Belfast eagerly awaits George Best, the musical

Wed Jul 28, 2010 5:13am EDT
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By Ivan Little

BELFAST (Reuters Life!) - A musical about the colorful and ultimately tragic life of Northern Irish soccer hero George Best will open in Belfast on Friday, paying tribute to one of sport's biggest icons.

Best, whose mercurial talent and pop star looks vaulted him to the pinnacle of celebrity in Britain's Swinging Sixties, succumbed to years of heavy drinking in 2005 when he died of multiple organ failure at the age 59.

Five years later, thousands of fans of the late Manchester United attacker -- often referred to as the "Fifth Beatle" -- have booked tickets to see "Dancing Shoes" during its initial 2-1/2 week run at Belfast's Grand Opera House.

Aidan O'Neill, who will play Best in the stage show that chronicles his happy-go-lucky days as a youngster on the streets of Belfast right up to the harrowing end of his life in London, said Best was more than just an inspiration to footballers.

"I am a big fan of George Best and he inspired many thousands of people like me all over Ireland," added O'Neill, one of the nine-strong, all-Northern Irish cast.

The production has been given an extra sense of poignancy by the death at the weekend of Best's friend, the Belfast-born and similarly talented snooker player Alex Higgins who is also portrayed in the musical.

Higgins too was a heavy drinker with a fiery temper but also shared Best's sense of humor, one the footballer best used when he summed up his turbulent life in one memorable phrase:

"I spent a lot of my money on booze (alcohol), birds (women) and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."   Continued...