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Alex Higgins
Alex Higgins.jpg
Higgins in 1968
Born (1949-03-18)18 March 1949
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died 24 July 2010(2010-07-24) (aged 61)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Sport country  Northern Ireland
Nickname Hurricane
Professional 1971–1997
Highest ranking 2 (1976/77 and 1982/83)
Tournament wins
Ranking 1
World Champion
  • 1972
  • 1982

Alexander Gordon Higgins (18 March 1949 – 24 July 2010) was a Northern Irish professional snooker player and a two-time World Snooker Champion who is remembered as one of the most iconic figures in the sport's history. Nicknamed "Hurricane Higgins" because of his rapid style of play, he defeated John Spencer in the 1972 World Snooker Championship final to become the first qualifier to win the world title, a feat that only two other players—Terry Griffiths in 1979 and Shaun Murphy in 2005—have achieved since. Aged 22, he was then the sport's youngest world champion, a record he held until 21-year-old Stephen Hendry won the title in 1990. Higgins was runner-up in the world championships of 1976 and 1980 before defeating Ray Reardon in the 1982 final to win his second world title ten years after his first. Having won the Masters in 1978 and 1981, he completed his career Triple Crown at the 1983 UK Championship, where he recovered from 0–7 behind to defeat Steve Davis 16–15 in the final. Higgins won the World Doubles Championship with Jimmy White in 1984 and played with Dennis Taylor and Eugene Hughes on the all-Ireland team that won the World Cup three consecutive times from 1985–87. He won his last professional title at the 1989 Irish Masters, defeating Hendry 9–8 in the final.

Known as the "People's Champion" because of his popularity and charisma, Higgins is often credited as a key factor in snooker's success as a mainstream televised sport in the 1980s. He is also remembered for his turbulent lifestyle. A lifelong heavy smoker, he struggled with drinking and gambling, and had tumultuous relationships with his two ex-wives and a number of other girlfriends. Known as an unpredictable and difficult character, he was often disciplined by the sport's governing body, which most notably fined him £12,000 and banned him for five tournaments in 1986 after he head-butted an official, and banned him again for the entire 1990–91 season after he punched another official and threatened to have Taylor shot. Higgins retired from the professional tour in 1997. Diagnosed with throat cancer the following year, he died of multiple causes in his Belfast home on 24 July 2010, aged 61. Despite earning an estimated £4 million over the course of his career, Higgins in his final years was reported to be penniless and living on a social welfare allowance.

Life and career

Early life

Alexhiggins1968
Higgins (right) with David Taylor at an exhibition at Queen's University Belfast, 1968

Alex Higgins was born in Belfast on 18 March 1949. He started playing snooker at the age of 11, often in the Jampot club in his native Sandy Row area of south Belfast and later in the YMCA in the nearby city centre. At age 14, he left for England and a career as a jockey. However, he never made the grade because he was too heavy to ride competitively. He returned to Belfast and by 1965, aged 16, he had compiled his first maximum break. In 1968 he won the Northern Ireland Amateur Snooker Championship, by defeating Maurice Gill 4–1 in the final. In doing so he broke two records - he was the first player to win the tournament at his first appearance and, aged 18, became the youngest winner of the tournament. One week later, he won the All-Ireland Amateur Championship, defeating Gerry Hanway of Inchicore 4–1 in the final at Mountpottinger YMCA. The following year he lost his Northern Ireland Amateur crown, losing 0–4 to Dessie Anderson in the 1969 final.

World titles

Higgins turned professional at the age of 22, winning the World Championship at his first attempt in 1972, beating John Spencer 37–31. Higgins was the youngest-ever winner of the title, a record he held until Stephen Hendry's 1990 victory at the age of 21. In April 1976, Higgins reached the final again and faced Ray Reardon. Higgins led 10–9 but faded over the stretch. In a match marred by erratic refereeing and a sub-standard table, Reardon nevertheless pulled away to win the title for the fifth time, with the score finishing at 27–16. Higgins was also the runner-up to Cliff Thorburn in 1980, losing 18–16, after being 9–5 up. Higgins won the world title for a second time in 1982 after beating Reardon 18–15 (with a 135 total clearance in the final frame); it was an emotional as well as professional victory for him. Higgins would have been ranked No. 1 in the world rankings for the 1982/83 season had he not forfeited ranking points following disciplinary action.

