How Ronnie O'Sullivan fought off the demons to win seventh world title

The making of a snooker genius: Father jailed for murder, battles with addiction and depression, a turbulent love life and referee bust-ups – how ‘The Rocket’ Ronnie O’Sullivan overcame the odds to land record-equalling seven world titles

  • O’Sullivan turned professional at the age of just 16 in 1992 and went on to win 74 of his first 76 matches
  • In 1992, his father Ronald, a millionaire sex shop owner, was jailed for murder after stabbing a man to death
  • O’Sullivan put aside his family troubles to win the UK Championship in 1993, beating Stephen Hendry
  • Went on to win first world title in 2001 and repeated the feat in 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2020 and last night 
  • The player has struggled with alcohol and drug problems and had a spell in rehabilitation in his mid-20s
  • He also suffers from depression and self-doubt and has receiving help from psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters
  • O’Sullivan has son Ronnie Jr and daughter Jo Langley, who he met at Narcotics Anonymous
  • The snooker legend also has daughter Taylor-Anne, following two-year relationship with Sally Magnus 

Ten years ago Ronnie O’Sullivan walked out of the Crucible with his fourth world title and a threat to retire which would have left question marks hanging over his status in the snooker pantheon.

It was typical of the man regarded as the greatest to ever hold a cue, a sportsman who is unplayable at his best but unpredictable and controversial at his worst. 

He may already have been recognised as his sport’s most prodigious talent, but he remained adrift of the career statistics of his predecessors Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, his longevity challenged by inner demons that were never far from the surface. 

O’Sullivan stormed onto the snooker scene in 1992 at the age of just 16 and went on to win 74 of his first 76 professional matches – a feat that was accomplished despite the fact that his father Ronald had been sentenced to life in prison for murder at around the same time. 

Putting aside family troubles that would also see his mother jailed for a year, the player beat Hendry to win the UK Championship in 1993 and went on to win his first world title in 2001 at the age of just 25, before he swept aside the opposition once again to clinch the biggest prize in 2004 and 2008. 

Despite that threat to retire after that hard-fought 2012 victory, O’Sullivan returned to the Crucible theatre in Sheffield to win snooker’s biggest prize once again in 2013, 2020 and last night, which was his record-equalling seventh.  

As early as 2011, O’Sullivan – who has battled both alcohol and drug problems as well as depression – summed up the agony of the expectations that surrounded him, revealing: ‘When you turn it on, it’s a great feeling, and when you’re not you feel like you’re letting people down.

‘You feel like you’re letting yourself down, you’re wasting your time, and nobody’s having a good time and they’re waiting for something to happen and it ain’t happening. That can be quite demoralising sometimes.’

Those question marks were erased on Monday night when O’Sullivan saw off Judd Trump to equal Hendry’s Crucible record but signalling an unsurpassed achievement in a career defined by glory and controversy in equal measure.

For all those moments like the record-breaking five-minute maximum break he served up against Mick Price in 1997, there were reprimands and more admissions that gave a glimpse into his troubled mind, as he struggled to sustain the enthusiasm to chase down Hendry’s record that he always knew was well within his grasp.

Embracing him after his victory last night were his two youngest children, son Ronnie Jr and daughter Lily, along with his father Ronnie Sr – now aged 67 – who was released from prison in 2010 after serving 18 years. 

The player had Ronnie Jr and Lily with Jo Langley, who he met at Narcotics Anonymous. He also has an elder daughter, Taylor-Anne, 25, from a two-year relationship with Sally Magnus. He became a grandfather in 2016 when Taylor-Anne welcomed a granddaughter. 

O’Sullivan recently rekindled his relationship with fiancee Laila Rouass, after the couple split in February following ten years together. 

After he began learning his craft at the age of seven, the precocious Ronnie O’Sullivan made his first century break just three years later. Last night, he won his record-equalling seventh world title. Pictured: O’Sullivan aged 10 (left); the player holding his trophy after being Judd Trump on Monday 

O’Sullivan was born in the West Midlands but grew up in Chigwell, Essex, with his younger sister Danielle. His father made his money running a string of sex shops in London’s Soho, whilst his mother is originally from Sicily. 

