Column #HR225 Eric Bristow – another bright light from the Golden Galaxy extinguished

Friday, April 6, 2018
Column HR225
Eric Bristow – another bright light from the “Golden Galaxy” extinguished

The skies that glowed so brightly over the Golden Age of Darts lost one of its’ brightest lights on Thursday.   Eric “The Crafty Cockney” Bristow succumbed to a massive heart attack, extinguishing a star that soared over the darting world as he led a galaxy soon to become extinct. From the 1970s until the early 1990s this galaxy dominated the landscape of the sisal universe.

Bristow’s passing ended a career that began in 1957 on the streets of East London from where he would travel to every corner of the darting globe. His exploits on the dart board are legendary, surpassed only by his gigantic electric personality. Bristow was bigger than life as he dominated wherever he appeared. He commanded attention. The world was Bristow’s stage.

William Shakespeare might have had Bristow in mind when he wrote “As You Like It.” The following described Bristow to a tee…

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

In his darting career Eric Bristow won every major and minor single title in the world. When darts went global in the late 1970s the sport was ruled by Eric Bristow and Mr. John Lowe. Dart fans of the day chose one or the other. It was darts first rivalry. To Bristow fans, Mr. Lowe was the devil. To Mr. Lowe’s fans Bristow was the devil. In life both were brilliant darters, smart businessman and off the oche good friends known to share a pint or two.

Together they won the World Cup doubles six times as Bristow was winning the singles four times. He collected five world championships along with five World Masters.

At times, Bristow’s dark side would emerge on stage angering opponents and friends alike. The late Welsh great Alan Evans got so incensed once that he head butted Bristow. Bristow was arrogant, brash and self-assured of his own abilities. He was often down but never out.

Initially, Bristow refused to join with fellow players in forming the PDPA (Professional Dart Players Association) the forerunner of the PDC in the 1980s, the “main protagonists for PDPA being John Lowe, Cliff Lazarenko, Dave Whitcombe and Tony Brown.”

Later, Bristow did join. His decision was undoubtedly the final brush stroke that completed the canvas that is professional darts today.

Social media has been alive with personal remembrances of Bristow. Everyone that came in even the slightest contact with him has a story. Dave Whitcombe, a member of that Golden Days Galaxy, explained it best…

“I was very shocked to learn that Eric Bristow had died. I have known him for nearly 45 years, travelled parts of the world with him and played with him and against him. I can’t claim to be one of his closest pals, only a few can do that, but I guess I knew him as well as anyone after all this time.”

In 1983, the Old Dart Coach was making his first trip to England to play in the British Open. That year during the World Championships, held at Jollees Cabaret Venue, Stoke-on-Trent, Eric Bristow and Keith Deller were tied at 5-sets going into the final leg for the World Championship. Bristow got to 50 with a dart in his hand as Deller sat on 138. Rather than go for the bull Bristow went for the fat 18 to leave 32, giving Deller three darts with 138 remaining. Deller used them wisely going treble 20, treble 18, double 12 for the title.

Later on, while warming up for the British Open at the Rainbow Suite in London, Bristow was engaged in a verbal sparring match with the late John Markovich (Deller’s manager at the time). In answer to a Markovich comment on Deller’s win Bristow replied, “I’d do the same thing again.”

“Yes, and you’d lose again” shot back Markovich.

The ODC had always placed himself in the Mr. Lowe camp. It was with deep trepidation that the ODC and his partner, the late Michael Enright, faced Bristow and Leighton Rees in the NOADT pairs – 16 going to 8. With the match level at 1 in the race to 2 the ODC had three darts at a double for the match. He threw three at the double which he claimed all hit the outer wire. They probably didn’t. Bristow ended the match with 3 darts. After signing cards the ODC walked dejectedly away when an arm wrapped his around his shoulder.

“I thought you had us. Good darts mate.”

Bristow’s 2005 induction into The PDC Hall of Fame was added to his MBE awarded by the Queen of England. There’s no doubt that while both were satisfying his greatest pleasure may have come from his connection to his fans. He always had time.

Glenn Huff is a physically challenged dart player and fan from Seattle, Washington. Huff’s remembrance of Bristow speaks volumes of the “real” Bristow…

“I first got the privilege and pleasure of meeting Eric when I attended the 1987 North American Open at the old Sahara hotel in Las Vegas. I had purchased a set of Eric’s Harrows 22 gram signature darts with the EB hallmark, and engraving of his grip. The proprietor said that Eric was at the tournament and if I asked him he would probably autograph the box for me. I approached Eric during a break in one of his games and asked him if he would please autograph the box for me, and he broke into a big smile, and greeted me warmly as if I were an old friend, asked me my name and autographed the box for me. I still have it unopened and it is one of my most prized possessions.”

In 2000, during the North American a group of darters attended the heavyweight title fight between Evander Holyfield and John Ruiz at a strip hotel. After the fight they returned to the Rivera, the temporary home of the NOADT. Sitting at the large horseshoe bar the ODC glanced across the bar to see Eric Bristow sitting alone nursing a beer and smoking his ever present cigarette. There he was – the man that made the North American his personal playground (winning the singles in 1979, 1982, 1984 and 1986) sitting all alone. Bristow motioned the ODC over. “How about a beer?”

Dartitis would rob Bristow of his darting prowess but not his personality or charisma.

On Thursday, Bristow was making an appearance at the Corporate Hospitality area prior to the evening’s Premier League play in Liverpool. He left before the darts began to return to his hotel. It was during that ride that he suffered the heart attack that was fatal. When the news reached the Echo Arena Keith Deller gave an emotional tribute on stage as the crowd sang “One Eric Bristow.”

How prophetic it was that Thursday night’s Premier League was Judgment Night – just as Eric Bristow would depart the living to join those from the Golden Galaxy that preceded him. With just a little imagination it’s possible to visualize Leighton Rees, Barry Twomlow and Jocky Wilson sitting around a table enjoying a pint or two. Sid Waddell would be talking as only he could when the voice of Phil Jones would interrupt.

“Please welcome Eric Bristow!”

There was only “One Eric Bristow.” Others tried. All failed, lacking his darting ability and the personality that shown like a spotlight. That light has been extinguished.

Eric’s sprit was unstopped on earth. Now he’s in heaven. It will be interesting to see if the man upstairs can tame Bristow.   His chances are slim.

Stay thirsty my friends.

 

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Howie Reed
The one and only Howie Reed (the Old Dart Coach) goes back decades with the legends of our sport - he knows where the skeletons are buried. Just ask any of the ADO and WDF old-timers! His widely popular column, Toeing the Oche, is a must-read.