Ge­orgie drank him­self to death to es­cape fame

PARKY BOOK RE­CALLS FRIEND­SHIP WITH THE BEST PLAYER EVER Broad­cast­ing le­gend tells of a soc­cer ge­nius who strug­gled to cope with be­ing fa­mous

Irish Sunday Mirror - - FRONT PAGE - BY SYLVIA POW­NALL

SOC­CER le­gend Ge­orge Best drank him­self to death to es­cape his su­per­star sta­tus and even his clos­est friends were pow­er­less to help him, a new book re­veals.

In his bi­og­ra­phy Ge­orge Best: A Mem­oir, vet­eran broad­caster Michael Parkin­son shares his thoughts on the trou­bled foot­baller’s strug­gle with al­co­holism and sub­se­quent death.

The pair struck up an en­dur­ing friend­ship that lasted more than 40 years, and Parkin­son, 83, reck­ons Best was thrust into the lime­light too young.

He re­veals they of­ten shared a drink when he hit the bot­tle af­ter the death of his father in the late 1970s, but un­like his pal he man­aged to stop.

Best was des­tined for sport­ing great­ness from a young age, run­ning rings around his friends with a ball at his feet un­der the lamp­light of the Cre­gagh es­tate in East Belfast.

By the age of 19 he was Ge­orgie Best Su­per­star, the gifted player who helped re­build Man­ches­ter United af­ter the Mu­nich air dis­as­ter and led them to a Euro­pean Cup vic­tory in 1968.

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But Parkin­son, who in­ter­viewed him sev­eral more times, says it was a case of too much too soon that saw his pal turn his back on foot­ball at the age of 27 and dead at 59.

He writes: “I first met him when he was 17 and suck­ing a sweet. It was 1963 in Man­ches­ter and the city tin­gled with ex­pec­ta­tion that this foot­baller with the physique of a tooth­pick might be some­thing spe­cial…

“In the next 40 years or more, to the time he died, we were friends. I in­ter­viewed him more than a dozen times, wrote a book about him, watched his glo­ri­ous tri­umphs, vis­ited him in prison.

“He some­times stayed at our house seek­ing refuge from the pur­su­ing me­dia. He al­ways ar­rived with a foot­ball for the kids and played with them on the lawn.

“I in­ter­viewed him on his 50th birth­day and, look­ing back, he tried to an­swer the ques­tion posed in the most fa­mous Ge­orge Best anec­dote of them all, ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ He said, ‘All of a sud­den, as a teenager from Belfast, I had to em­ploy three full-time sec­re­taries to an­swer 10,000 let­ters a week. I didn’t know how to cope...’ “The ul­ti­mate irony of Ge­orge Best’s ca­reer was that al­though his gifts and looks made him the per­fect prod­uct for his time, and he was ex­ploited as such, no one thought how to pro­tect him.” Parkin­son paints a pic­ture of a gifted, in­tel­li­gent and shy man haunted by me­lan­choly – a far cry from the dev­il­may-care drunken wom­an­iser of­ten por­trayed in the me­dia.

He writes: “He went to bed with a thou­sand beau­ti­ful girls and ended up so lonely he tried to kill him­self.

“He was hailed as the first pop su­per­star of foot­ball and be­came a ter­mi­nal drunk.

“What­ever we make of his life, it wasn’t pre­dictable, and while de­fend­ing him was some­times dif­fi­cult, lov­ing him never was.” The au­thor and broad­caster, who was in Dublin yes­ter­day sign­ing copies of the bi­og­ra­phy, gives us glimpses of the real Ge­orge Best in a se­ries of anec­dotes.

A typ­i­cal night out for Best – who once went on a 22-day ben­der with­out food – was fol­lowed by a fa­mil­iar rou­tine the next morn­ing to try and piece to­gether the pre­vi­ous hours.

Parkin­son writes: “First check the wall­pa­per. If you recog­nise it you’re at home, if not you’re play­ing away and the ques­tion is where? Next, check the other side

of the bed… Next stage of rou­tine. Get rid. If ever he was in trou­ble I would of­fer him a bed at my house.”

In a 1973 in­ter­view, Best crit­i­cised the British me­dia for putting stars on a pedestal only to knock them down again.

He reg­u­larly fea­tured on both the front and back pages of the tabloids – for his prow­ess both on and off the pitch as his sex sym­bol sta­tus took hold.

He said: “There were a hell of a lot of things all com­ing at once. It’s hard for a kid at 15 to leave home and come into the big world as a pro­fes­sional foot­baller. I tried to build a home for my­self. I had a house built… it was like liv­ing in a zoo. A gold­fish bowl. I had day-trip­pers... coachloads. I used to hide in my own house.”

He hit the bot­tle hard over the next decade go­ing bank­rupt and serv­ing a three-month jail term for drink driv­ing and as­sault­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer.

In the 1990s he got sober for a time and re­mar­ried, and in his fi­nal in­ter­view with Parkin­son in 2001 he told how he’d once con­tem­plated sui­cide. The broad­caster re­flects: “Of all the in­ter­views, this was the clos­est I ever got to Ge­orge. Sadly, as we now know, Ge­orge de­cided to turn the light off. Frankly, I think he had been in the dark for most of his life. I don’t be­lieve any of us had the strength or in­flu­ence to make Ge­orge change.

“I don’t think any of us re­ally knew what made Ge­orge tick. I don’t think any of us got that close to him. Ge­orge had spent his life evad­ing be­ing tack­led, mak­ing im­pos­si­ble es­capes.

“He was never go­ing to be pinned down by any­one, de­fender or con­cerned friend alike. It was his ball, his life, and he was go­ing to keep it to him­self.”

Ge­orge Best: A Mem­oir by Sir Michael Parkin­son is pub­lished by Hod­der & Stoughton, trade pa­per­back, avail­able in all good book­shops.

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