Other victories

Throughout his career, Higgins won 20 other titles, one of the most notable being the 1983 UK Championship. In the final he trailed Steve Davis 0–7 before producing a famous comeback to win 16–15. He also won the Masters twice, in 1978 and in 1981, beating Cliff Thorburn (a man who, at one point, floored Higgins with one swift punch ) and Terry Griffiths in the finals respectively. Another notable victory was his final professional triumph in the 1989 Irish Masters at the age of 40 when he defeated a young Stephen Hendry. This was the last professional tournament he won, and is often referred to as "The Hurricane's Last Hurrah".

Post-retirement

After his retirement from the professional game, Higgins spent time playing for small sums of money in and around Northern Ireland. He made appearances in the 2005 and 2006 Irish Professional Championship, these comebacks ending in first-round defeats by Garry Hardiman and Joe Delaney, respectively.

On 12 June 2007, it was reported that Higgins had assaulted a referee at a charity match in the north-east of England. Higgins returned to competitive action in September 2007 at the Irish Professional Championship in Dublin but was whitewashed 0–5 by former British Open champion Fergal O'Brien in the first round at the Spawell Club, Templeogue.

Higgins continued to play fairly regularly, and enjoyed "hustling" all comers for small-time stakes in clubs in Northern Ireland and beyond; in May 2009 he entered the Northern Ireland Amateur Championship, but failed to appear for his match.

On 8 April 2010, Higgins was part of the debut Snooker Legends Tour event in Sheffield, at the Crucible. Appearing alongside other retired or close-to-retiring professionals, including John Parrott, Jimmy White, John Virgo and Cliff Thorburn, he faced Thorburn in his match, but lost 2–0.

It is estimated that Higgins earned and spent £3–4 million in his career as a snooker player.

Playing style

Higgins's speed around the table, his ability to pot balls at a rapid rate and flamboyant style earned him the nickname "Hurricane Higgins" and made him a very high-profile player. His highly unusual cueing technique sometimes included a body swerve and movement, as well as a stance that was noticeably higher than that of most professionals.

The unorthodox play of Higgins was encapsulated in his break of 69, made under extreme pressure, against Jimmy White in the penultimate frame of their World Professional Snooker Championship semi-final in 1982. Higgins was 0–59 down in that frame, but managed to compile an extremely challenging clearance during which he was scarcely in position until the colours. In particular, former world champion Dennis Taylor considers a three-quarter-ball pot on a blue into the green pocket especially memorable, not only for its extreme degree of difficulty but for enabling Higgins to continue the break and keep White off the table and unable to clinch victory at that moment. In potting the blue, Higgins screwed the cue-ball on to the side cushion to bring it back towards the black/pink area with extreme left-hand sidespin, a shot Taylor believes could be played 100 times without coming close to the position Higgins reached with cue-ball. He went a little too far for ideal position on his next red but the match-saving break was still alive.

Outside snooker

At the time of his 1972 triumph at the World Championship, Higgins had no permanent home and by his own account had recently lived in a row of abandoned houses in Blackburn which were awaiting demolition. In one week he had moved into five different houses on the same street, moving down one every time his current dwelling was demolished.

In 1975, Higgins' son was born. Higgins's first marriage was to Cara Hasler in April 1975 in Sydney. They had a daughter Christel and divorced. His second marriage was to Lynn Avison in 1980. They had a daughter Lauren (born late 1980) and son Jordan (born March 1983). They split in 1985 and divorced. In the same year, Higgins began a relationship with Siobhan Kidd, which ended in 1989 after he allegedly hit her with a hairdryer.

Higgins had a long and enduring friendship with Oliver Reed.

Higgins was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1981 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the Pot Black Club in London.

In 1983 Higgins helped a young boy from Manchester, a fan of his who had been in a coma for two months. His parents were growing desperate and wrote to Higgins. He recorded messages on tape and sent them to the boy with his best wishes. He later visited the boy in hospital and played a snooker match he promised to have with him when he recovered.

