UK Football Star George Best dies, aged 59posted 2005-11-25 15:34:06 by dmcnelis
George Best, one of the greatest and most charismatic players in the history of football, died today after losing his long battle with illnesses linked to alcoholism. He was 59.
Best died at 12.55pm at Cromwell hospital in Chelsea, west London, where he had been receiving treatment since October 1, a hospital spokesman said.
The former Manchester United star had suffered multiple organ failure and had been on a ventilator. The hospital this morning announced that it had stopped giving him treatment to keep him alive. Doctors said he had remained sedated and not suffered pain.
In the final hours, his family, including his son, Calum, 24, and his 87-year-old father, Dickie, were at his bedside.
In a statement, Calum paid tribute to the medical staff who had cared for his father, and said: "Not only have I lost my dad, but we have all lost a wonderful man.
"The letters, flowers and emails [from well-wishers] meant so much to all of us, and I have to say thank you very much."
Best's father appealed to reporters to leave his relatives to grieve in peace, while a statement on behalf of the family also thanked those who had sent messages of support, which had been a source of "great comfort ... especially through the long hours".
The former footballer's death had been anticipated today after Professor Roger Williams - the surgeon who replaced his liver three years ago in the hope that he would live beyond the age of 60 - said yesterday that he was unlikely to survive 24 hours.
Early this morning, Prof Williams said he was surprised that Best had not died overnight, describing him as a "very strong man in many ways".
Best was admitted to hospital last month suffering flu-like symptoms and a kidney infection after returning to drinking.
His condition deteriorated last week when he also contracted a lung infection. After internal bleeding spread to his lungs on Wednesday evening, Prof Williams said there was no chance of a recovery.
Former team-mates Denis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton were among those who visited Best in hospital. This morning, Law said they had been talking to him and he could hear them, but could not respond. "We talked about all the stuff we did together," he added.
He later told reporters: "This is an extremely sad day for the Best family. I think it was a matter of when, not if, things would not go right."
The prime minister, Tony Blair, attending a meeting of Commonwealth leaders in Malta, said Best was "the most gifted footballer of his generation and one of the best players the UK has ever produced".
Best, a Belfast-born Northern Ireland international whose talents and looks earned him the nickname the "fifth Beatle", made his United debut as a 17-year-old in 1963, going on to enthral crowds in the English league and in Europe with his flair on the wing.
The Portuguese press dubbed him "El Beatle" after an inspirational performance when United thrashed a strong Benfica side in the European Cup in 1966.
He was the outstanding talent in the United side that won the European Cup in 1968, and was named European footballer of the year.
Best made a total of 466 appearances for United, scoring 178 goals, but some argue that his greatness as a player had waned by his mid-20s as he became increasingly distracted by his lifestyle.
Aged just 28, he was sacked by the Old Trafford club for excessive drinking and persistent failure to attend training.
Best said he hoped he would be remembered not for his drinking or the women he had dated, but for his football. He often said: "Pele called me the greatest footballer in the world. That is the ultimate salute to my life."
Today's newspapers are full of tributes to Best. The Guardian's David Lacey writes: "George Best was the outstanding British footballer of his generation and that, many would argue, is a gross understatement, for he had plausible claims to be considered the greatest of any generation."
Yesterday, the current Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson described him as one of the club's greatest players.
A statement on the club's website today said: "George Best was one of the greatest footballers of all time.
"Naturally athletic, tough, confident and blessed with genius, his career was one of the brightest stars of its generation. His gifts were legendary."
Best will be buried in Belfast in one of the biggest funerals the city has ever seen, it has been confirmed.
His agent, Phil Hughes, said Best would be buried at the family plot in Roselawn cemetery, in the Castlereagh hills above east Belfast, where his mother, Ann, was laid to rest.
"It will definitely be in Belfast ... that's where George told me he always wanted it," Mr Hughes said. "When the subject came up, his father Dickie said to me he would like to take him home to Belfast. It was both their wishes, and there's no one will stand between them."