25 April 2003
SNOOKER star Ronnie O’Sullivan suffered agonising depression which drove him to the brink of suicide.
In his new autobiography, serialised in The Sun, he tells how he sought help in a clinic for drug and drink addicts.
Today, he reveals how his greatest triumph came during his days of deepest despair – and how he called the Samaritans on the way to victory.
By ANDY DILLON
MOST snooker players use intervals in grand finals to chill out, read the papers or relax with a drink.
Ronnie O’Sullivan pumped his body full of Prozac.
The Rocket admits his epic World Championship march to glory in 2001 was fuelled by the anti-depressant pills he still takes every day.
When he won that final at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, he looked to have the world at his feet.
But the depression which had haunted him for years, a hangover from his turbulent upbringing, refused to budge.
Ronnie says: “Just before Sheffield I felt empty. I went home and told Mum I didn’t want to play any more. I told her it would be my last tournament.
“I’d already won four tournaments that season and hadn’t got a buzz from any of them.
“I kept telling myself that snooker was the problem, but it wasn’t. The problem was in my head.
“From the outside it looked like I had everything. I was a good snooker player with a nice house and took holidays all over the world.
“Why wouldn’t you be happy if you had all that?
“I couldn’t work out what was wrong with me and was always searching for something different that would make me happy.
“The bad times were really bad. Even when I was winning it wasn’t fun, just a big pay cheque.”
Ronnie turned to his coach and mentor Del Hill in a last-ditch attempt to banish the demons.
He says: “Del said we would go to the doctor to see if he could get me on tablets. I went, but at first wouldn’t talk to him.
“Then I opened up and explained that I couldn’t get off my settee because I didn’t have any enthusiasm for anything. I told him I didn’t talk, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think, wasn’t interested in sex...didn’t feel good about anything.
“‘You suffer with depression,’ the doctor said. Then he told me how we create the chemical serotonin and how we need it to make ourselves feel good.
“He said normal people are usually at level ten and drop to nine on a bad day. I was at level three or four.
“He told me he would give me these pills to make me function like a normal human being.
“I’d tried Prozac once before, but had given up after three days.
“He said I had to give it a proper go, ‘When you get to level two or three that is suicidal. I think you’re on three-and-a-half’.
“I did want to kill myself, I just didn’t have the bottle.”
Prozac is not considered a performance enhancing drug and it is perfectly within the rules for snooker players to pop the pills during tournaments.
Ronnie arrived in Sheffield with the outside world tipping him for glory in the game’s biggest tournament — while he fought his biggest battle on the inside.
He says: “On the opening Saturday I rang the Samaritans. Even by my standards I was a wreck.
“I never told them my name. I said I was a sportsman who played snooker and that I’d been having panic attacks.
“The girl on the other end of the line asked if it was crucial for me to play snooker. I told her it was my job.
“She replied, ‘Isn’t it more important to be healthy? Have you thought about giving up?’
“I felt better by talking to her because I had nothing to hide on the phone. But I couldn’t go another day feeling like this.
“I was at my wits’ end and felt Prozac was the only answer. ‘F*** the snooker let’s just try these pills,’ I thought. I was desperate.
“When I first started taking Prozac it made me feel really dizzy. I started taking it in the second round against Dave Harold.
“They made me feel so chilled, so stress-free. The little buzz was great. It was how I wanted to feel all the time.
“I was back to being a human being again. The Prozac made me realise that a win is a win whether it’s pretty or not.
“In the quarter finals I met Peter Ebdon over two days. After the morning session I had my tablet and the buzz came on me but luckily I didn’t have to play then.
“As soon as I started playing my whole body shook. Ebdon is mentally one of the hardest players to put away because he never knows when he’s beaten.
“But my mood was transformed. On Prozac I would wake up and think, ‘Today’s not a bad day’.
“They’ve yet to invent a pill that will make you play championship snooker but Prozac gave me confidence.”
Ronnie was sweeping the opposition aside thanks to the wonder pills that restored his battered self-confidence.
He had come through three tough rounds to face Ulsterman Joe Swail, nicknamed The Outlaw, for a place in the final.
There he met the 1999 Crucible king John Higgins, a charming man, who fights like a terrier at the table. The Rocket explains: “Now I was thinking about winning the World Championship.
“By the semi-final I’d got used to the Prozac so had no worries about feeling dizzy while playing.
“And I had a lot more energy. In the first frame of the evening session I went 7-2 up.
“On the Sunday afternoon I went from 10-6 to 14-7 up with breaks of 138, 90, 50 and 50. I was happy for John to have his turn.