He published his autobiography, From the Eye of the Hurricane: My Story, in 2007. Higgins appeared in the Sporting Stars edition of the British television quiz The Weakest Link on 25 July 2009.

Illness and death

For many years, Higgins smoked heavily. He reportedly smoked 80 cigarettes a day. He had cancerous growths removed from his mouth in 1994 and 1996. In June 1998, he was found to have throat cancer; on 13 October of that year, he had major surgery. He could only talk in a whisper in his last years.

In early 2010 he suffered from pneumonia and breathing problems, and on 31 March he was admitted to hospital. In April 2010 Higgins' friends announced that they had set up a campaign to help raise the £20,000 he needed for teeth implants, to enable him to eat properly again and put on weight. Higgins had lost his teeth after intensive radiotherapy used to treat his throat cancer. It was reported that since losing them he had been living on liquid food, and had become increasingly depressed. He was too ill and frail to have the implants fitted. He was admitted to hospital again in May.

By the summer of 2010, Higgins' weight had fallen to 6 stone (38 kilograms). Despite having once been worth £4 million, he was bankrupt and survived on a £200-a-week disability allowance. He was found dead in bed in his flat on 24 July 2010. The cause of death was a combination of malnutrition, pneumonia, tooth decay and a bronchial condition, although his daughter Lauren stated that he was clear from throat cancer when he died. His children survived him.

Higgins' funeral service was held at St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, on 2 August 2010. He was buried in Carnmoney Cemetery in Newtownabbey, County Antrim. Among the snooker professionals in attendance were Jimmy White, Willie Thorne, Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty, Joe Swail, Shaun Murphy and John Virgo. Doherty and White were pall bearers.

Legacy

IMG 088 i 088
Mural of Higgins at the Royal Bar, Belfast

Alex Higgins was an inspiration to many subsequent professional snooker players, including Ken Doherty, Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan. In Clive Everton's TV documentary The Story of Snooker (2002), Steve Davis described Higgins as the "one true genius that snooker has produced", although the autobiography of a contemporary leading professional Willie Thorne characterised Higgins as "not a great player". Higgins arguably fulfilled his potential only intermittently during his career peak in the 1970s and 80s; Everton puts this down to Davis and Ray Reardon generally being too consistent for him. O'Sullivan has called Higgins "the greatest snooker player I have ever seen" when he was playing at his best, while also acknowledging that Higgins's erratic lifestyle led to a lack of consistency on the table.

Regardless, Higgins' exciting style and explosive persona helped make snooker a growing television sport in the 1970s and 1980s. Higgins also made the first 16-red clearance (in a challenge match in 1976); it was a break of 146 (with the brown as the first "red", and 16 colours: 1 green, 5 pinks and 10 blacks).

In 2011, Event 8 of the Players Tour Championship was renamed as the Alex Higgins International Trophy. In 2016, WPBSA chairman Barry Hearn announced that the trophy for the new Northern Ireland Open tournament would be named after Higgins.

Higgins' professional rivalry with Steve Davis was portrayed in a 2016 BBC feature film entitled The Rack Pack, in which he was played by Luke Treadaway.