After he began learning his craft at the age of seven, the precocious player made his first century break just three years later. By the age of 15, he had become the youngest player to reach a maximum 147 break in a tournament. 

As a teenager, O’Sullivan had the game’s established stars running scared. 

He won 74 of his first 76 matches as a professional, at the qualifying school in Blackpool, before his father’s murder conviction ‘crushed’ him.

Speaking of the moment of his father was sent to prison, O’Sullivan previously told the Press and Journal: ‘I spent three and a half months in Blackpool and I was really excited because I had qualified for the 1993 World Championship.

‘But then, within the next few days, when I returned to London, it all collapsed around my ears when my dad was found guilty of murder and the judge sentenced him to life imprisonment, with a minimum recommendation of 18 years. It crushed me!’

Despite this horrendous distraction in his life, O’Sullivan’s focus on snooker resulted in him crushing his heroes, with Davis and Hendry among his vict9ims when he won his first UK title in Preston a week before he turned 18.  

O’Sullivan’s father Ronald was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 after stabbing a man to death at a Chelsea nightclub. Pictured: The pair together more recently

O’Sullivan recently rekindled his relationship with fiancee Laila Rouass (the couple pictured together in 2019) The pair were reported to have split in February after ten years together but Footballers Wives actress Rouass was pictured wearing her engagement ring last month 

O’Sullivan had son Ronnie Jr and daughter Lily with Jo Langley, whom he met at Narcotics Anonymous. The former couple are pictured together in 2003

At the Crucible, where it surprisingly took nine visits until he first carried off the main prize, he has lost three times to Hendry but also thrashed him in two semi-finals, 17-4 in 2004 and 17-6 in 2008.

Hendry labelled O’Sullivan ‘the best in the world by a country mile’ after that second semi-final; Davis said: ‘He’s the best genius we’ve seen in snooker, possibly in sport’.

Yet O’Sullivan would never be far away from hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons.

As a 20-year-old, O’Sullivan assaulted press officer Mike Ganley – now the tournament director – at the 1996 World Championship, and was handed a £20,000 fine. 

Nineteen years later he would borrow Ganley’s shoes during a match against Craig Steadman, having tried to continue in his socks after claiming his footwear was hurting him.

In 1998 he was stripped of the Irish Masters title and £61,000 in prize-money after a drug test found evidence of cannabis in his system. 

In his mid-20s, the player ended up in the Priory rehabilitation center to be treated for drug addiction, after he had suicidal thoughts.  

Ronnie O’Sullivan (left) during his first round match against Stephen Maguire at the World Championships in Sheffield in 2004. He is seen right a year later, after he had shaved his head 

O’Sullivan was already beating grown men in club championships by the age of ten. He is pictured above at Brooksby’s Snooker Club, in Hackney, in January 1986

O’Sullivan is seen after winning his first World Snooker Championship title in 2001. The player has gone on to win six more

Putting aside the family troubles that also saw his mother jailed for a year, the player beat Hendry to win the UK Championship in 1993. Pictured: The player with his trophy after his 1993 victory

The then 17-year-old O’Sullivan is seen holding his UK Championship title aloft outside the prison where his father was serving a life sentence for murder

Speaking in a 2012 documentary about his first world title in 2001, O’Sullivan said his problems with his mental health came to the forefront. 

‘A week before that World Championship, I was down the doctor’s,’ he said. 

‘Then I was in my room in Sheffield and they said “can you do a radio interview?” I felt so brittle – I said yes, but I thought ‘how am I going to get through this, and not let them know that I’m suffering?’

‘I was blabbering on, spurting words out, and it was live but I just said, “do you know what, I ain’t feeling too good. I’m suffering here, talking to you – I’m struggling”.

‘I just thought, “I can’t hide any more”. I felt like I was going insane.’

In the mid-2000s, the player’s behaviour was especially erratic as he battled clinical depression.  

