Paul Hunter, Snooker's `Beckham of the Baize,' Dies at Age 27

By Dan Baynes from Bloomberg.com

Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Paul Hunter, a three-time Masters snooker champion dubbed ``the Beckham of the baize,'' died after an 18-month fight against a rare form of cancer. He was 27.

Hunter, who was diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumors in his stomach lining in March 2005, succumbed last night at a hospice in Huddersfield, England, governing body World Snooker said.

As well as winning titles on the professional snooker circuit, Hunter's good looks and charisma made him popular with non-sports fans and drew comparisons with former England soccer captain David Beckham. His 2004 wedding to Lindsey Fell was featured in celebrity magazine ``Hello.''

``Paul was a man who had everything going for him, an outstanding talent, good looks, fame, riches, charm and a beautiful wife,'' World Snooker Chairman Rodney Walker said in a statement. ``This shows us just how quickly life can change.''

Hunter turned professional in 1995 at the age of 16 and took his first major title at the 1998 Welsh Open. He won the Masters, snooker's most-prestigious invitational event, in 2001, 2002 and 2004 and reached the World Championship semifinals in 2003.

He continued to compete professionally in the 2005-2006 season while undergoing chemotherapy treatment. He was able to win only one match, and his ranking slipped to 34th from fifth.

In July, his fellow professionals voted for a change to the sport's constitution to allow Hunter to have his ranking frozen for a season so he could take a break to get more treatment.

``Deep down we all thought he was going to beat the disease,'' former snooker professional Willie Thorne told the British Broadcasting Corp. ``He was one of the best-looking players we ever had and had a heart like a lion. There will be a big hole in everybody's hearts for the next year or so.''

Hunter, who would have turned 28 on Oct. 14, is survived by his wife and their ninth-month-old daughter, Evie Rose.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Baynes in Sydney at dbaynes@bloomberg.net

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