Performance and rankings timeline

Tournament 1971/
72
1972/
73
1973/
74
1974/
75
1975/
76
1976/
77
1977/
78
1978/
79
1979/
80
1980/
81
1981/
82
1982/
83
1983/
84
1984/
85
1985/
86
1986/
87
1987/
88
1988/
89
1989/
90
1990/
91
1991/
92
1992/
93
1993/
94
1994/
95
1995/
96
1996/
97
1997/
98
Ref.
Ranking No ranking system 2 5 7 11 4 11 2 5 9 9 6 9 17 24 97 120 72 61 48 51 99 156
Ranking tournaments
Grand Prix Tournament Not Held 2R 1R 2R 3R 3R A F 2R A LQ LQ 1R LQ LQ LQ A
UK Championship Non-Ranking Event F 3R SF 2R 2R 2R A 1R 1R 1R 3R LQ LQ A
German Open Tournament Not Held LQ WD A
Welsh Open Tournament Not Held LQ LQ LQ LQ LQ LQ A
International Open Tournament Not Held NR 2R 1R QF 3R 2R A 1R 1R Not Held LQ 1R LQ LQ LQ A
Thailand Open Tournament Not Held Non-Ranking Event Not Held 2R WD LQ LQ LQ LQ LQ WD A
British Open Tournament Not Held Non-Ranking Event SF SF 1R 1R 2R F A LQ 1R LQ 1R LQ LQ A
World Championship Non-Ranking QF SF F 1R 1R QF F 2R W SF 1R 2R 2R 2R 1R LQ 1R A LQ LQ 1R LQ LQ LQ WD
Non-ranking tournaments
Scottish Masters Tournament Not Held SF F SF SF QF F QF NH A A A A A A A A A
The Masters Not Held QF QF SF W F F W SF 1R QF QF 1R F QF A WR A LQ LQ LQ A LQ A A
Irish Masters Not Held F F W SF SF SF SF SF SF SF F 1R 1R SF W QF A 1R A A A A A A
European League Tournament Not Held RR Not Held A A RR A A A A A A A A A
Pontins Professional Not Held A A A A RR A A A QF A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A
Former ranking tournaments
Canadian Masters Not Held Non-Ranking Tournament Not Held Non-Ranking LQ Tournament Not Held
Hong Kong Open Tournament Not Held Non-Ranking Event NH 3R Tournament Not Held NR NR NH
Classic Tournament Not Held Non-Ranking Event 2R 2R QF 2R 3R 2R 2R A LQ Tournament Not Held
Strachan Open Tournament Not Held LQ MR NR Not Held
Asian Classic Tournament Not Held NR QF WD 3R LQ LQ LQ LQ LQ NH
European Open Tournament Not Held 2R 2R WD LQ 1R LQ LQ LQ LQ NH
Former non-ranking tournaments
Park Drive 2000 (Spring) F Tournament Not Held
Stratford Professional A W Tournament Not Held
Park Drive 2000 (Autumn) A F Tournament Not Held
Men of the Midlands W W Tournament Not Held
World Championship W SF Ranking Event
Norwich Union Open Not Held SF SF Tournament Not Held
Watney Open Not Held W Tournament Not Held
Canadian Club Masters Tournament Not Held W Tournament Not Held
World Matchplay Championship Tournament Not Held QF Tournament Not Held
Dry Blackthorn Cup Tournament Not Held F Tournament Not Held
Holsten Lager International Tournament Not Held SF Tournament Not Held
Forward Chemicals Tournament Tournament Not Held RR Tournament Not Held
Padmore Super Crystalate Tournament Not Held W Tournament Not Held
Pontins Camber Sands Tournament Not Held W Tournament Not Held
Champion of Champions Tournament Not Held F NH RR Tournament Not Held
International Open Tournament Not Held SF Ranking Event Not Held Ranking Event
Northern Ireland Classic Tournament Not Held QF Tournament Not Held
Highland Masters Tournament Not Held SF Tournament Not Held
Classic Tournament Not Held F QF SF 1R Ranking Event Tournament Not Held
Tolly Cobbold Classic Tournament Not Held W W SF A QF A Tournament Not Held
UK Championship Tournament Not Held SF SF QF F QF F W Ranking Event
British Open Tournament Not Held W RR RR RR RR Ranking Event
KitKat Break for World Champions Tournament Not Held SF Tournament Not Held
Pot Black A RR A A A A RR A A RR RR RR 1R A 1R Tournament Not Held A A A Not Held
Belgian Classic Tournament Not Held SF Tournament Not Held
Carlsberg Challenge Tournament Not Held SF F SF A A Tournament Not Held
Canadian Masters Not Held SF W F W SF SF SF Tournament Not Held A SF A R Tournament Not Held
Hong Kong Open Tournament Not Held A A A RR QF A 1R A SF NH R Tournament Not Held A A NH
Kent Cup Tournament Not Held A QF A A A NH A Tournament Not Held
Hong Kong Gold Cup Tournament Not Held F Tournament Not Held
International League Tournament Not Held RR Tournament Not Held
World Seniors Championship Tournament Not Held 1R Tournament Not Held
Irish Professional Championship W Tournament Not Held W W W F A F W NH F F WD QF W Not Held A QF Tournament Not Held
Tenball Tournament Not Held QF Not Held
Performance Table Legend
LQ lost in the qualifying draw #R lost in the early rounds of the tournament
(WR = Wildcard round, RR = Round robin)
QF lost in the quarter-finals
SF lost in the semi-finals F lost in the final W won the tournament
DNQ did not qualify for the tournament A did not participate in the tournament WD withdrew from the tournament
NH / Not Held means an event was not held.
NR / Non-Ranking Event means an event is/was no longer a ranking event.
R / Ranking Event means an event is/was a ranking event.

