Doug Mountjoy, one of Wales’ greatest ever snooker players, has died at the age of 78.
He was a World Championship runner-up in 1981, one of only six Welshmen to reach snooker’s biggest contest.
The former coal miner might have won even more tournaments, but did not turn professional until he was 34.
Mountjoy began his professional career by winning the 1977 Masters tournament and is also one of only four Welsh players to win the UK Championship.
Mountjoy was born in Tir-y-Berth near Caerphilly on 8 June 1942, and was brought up just outside Ebbw Vale in Blaenau Gwent.
In his formative years, Mountjoy was a well-known amateur snooker player around the clubs, but the sport could not be his full focus because of his career as a miner.
Mountjoy won many amateur tournaments and was twice Welsh amateur champion before taking the ultimate accolade, the 1976 world amateur title with a 11-1 thrashing of Paul Mifsud.
He turned professional a year later and after a late call-up for the 1977 Masters as a replacement, Mountjoy announced himself in the pro ranks with a stunning 7-6 win over reigning world champion Ray Reardon in the final.
Further success would arrive in 1978 when he became UK champion, beating David Taylor 15-9 in the final.
In 1980 Mountjoy won the champions of champions tournament, beating John Virgo 10-8 in the final, while he also partnered with Terry Griffiths and Reardon to win the first two snooker World Cups for Wales in 1979 and 1980.
A run in the 1981 World Championship saw Mountjoy reach the final at in Sheffield, but he was defeated 18-12 by a young Steve Davis, who won the first of his six Crucible titles.
Mountjoy dropped out of the world’s top 16 as titles dried up for a spell, but he revitalised his game and career in the late 1980s after working with renowned coach Frank Callan.
Mountjoy was the surprise winner of the 1988 UK Championship at the age of 46, beating future seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry 16-12 in the final.
Diagnosed with lung cancer in 1993, he made his last appearance in the final stages of the World Championship that year. He beat Alain Robidoux 10-6 in the first round a few weeks before an operation to remove his left lung.
He recovered and stayed on the circuit until 1997 before turning to coaching.
‘A true champion and gentleman’
One of Mountjoy’s friends and a playing contemporary Cliff Thorburn said: “So sad to hear of Doug Mountjoy’s passing today.
“He was a true champion and gentleman. He had all the shots and the heart of a lion. You knew he was in the room by his laughter and I spent many a happy time with Doug!
“My sympathies to his family and friends.”
Another former world champion, Dennis Taylor, said: “Just heard the sad news of the passing of one of our legends.
“Doug Mountjoy a very special Welsh man. RIP my dear friend.”
In a joint statement, World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn and World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association chairman Jason Ferguson said: “Doug was first and foremost a lovely man, who had great friendships with many players on the tour throughout the 1970s and onwards.
“He had a fantastic dedication to our sport, he simply loved the game and was always willing to help others to improve, both as a player and later as a coach.
“On the table he was a fierce competitor and a fine champion who won a multitude of tournaments.
“His revival late in his career to win two events including the UK Championship was an incredible achievement.
“Doug will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him, and our sincere condolences go to his family.”
Tributes to Mountjoy also came some of the sport’s leading figures were posted on social media with Jimmy White among them.