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Football legend George Best dies
Best was adored by millions in the 1960s.


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George Best

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Former Manchester United and Northern Ireland soccer great George Best -- hailed as the world's first football superstar -- has died aged 59.

Best, who had been in hospital since the beginning of October, had an alcohol problem for much of his adult life and underwent a liver transplant in 2002 after years of heavy drinking.

He was put on a life support machine at London's Cromwell Hospital last week after he picked up a lung infection. He then suffered multiple organ failure.

"My father has passed away," Best's tearful son Calum told reporters on the hospital steps on Friday. "Not only have I lost my dad but we've all lost a wonderful man."

Best died at 1255 GMT, according to a hospital statement.

The former Northern Ireland international is regarded by many as the greatest player ever to come from the British Isles. (Profile)

Beloved by millions of soccer fans, especially during the 1960s, Best played in 1968 for Manchester United when it won the European Cup, the first English club to achieve that goal. That same season, he was named European Footballer of the Year.

Best scored 180 goals in 465 appearances over 12 years for Manchester United. He also played in the North American Soccer League, scoring 54 goals in 139 games for the Los Angeles Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and San Jose Earthquakes.

With his good looks, agility on the pitch and an engaging personality, he was adored by millions in the 1960s and held in great affection in subsequent decades despite his descent into alcoholism, allegations of violence and a tortured personal life.

He once quipped: "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered." (Interview)

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, attending a summit in Malta, described Best as "probably the most naturally gifted footballer of his generation and one of the best footballers our country has produced."

A statement from Manchester United read: "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.

"For the goals, the audacious dribbles and all the wonderful memories, Manchester United and its legions of fans worldwide will always be grateful. We feel a deep sense of loss but his spirit and his talent will live on forever."

"Manchester United's glorious history has been created by people like George Best," reflected Best's former team-mate Sir Bobby Charlton.

"Anyone that witnessed what George could do on the pitch wished they could so the same.

"He made an immense contribution to the game, and enriched the lives of everyone that saw him play.

"It is a very sad day. Football has lost one of its greats, and I have lost a dear friend."

The Irish Football Association led the mourning in Best's native Northern Ireland, for whom he made 37 appearances and scored nine goals.

IFA chief executive Howard Wells said: "This is a sad day for football. George was a complete one-off with a natural talent rarely seen since."

Most of Friday's British newspapers led with tributes to the player, who at the height of his fame in the 1960s, he was dubbed the "fifth Beatle."

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