Career finals

Ranking finals: 6 (1 title)

Legend
World Championship (1–2)
UK Championship (0–1)
Other (0–2)
Outcome No. Year Championship Opponent in the final Score
Runner-up 1. 1976 World Championship Wales Reardon, RayRay Reardon 16–27
Runner-up 2. 1980 World Championship (2) Canada Thorburn, CliffCliff Thorburn 16–18
Winner 1. 1982 World Championship (2) Wales Reardon, RayRay Reardon 18–15
Runner-up 3. 1984 UK Championship (3) England Davis, SteveSteve Davis 8–16
Runner-up 4. 1988 Grand Prix England Davis, SteveSteve Davis 6–10
Runner-up 5. 1990 British Open Canada Chaperon, BobBob Chaperon 8–10

Non-ranking finals: 51 (24 titles)

Legend
World Championship (1–0)
UK Championship (1–2)
The Masters (2–3)
Other (20–22)
Outcome No. Year Championship Opponent in the final Score Ref.
Winner 1. 1972 Men of the Midlands England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 4–2
Winner 2. 1972 Irish Professional Championship Northern Ireland Rea, JackieJackie Rea 28–12
Winner 3. 1972 World Championship England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 37–31
Winner 4. 1972 Stratford Professional England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 6–3
Runner-up 1. 1972 Park Drive 2000 – Spring England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 3–4
Runner-up 2. 1972 Park Drive 2000 – Autumn England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 3–5
Winner 5. 1973 Men of the Midlands (2) Wales Reardon, RayRay Reardon 5–3
Winner 6. 1974 Watney Open England Davis, FredFred Davis 17–11
Runner-up 3. 1974 Jackpot Automatics England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 0–5
Runner-up 4. 1975 Ashton Court Country Club Event England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 1–5
Winner 7. 1975 Canadian Open England Pulman, JohnJohn Pulman 15–7
Runner-up 5. 1975 Benson & Hedges Ireland Tournament England John Spencer 7–9
Winner 8. 1976 Canadian Club Masters Wales Reardon, RayRay Reardon 6–4
Runner-up 6. 1976 Canadian Open England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 9–17
Runner-up 7. 1976 Benson & Hedges Ireland Tournament (2) England John Spencer 0–5
Winner 9. 1977 Canadian Open (2) England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 17–14
Runner-up 8. 1977 Dry Blackthorn Cup Republic of Ireland Fagan, PatsyPatsy Fagan 2–4
Winner 10. 1977 Benson & Hedges Ireland Tournament Wales Reardon, RayRay Reardon 5–3
Winner 11. 1978 Irish Professional Championship (2) Northern Ireland Taylor, DennisDennis Taylor 21–7
Winner 12. 1978 The Masters Canada Thorburn, CliffCliff Thorburn 7–5
Runner-up 9. 1978 Castle Professional England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 3–5
Winner 13. 1978 Irish Professional Championship (3) Republic of Ireland Fagan, PatsyPatsy Fagan 21–13
Runner-up 10. 1978 Champion of Champions Wales Reardon, RayRay Reardon 9–11
Runner-up 11. 1978 Suffolk Professional Invitational Republic of Ireland Patsy Fagan 3–7
Runner-up 12. 1979 The Masters South Africa Mans, PerriePerrie Mans 4–8
Winner 14. 1979 Tolly Cobbold Classic Wales Reardon, RayRay Reardon 5–4
Winner 15. 1979 Irish Professional Championship (4) Republic of Ireland Fagan, PatsyPatsy Fagan 21–12
Winner 16. 1980 Padmore Super Crystalate International South Africa Mans, PerriePerrie Mans 4–2
Runner-up 13. 1980 The Classic England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 3–4
Winner 17. 1980 Tolly Cobbold Classic (2) Northern Ireland Taylor, DennisDennis Taylor 5–4
Runner-up 14. 1980 The Masters (2) Wales Griffiths, TerryTerry Griffiths 5–9
Winner 18. 1980 British Gold Cup Wales Reardon, RayRay Reardon 5–1
Runner-up 15. 1980 Irish Professional Championship Northern Ireland Taylor, DennisDennis Taylor 15–21
Winner 19. 1980 Pontins Camber Sands Northern Ireland Taylor, DennisDennis Taylor 9–7
Runner-up 16. 1980 UK Championship England Davis, SteveSteve Davis 6–16
Winner 20. 1981 The Masters (2) Wales Griffiths, TerryTerry Griffiths 9–6
Runner-up 17. 1982 Irish Professional Championship (2) Northern Ireland Taylor, DennisDennis Taylor 13–16
Runner-up 18. 1982 Scottish Masters England Davis, SteveSteve Davis 4–9
Runner-up 19. 1982 UK Championship (2) Wales Griffiths, TerryTerry Griffiths 15–16
Winner 21. 1983 Irish Professional Championship (5) Northern Ireland Taylor, DennisDennis Taylor 16–11
Winner 22. 1983 UK Championship England Davis, SteveSteve Davis 16–15
Runner-up 20. 1985 Irish Masters England White, JimmyJimmy White 5–9
Runner-up 21. 1985 Irish Professional Championship (3) Northern Ireland Taylor, DennisDennis Taylor 5–10
Runner-up 22. 1985 Carlsberg Challenge England White, JimmyJimmy White 3–8
Runner-up 23. 1986 Irish Professional Championship (4) Northern Ireland Taylor, DennisDennis Taylor 7–10
Runner-up 24. 1986 Scottish Masters (2) Canada Thorburn, CliffCliff Thorburn 8–9
Runner-up 25. 1987 The Masters (3) Northern Ireland Taylor, DennisDennis Taylor 8–9
Runner-up 26. 1988 WPBSA Invitational – Event 1 England Wilkinson, GaryGary Wilkinson 4–5
Winner 23. 1989 Irish Professional Championship (6) Northern Ireland McLaughlin, JackJack McLaughlin 9–7
Runner-up 27. 1989 Hong Kong Gold Cup England Davis, SteveSteve Davis 3–6
Winner 24. 1989 Irish Masters Scotland Stephen Hendry 9–8