“But he jumped out of his chair and cleared up for 14-8. When he won the next two before the interval I was panicking.
“I went back to my room p***ed off. Del said I should lie down and have a drink. I was lying in bed when there was a knock on the door.
“‘What is it?’ I shouted. ‘It’s me — Del. I’ve had the doctor on the phone. He wants you to take another Prozac. He was watching the match on telly and saw that your concentration level was falling. You were fading away.’”
Ronnie went on to win 18-14.
He still takes one or two tablets every day.
He insists: “I am going to beat this depression once and for all. When the season is over I will go on a programme to wean me off the pills.”
24 March 2003
HE is snooker’s superstar, yet Ronnie O’Sullivan’s life has been no fairytale.
His father was jailed for murder, his mother for fraud.
The 27-year-old has battled drug addiction and depression and has a history of failed relationships, but still attracts jealously from other players.
Today, on Day One of a sensational serialisation of his autobiography, Rocket Ronnie opens his heart to The Sun.
By OLIVER HARVEY
TORTURED genius Ronnie O’Sullivan played his way to the very top of the snooker world — as his life fell apart around him.
While millions of armchair fans were addicted to their TV screens whenever the charismatic youngster attempted a pot, he was haunted by depression.
The devoted son had to endure seeing his beloved dad jailed for life for an horrific knife murder and then became a prison orphan when his mother was also sent down for a fraud offence.
Left to look after his younger sister and desperately missing his father, snooker protégé Ronnie turned from potting balls to smoking pot.
He neglected the tables to cue up one drink after another as he hoped the booze would help him beat the blues.
But it was an unlikely encounter with a beautiful woman at a self-help group for addicts that really helped Ronnie turn his life around.
He says: “We met through Narcotics Anonymous and it’s a big part of why we are together — we’ve both been down that slippery slope.”
Ronnie was clearly destined for the snooker big time from an early age.
He made his first century break when he was just ten years old and at 15 became the youngest player to make a maximum 147 break in tournament play.
When he was 16 he turned professional and has since won £3million in prize money and 11 major tournaments.
He has held the UK title and won the World Championship at snooker’s spiritual home, The Crucible in Sheffield. But while achieving many of those victories, Ronnie was going through hell.
Today he is cheerful, relaxed and determined not to let the bleak depression that has blighted his young life return to haunt him once more.
As we talk he sips mineral water and the strongest drug he takes is a Marlboro Light.
The star, who peppers our conversation with therapy buzz words, added: “I like to keep myself in shape, it’s good for the body and soul.
“At one point I went up to 16 stone after pigging out on Chinese take-aways and burgers.
“I’m in good shape now but I’ve always been prone to putting on weight. When I was a kid I was teased by the other children and called ‘fatty’.
"It was because I was playing snooker all the time and the only thing they served in snooker halls was burger and chips. I can remember crying and running home to dad.
“People expect me to be brash and act like some sort of wildman like Liam Gallagher or someone. But I’m actually a very shy person and I’m a bit of a loner.
“People sometimes find it difficult to understand how someone with all my money, success and fame can be depressed. But it’s not just a case of cheering up. Believe me, I’ve tried.
"Depression is a serious illness which needs to be treated. I’ve really been through so much and hit rock bottom. It’s been a long, long battle but I’m full of optimism now.
“I’m a survivor.”
The turning point in Ronnie’s survival came when he was pouring his heart out at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
The star, known to millions as The Rocket, had joined the help group as he battled the dark forces that had driven him to the brink of suicide.
But as the group of addicts listened to how he had binged on drugs and alcohol, Ronnie had eyes only for a gorgeous dark-haired woman across the room.
Afterwards Ronnie chatted to Jo Langley and was smitten.
He confessed last night: “The first moment I saw her I wanted us to be together.
“I clicked with Jo straight away, she was stunning-looking and fantastic to talk to.
“I was going out with another girl at the time so for the first year I knew Jo we were just friends.
“Later the relationship developed and we moved in together. Jo is a lovely girl who has been through a lot as well.”
Jo and Ronnie began dating in 2001, the year he won his World Championship, and she helped him find peace of mind as he confronted the demons which have seen him attend more than 500 Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Today Jo, 33, works as a buyer for Ronnie’s lingerie boutique Viva La Diva and enjoys life with Ronnie, who has a five-year-old daughter Taylor-Ann from a previous relationship.
He said: “I love my independence and my own space. I need to do what I want to do. Jo has accepted that and we have met in the middle.
“At one time we were just sitting at home every night watching telly and I was getting restless. Now we like to go out to nice restaurants and the theatre.
“She’s brilliant and hasn’t had any relapses in two years — which, in a way, makes it more difficult for me.
