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Minnesota Fats Passes Away Pool Shark Immortalized By Film Dies Of Congestive Heart Failure

Associated Press

Minnesota Fats, the pool shark who blustered his way out of smoky barrooms to become the most famous player ever to pick up a cue stick, died Thursday.

Fats died of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Theresa Bell Wanderone, who already had his epitaph ready: “Beat everybody living on Earth. Now, St. Peter, rack ‘em up.”

Various accounts listed Fats as anywhere from 82 to 95 years old, but as he boasted in 1988: “No one on this earth knows how old I am.”

Born Rudolf Wanderone Jr., he was known as New York Fats early in his career. Jackie Gleason’s character in the 1961 Paul Newman movie “The Hustler,” based on Wanderone, was called Minnesota Fats. So Wanderone started calling himself Minnesota Fats, and his fame and fortune rose.

“He probably did more for the sport of pool than any other human being alive,” pool wizard Fast Eddie Parker said.

It was Fats’ personality more than skill that made him famous. Fats could shoot pool with either hand and often wore $100 bills in the handkerchief pocket of his suits.

“He was … the Don Rickles of pool,” Parker said. “He made a lot of money with pool because of his skills, but he was really an entertainer. He could talk you out of a game rather than shoot you out of a game.”

Fats’ career was interwoven with that of Willie Mosconi, who died in 1993. Mosconi was the technical adviser on the set of “The Hustler,” and the duo paired off in a series of matches on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” during the 1970s.

Mosconi regularly beat Fats, but Fats usually won the battle of wit and charisma. He became a household name in a sport that needed one badly, Conrad Burkman, publisher of National Billiard News, said.

“You could go into a restaurant the night after Mosconi and Fats had a match on television,” Burkman said. “Mosconi would have beat his brains in and all everyone would say is, ‘Wow, I saw Minnesota Fats on TV last night.”’

He would bet on just about anything, especially eating contests. At one time, he weighed 245 pounds, but he was down to 175 in recent years. He suffered a heart attack in 1992.

Before rising to fame, the New York-born Fats hustled suckers at pool halls all over the country.

“His big days in hustling were in the Second World War in Norfolk,” Burkman said. “The sailors were there, easy marks and all that kind of stuff. He got too well-known for that. If someone knows your name when you walk through the door it’s hard to hustle them.”

He lived on and off in Nashville for much of his life. He is survived by two stepchildren.

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