Hall of Famer
Inducted in 2001
North American snooker champion
Canadian Open snooker champion
World snooker champion
World mixed snooker champion (with Natalie Stelmach)
World team snooker champion (with Bill Werbeniuk and Kirk Stevens)
Cliff Thorburn's snooker career took him from smoky pool halls eking out a living to the champagne heights of the world's number-one ranking. He began playing snooker full-time in Victoria after leaving school at age 16 in 1964. By 1971 he was the North American champion. Having established himself within Canadian snooker circles,he won five Canadian Open championships in a six-year period from 1972 to 1977,Thorburn began to compete in England in 1973. Snooker was a significantly more popular sport in the U.K. and the world's best players made their reputations in the tournaments of Great Britain. In 1977, Thorburn qualified for the Embassy World Championships, held for the first time that year in Sheffield's famed Crucible Theatre. He defeated Dennis Taylor 18 frames to 16 in the semi-final before losing the final 25-21 to John Spencer. Thorburn lost in first round of the world championships in both 1978 and 1979, but his big break on the international scene came in 1980. He again qualified for the first-to-18-frames final, this time facing Alex Higgins. Thorburn fell behind 9-5 before steadily clawing his way back for an historic 18-16 victory. The win made Thorburn the first world champion not from Britain or Ireland. He maintained his winning form, climbing to number one in the world rankings in 1981-82 and winning the world mixed snooker championship with Natalie Stelmach in 1981 and the world team championship with Bill Werbeniuk and Kirk Stevens in 1982. Thorburn again qualified for the world championship final in 1983, and although he lost the final to Steve Davis, this tournament provided the enduring moment of his career. In the fourth frame of his first match, against Terry Griffiths, Thorburn became the first-person in world championship history to record a perfect break of 147 (that is, potting all of the red balls, each followed by a black, and then sinking the coloured balls in order). Overall, Thorburn's international career included 27 professional tournament wins from Dubai to Hong Kong. Included among these were victories at the prestigious Benson & Hedges Masters tournament in 1983, 1985, and 1986. During his tenure as one of the world's best snooker players, Thorburn was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1984. Thorburn moved back to Canada from 1982 to 1986, went back to England for six years and came back again to Canada in 1992. By the mid-nineties, he had left the international snooker circuit. He enjoyed a renaissance after the turn of the century winning the 2001 Canadian Open snooker championship and finishing runner-up in 2002 and 2003. His combination of elegant table-side demeanor and hairbrush moustache earned him the nickname "the Rhett Butler of the green maize." He was one of snooker's great defensive players, for which his rival Higgins labelled him "The Grinder." But the nickname Thorburn most preferred was "Champagne Cliff," the celebratory beverage of choice for the world's best snooker player.