“If I do have a slip, I want to talk to her about it, but I worry she’ll be disappointed with me.
“And if I don’t tell her exactly what I’ve done, and it’s in my head and I don’t let it all out, I become agitated, quite fiery and hard to live with.”
Ronnie’s despair began in the same year as his professional career — 1992 — when dad Ron, 47, was jailed for knifing a man to death in a brawl. Ronnie was just 15 at the time of the killing.
Then his mum Maria, 46, served six months in jail for a £100,000 tax evasion offence. At that point Ronnie lost it. He hit the drugs and binged on alcohol.
His game went downhill.
One critic cruelly dubbed him The Sports Split Personality Of The Year.
Others said there were Two Ronnies — one the cheeky chappie snooker hero and the other the depressed and lonely Ronnie who bombed out of tournaments early.
He said: “I reached a dark place in my life. I would have been World Champion in negativity.
“It was only after years of pain, seeing psychologists and visiting The Priory clinic that a doctor finally told me I had depression.
“I’d go to bed, wake up and the anxiety had started again, the panic attacks. I hated myself and felt so isolated.
“I was tormenting myself with snooker, trying to win to please dad inside prison.
“When I was a boy I wanted to be famous because I was shy and thought that would make me popular and make girls attracted to me. I was a real loner. I thought becoming famous would change me.
“But when I was depressed I hated fame. I couldn’t even go to Sainsbury’s because I thought everyone was looking at me. It got to the point I was contemplating suicide.
“I felt so tired I didn’t want to get off the settee — even my sex drive went.
“I used booze and cannabis to block the pain out. I needed a joint in the morning before I could face the world. I felt panic attacks coming on and the only way to get rid of them was to have a joint.
“People would look at me and I would think, ‘What are you looking at?’ I felt so paranoid and the dope definitely made that worse. It made me a lunatic.
“But when I wasn’t stoned I was full of fear, alone, ill-at-ease with myself. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I didn’t like being me.”
Ronnie became so low that he checked into The Priory clinic in London in 2000.
He stayed there for a month in total, but his first visit lasted just three days.
He said: “I made a funny joke to three girls in there I fancied but they just stared at me. I thought they thought I was a pervert. I become paranoid and just packed my bags and ran.
“It took a drugs counsellor to persuade me to return. After the first week a fella came up to me and we sat under a tree in the Priory’s grounds. I said, ‘I feel like s***. I think I’m going mad’.
“He told me, ‘It’s all right, I feel like that’. So I said, ‘It’s all right to feel f***ing depressed and angry and f***ed off and to hate the world?’
“He nodded. It was like a revelation.
“As soon as I said it I didn’t feel bad about being p***ed off I felt quite relaxed.
“Later that month I sat through more therapy classes and broke down once when I talked about Dad being put away.
“They asked me what made me feel angry and I said, ‘I’m angry because of where my dad is. And I’m angry how long they put him away for.’
“One day we were sitting on the grass having a cigarette.
“I said to a few friends I had made, ‘Come over to Ireland. You’d love Ireland. Come out there, watch some snooker and have a few Guinnesses.’
“They couldn’t believe what I was saying.
“One said, ‘Don’t you realise that it’s total abstinence? You’re not allowed to drink, you’re not allowed to take drugs, you’re not allowed to take anything mind-altering.’ “I’d been there a week by this stage and I didn’t have a clue.
“I told them ‘I’ve only come here to stop the dope. I ain’t coming here to stop drinking. I ain’t got a problem with booze. I never liked a drink anyway.’
“That wasn’t true: I used to drink like a fish. So I went through the centre’s 12-step programme for recovering addicts.
“I came out feeling like a human being again. I felt I could go out and play snooker again.”
But it wasn’t to last. Soon his demons returned to haunt him.
Ronnie, who pays the mortgage on his family’s sumptuous £1million home in Chingford, Essex, finally found solace through punishing workouts and anti-depressant drugs.
Today he is accompanied everywhere by his minder and coach Del Hill, 50.
He said: “Del is like my dad. He’s obviously a lot older than me but I can talk to him about anything and he keeps me on the straight and narrow.
“Now I can go home, cook a meal for Jo and feel happy. I would have given my right arm to have had that a few months ago.
“My family were everything to me and after Mum went inside it really pushed me over the edge.
“I was drinking and smoking lots of dope and I had to look after my sister, the house and everything. I was a real mess.
“If anyone feels like I did, I suggest they go and see their doctor.
“The first step with depression is to admit you’ve got it.
“I feel great today — but it’s been a long, hard struggle which nearly destroyed me.”