Pro-am finals: 4 (3 titles)

Outcome No. Year Championship Opponent in the final Score Ref.
Winner 1. 1975 Castle Open England Spencer, JohnJohn Spencer 5–2
Winner 2. 1977 Pontins Spring Open Wales Griffiths, TerryTerry Griffiths 7–4
Winner 3. 1979 Castle Open (2) England Davis, FredFred Davis 5–1
Runner-up 1. 1987 Dutch Open England Birch, JonathanJonathan Birch 2–6

Team finals: 6 (5 titles)

Outcome No. Year Championship Team/partner Opponent(s) in the final Score
Winner 1. 1975 Ladbroke International Rest of the World  England Cumulative score
Winner 2. 1984 World Doubles Championship England White, JimmyJimmy White Canada Thorburn, CliffCliff Thorburn
England Thorne, WillieWillie Thorne
10–2
Winner 3. 1985 World Cup Ireland  England 9–7
Winner 4. 1986 World Cup (2) Ireland  Canada 9–7
Winner 5. 1987 World Cup (3) Ireland  Canada 9–2
Runner-up 1. 1990 World Cup  Northern Ireland  Canada 5–9

Amateur finals: 3 (2 titles)

Outcome No. Year Championship Opponent in the final Score Ref.
Winner 1. 1968 Northern Ireland Amateur Championship Northern Ireland Maurice Gill 4–1
Winner 2. 1968 All-Ireland Amateur Championship Republic of Ireland Gerry Hanway 4–1
Runner-up 1. 1969 Northern Ireland Amateur Championship Northern Ireland Dessie Anderson 0–4

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Alex Higgins para niños

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