne's death at a hospital in Spain.

Lineker, who like Thorne was born in Leicester, described him as "one of life's great characters", adding in a tweet that Thorne was "a marvellous snooker player and a lovely man, who's potted his final black much too soon."

Thorne, who announced he was battling leukaemia in March, had been placed into an induced coma in hospital over the weekend after suffering respiratory failure.

A message on Thorne's GoFundMe page, which had raised more than £17,000 towards his care, read: "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."

Thorne reached two World Championship quarter-finals and won his only ranking title, the Mercantile Credit Classic, in 1982.

He missed out on his biggest title in 1985 when he blew a 13-8 lead over Steve Davis in the final of the UK Championship after missing a simple blue off its spot.

Thorne, who appeared as part of Barry Hearn's 'Matchroom Mob' on the chart hit 'Snooker Loopy', went on to become a commentator on the sport for the BBC, and appeared on the fifth series of Strictly Come Dancing.

The message, written by Thorne's carer Julie O'Neill, continued: "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."

Snooker figures paid tribute to Thorne, with World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn describing him as "a larger than life personality and.. a major part of the rebirth of snooker (in the 1980s)."

Ronnie O'Sullivan, who two weeks ago sported a moustache at the Snooker Championship League which he claimed was in Thorne's honour, tweeted: "Just want to say what a beautiful man, big heart great company. Had a week in ireland with him I'll never forget."

Stephen Hendry described Thorne as "one of my favourite people in snooker", adding: "I know he had weaknesses (we all do) but he was one of the game's greatest characters."