His 2005 his defence of the world title ran aground in controversial circumstances, when he surrendered 11 of the last 14 frames to lose to Peter Ebdon, who clearly riled O’Sullivan with his slow play during the quarter-final.

The Londoner, who had shaved his head midway through the tournament, asked an audience member for the time and at one stage stood on Ebdon’s seat. 

Afterwards, he indicated his desire to take a break from the game, admitting: ‘It may be the case that I’m saying goodbye.’

O’Sullivan’s third and fourth titles arrived with wins over Ali Carter in both 2008 and 2012, but the defence of his trophy over Barry Hawkins in 2013 – having partially made good on his retirement threat by taking the entire season off – was marred by a reprimand by referee Michaela Tabb for making an obscene gesture during his semi-final win over Trump.

The reprimand from the referee was echoed in this year’s competition, when official Olivier Marteel accused him of making a gesture during the final against Trump. 

O’Sullivan shot back by accusing him of ‘looking for trouble’  

After Marteel had approached him and told him about his alleged rule-breaking, the six-time world champion replied: ‘Tell me, tell me, what did you see? You tell me what you saw. You saw nothing. Go look at the camera. You saw nothing. Don’t start.’ 

O’Sullivan is seen near the Old Bailey with fellow player Jimmy White in 1997, when his mother was facing tax evasion charges

O’Sullivan is seen practising as a 16-year-old. The player has dominated the sport since turning professional in 1992

O’Sullivan is seen clutching the Masters trophy aloft after beating John Higgins to the title in 1995. Both men were competing in this year’s World Championship

The player began working with psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters in 2011 and the expert has been on hand ever since, including during this year’s World Championship. 

Speaking to the BBC this morning, Dr Peters revealed how he helped to persuade O’Sullivan not to quit the sport when he was previously doubting his abilities and struggling with his mental health. 

He said: ‘I explored what he was thinking and whether it was rational and whether he was factually based. 

‘And more importantly explored what he wanted to do and what his plans would be and what would make him happy, which is what he asked me to help him to be, just be happy playing his sport. 

‘What he has done is he has learnt to understand himself and got insights into the way that his mind is functioning. But he is a very driven man. 

‘He is very hard-working and committed and goes into great detail. So when we do work together he wants to understand and he wants to acquire these skills, and that he has done.’

Reacting to scenes of O’Sullivan embracing Trump for more than a minute after his victory, Dr Peters refused to disclose exactly what was said between the two men but added: ‘He is a very emotional man Ronnie. 

‘He is a great character and I think Judd made some very positive comments towards him and that was quite overwhelming to him because he hadn’t really realised, because obviously these are rivals, although they are very friendly.’

Asked if his ‘work is done’, he said: ‘Definitely not! He is forever learning. For all of us, we continually learn and life is very organic in the way that we approach it so it has its own life. 

‘I think he meets different circumstances and one of them as you say is that he is now the oldest and most successful snooker player and we want to keep breaking those records so it is new territory, so it is new ideas as well.’

O’Sullivan is seen after being made an OBE at Buckingham Palace in May 2016. The snooker player has been a mainstay of his sport for 30 years

O’Sullivan is seen after claiming victory over Graeme Dott in the 2004 World Championship. The player was then sporting much longer hair

Ronnie O’sullivan of England at the table during the Embassy World Professional Snooker Championship held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England

O’Sullivan is seen practising in 1992, the year that the then 16-year-old turned professional. He went on to win his first UK Championship the following year

Snooker World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan poses on a snooker table in 2001, the year that he won his first world title

O’Sullivan celebrates with his son Ronnie Jr after winning his third World Championship title in 2012. He said afterwards that he was thinking of quitting the sport

Ronnie O’Sullivan poses with the trophy after beating Allister Carter of in the final of the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre on May 7, 2012

O’Sullivan poses with his mother Maria, sister Danielle and son Ronnie Jr after winning the World Snooker Championship in 2013

In 2012, when the player took a sabbatical, he hinted that the break could mean ‘the chapter’s over’, but he ended up returning to defend his world title in 2013.

But ahead of his semi-final match that year, he made his most explicit quit threat yet.  

