Tributes have poured in for former darts World Champion Andy Fordham from the biggest names in the sport, following his death aged 59.
Former world champion Fordham, who was known to darts fans as The Viking, because of his long hair, cut in a mullet style, died with his wife Jenny at his side, after he suffered multiple organ failure following many years of ill health.
The sport instantly united in grief for a hugely popular figure, who was renowned for his spectacular drinking – he would down a crate of Holstein Pils a day after turning to alcohol to calm his nerves before a big match - and his warm personality.
The 'King of Darts', Bobby George, a former player and TV presenter, led the tributes.
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At the peak of his career, the Viking was crowned world champion in 2004 after defeating Mervyn King at the BDO World Championship
He said: ' He was a gentle giant and loved by all. Our condolences go out to his wife Jenny family and friends. RIP ANDY FORDHAM THE VIKING.'
Former world number one, Steve Beaton posted online: 'So very saddened to hear of the passing away of Andy Fordham. Not only a great friend but a sporting legend who I had the pleasure of knowing for many a year. Our thoughts are with Jenny and the family. RIP my friend.'
At the peak of his career, The Viking was crowned world champion in 2004 after defeating Mervyn King at the BDO World Championship.
He competed in his first World Championship in 1995, but came to the attention of many when he won the Winmau World Masters in 1999, defeating Mensur Suljovic and King along the way.
His legendary feats of drinking were synonymous with his career as a fan-favourite, although he would later warn of the devastating impact alcohol had on his health
He claimed a host of other titles, including the British Matchplay and the British pentathlon (twice), which are regarded as true tests of all-round darting skill by professional players.
Fordham's health problems emerged in 2004, when he faced off against Phil Taylor in a box office clash titled The Showdown, but was forced to default due to heat exhaustion.
In 2007, he collapsed while preparing for the British Dart Organisation World Championship's opening match. He was diagnosed with cirrhosis - more than 70 per cent of his liver has been destroyed - and was told that unless he stopped drinking, he'd have only a few years to live.
Darts icon Andy Fordham has died age 59 after being beset by health problems over the years. Pictured: with wife Jenny in October 2020 - the last known photo of him before his death
He recovered his health shedding 17 stone after numerous hospital visits, but he was unable to recapture his glory days. Then, last year Fordham was hospitalised with a bowel blockage before contracting coronavirus In January befoe losing his fight for life, with his wife, Jenny, with him, leaving two children.
'Jenny is absolutely heartbroken,' a close family friend told The Sun, in a touching tribute. 'She's lost the love of her life.
'Andy has had to cope with some really difficult health problems recently. In the last few months, he'd really been suffering and the doctors couldn't believe Andy was such a fighter. He was a warrior and it was as if his body simply didn't want to give up.
Here we remember Fordham, in his own words. RIP
Tragic death of a gentle giant
Andy Fordham suffered more than most with poor health, but he never shied away from the fact that his spectacular drinking had been the root cause of his problems.
He was famous for being a 'gentle giant', loving and loved, but he was also a fighter in darts and in life.
Typically, he never gave up the twin battles to be back on the oche and in good health. He craved another shot at darts' success and he wanted to be there for his family for many years to come.
After more than 15 years of health issues, Fordham was hospitalised in March 2020 with a bowel problem, leading to him having 16 litres of fluid drained from his body.
But throughout his illustrious career, Fordham faced numerous health scares. Pictured: His wife, Jenny, shares a picture of 'The Viking' as he recovers in hospital in February 2020
He told the Sun he would 'keep fighting until I can't fight anymore'.
When Fordham came through the crisis he was quickly thinking about darts.
'I am doing really well. I am probably about 90 per cent better, now' he told "Winmau TV last summer.
'I have had a few goes on the dart board and it's slowly picking up. I am not saying it will get back to tournament standard, but without trying you will never know.'
Fordham was a confirmed entrant for the World Seniors Darts Championship next February and he recently told Darts World magazine: 'Once things return to normal, I'm excited to get back on the exhibition circuit. It will give me good practice for the Seniors event but I've plenty of time'
Tragically, Fordham suffered coronavirus in January and multiple complications in recent weeks meant that he was unable to recover.
The Bristol-born darts icon (above) died on Thursday with his wife, Jenny, by his side
A People's Champion
When Fordham stepped up to the stage for the final of the British Darts Organisation World Championship at Lakeside, he had already secured a place in the hearts of the sport's fans.
By 2004, the Dartford thrower had assumed that special status in British sport – the hugely likeable, unlucky loser. The man everyone wants to win, but never does on the biggest stage. The Frank Bruno of darts.
Fordham first competed at the 'home of darts' in 1995 and in the following nine years he crashed out at the semi-final stage four times.
Fordham had a tough run to the final in 2004, but still claimed the world championship
But in 2004, it was going to be different. He had a ridiculously tough route to the final, culminating in a semi against the world number one and defending champion Raymond Van Barneveld. He went three sets to nil down and was 4-2 behind going into a break, The Viking looked out; doomed to fail again. Even he didn't fancy his chances.
'We came out [of the break] and to say I was expecting to lose is probably the wrong way of putting it, but against a player like Raymond, and you've got to win three sets on the trot, it's not the easiest thing in the world. But the atmosphere was unbelievable…' he recalled later.
And Fordham threw the darts of his life to win 5-4. The place went crazy.
So, as his walked up for the final with Merv 'The King' King, Fordham's song, 'I'm Too Sexy' by Right Said Fred booming out over the din, the crowd united in its support.
'It was phenomenal…' said Fordham, who soon stilled the room with a nervous 30 in his first three throws. However, he hit his stride delivering a memorable 139 checkout to take the eighth set when King was waiting to finish him off on a double-18, and he went on to win a wonderful final, 6-3.
As he lifted the trophy and a cheque for £50,000 Fordham shed a tear and declared: 'I am in darts heaven.'
Fordham was the World Champion, but also, the People's Champion, because for once, the good guy had landed the big one.
Fordham picked up the BDO World Championship trophy and a cheque for £50,000
The first collapse
Even in his moment of triumph, disaster was tragically close at hand. Having claimed the BDO World Championship in January, Fordham agreed to play, Phil 'The Power' Taylor, the reigning world champion in the rival Professional Darts Corporation in November 2004.
Fordham was expected to lose, but the match was abandoned after The Viking suffered heat exhaustion on the stage at 5-2 down. Rather than showcase his talents, the event exposed Fordham's ill-health and his subsequent candour about his lifestyle revealed an alcoholic, who was in danger of drinking himself to death. But he simply couldn't see it.
'I nearly fainted at one time and almost fell off the stage,' Fordham said last year, on Winmau TV, recalling his match with Taylor. 'I was getting so, so hot. I was getting hotter and hotter; I have watched it back. My eyes are like a thermometer. They are getting redder and redder.
Phil 'The Power' Taylor was 5-2 up when The Showdown with Fordham was abandoned
'I went outside and