He said: ‘I just came back to snooker to see if I could re-ignite the fire, to see if I was missing anything, but I’ve realised that I don’t miss snooker one bit. 

‘I have no intention of coming back here next year. I’ll just fulfil my contract with my sponsor to play 10 events. If I get bored, as far as playing top competitive snooker and pouring my heart and soul into it, it’s not going to work fo rme. 

‘I did say that I fancied winning the world title in my 40s but I was romanticising it. I don’t find it easy. 

‘Maybe I just don’t deal with the pressure. Maybe I just don’t deal with my own high standards but I can’t come to terms with it. 

I’m sure I’m capable of finding something else. Snooker’s the only thing I’ve ever done. it’s the only way I know how to support my family but I can’t keep putting myself through being unhappy. 

‘I wish I would just smile it off and go to Mars and say tomorrow’s another day but it’s not like that for me.’ 

Ultimately, the player did not hang up his cue and instead continued competing, with his sixth world title coming in 2020. 

Last night, O’Sullivan pulled level with Stephen Hendry’s Crucible crowns after bossing the final session to win 18-13.

The 46-year-old, who is now the oldest champion in Crucible history, was handed a £500,000 winner’s cheque after his victory, whilst Trump received a £200,000 runner’s up prize

O’Sullivan’s father made millions running sex shops in London’s Soho before he was jailed for the brutal stabbing of Bruce Bryan, a driver to gangster Charlie Kray.

Then aged 37, O’Sullivan Sr had been drinking with a friend in 1991 when he went ‘looking for trouble’ before setting upon  Mr Bryan and his brother Kelvin. 

Pulling out a six-inch knife, O’Sullivan Sr then stabbed Bryan to death. 

‘It was like a horror movie,’ Kelvin said later. ‘He turned on Bruce and began stabbing and slashing at him with a huge knife. My brother had his arms up as protection but O’Sullivan was in a frenzy.’ 

Although there were allegations that O’Sullivan Sr had also hurled racist abuse at the two black men, the older man has always argued the attack was not racially motivated. 

His son has stood by him and insisted that his father has ‘never been a trouble maker’. O’Sullivan Sr was released in prison in 2010 after serving 18 years behind bars.  

O’Sullivan’s Italian-born mother was also jailed for a year for tax evasion when the player was aged just 19, meaning that both his parents were briefly in prison at the same time. 

O’Sullivan dedicated his first three world championship titles to his father, who he said had motivated him to keep playing. 

Snooker icon Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Judd Trump to win a record-equalling seventh world title. He was heralded by commentators and fans alike after his victory

Family together: O’Sullivan is seen with his father Ronnie Sr (far left), daughter Lily, son Ronnie Jr (right) and Fred Done, the owner of Betfred

Ronnie O’Sullivan struggled to hold back tears last night as he embraced his two children and father after overcoming Judd Trump’s stirring comeback to win a record-equalling seventh World Snooker Championship, cementing his status as the greatest player the game has ever seen. Above: O’Sullivan hugs daughter Lily and son Ronnie Jr before receiving the trophy

Speaking in 2012, O’Sullivan said: ‘I talked about letting go of it but I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t walk away because I hadn’t achieved what I wanted to. 

‘I knew if I stopped the snooker, a lot of my demons would be gone, but I couldn’t walk away.

‘My dad said “every time I see you on the telly, it’s like a visit”. And he had 10 years left, so I had to play for at least another 10 years. 

‘I wanted to walk away, but there was that pressure there of trying to do the right thing for somebody else.’

O’Sullivan had son Ronnie Jr and daughter Lily with Jo Langley, whom he met at Narcotics Anonymous. 

He also has an elder daughter, Taylor-Anne, 25, from a two-year relationship with Sally Magnus. He became a grandfather in 2016 when Taylor-Anne welcomed a granddaughter. 

O’Sullivan recently rekindled his relationship with fiancee Laila Rouass. 

The pair were reported to have split after ten years together but Footballers Wives actress Rouass was pictured wearing her engagement ring last month. 

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