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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
'Fast Eddie' Parker dies at 69
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas Eddie Parker, a legendary pool player known as "Fast Eddie" and the inspiration for the movie "The Hustler," died at a pool tournament in Texas. He was 69.
Parker, of San Antonio, died of an apparent heart attack Friday night at the U.S. Classic Billiards Eight-ball Showdown and was pronounced dead at a Brownsville hospital.
Woody Woodworth, a friend and partner in a pool cue business, said Parker appeared in good health until Friday night. He was airlifted to the hospital.
Parker was not competing in the tournament but was to play in an exhibition Saturday. He was stricken while talking with Woodworth about a fishing trip.
"He said, 'Man, I don't feel good.' So he sat down and he was leaning over, and I said, 'Put your head back so you can breathe easier,' " Woodworth told the Valley Morning Star of Harlingen. "And he sat back and then his eyes rolled back into his head. And I screamed for help."
Parker was one of the best money players in pocket billiards. He is credited with inspiring Walter Tevis to write the book and screenplay for the 1961 classic "The Hustler," in which Paul Newman played the role of Parker. In its sequel, "The Color of Money," Newman as an older "Fast Eddie" won an Academy Award.
Retired from the road but still greatly admired by the billiards community, Parker spent time giving exhibitions, working on a novel and other ventures.
At the tournament on the Texas coast, Parker reflected on his adventures and how the game has changed.
"Pool has cleaned up its act," he said Friday. "When I was a kid, there were two places you weren't supposed to go. Don't go to a bowling alley and don't go into a pool hall. Pool is (now) a very reputable sport."
Parker was born in Springfield, Mo. He started playing at age 9 and was primarily self-taught. In Kansas City, Mo., six-time world champion Benny Allen saw something special in the teen-ager.
"I never had any idea I was going to turn professional and shoot for money until I started studying with Benny Allen," Parker said. "He didn't like to teach, but every once in a while he would find somebody that had potential."
Parker said he earned the nickname "Fast Eddie" in high school but insisted he wasn't a hustler because he was always up front when gambling.
"A hustler will let the other guy win and then up the bet. He's fooling his opponent," he said. "Whereas, a money player freezes up the money in advance and you play your best right from the start."
Parker said he never got rich from pool, with his biggest jackpot a $30,000 bet in the 1950s.
"He was a wonderful man who made days much brighter," said Parker's wife, Peg. "I'm sorry I wasn't there with him."
Besides his wife, Parker is survived by a son and seven grandchildren.
Tournament organizers said cue balls autographed by Parker on Friday for $10 were auctioned for $1,000 on Saturday, and the proceeds were earmarked to help defray funeral expenses. Services probably will be in San Antonio, where Parker lived for about 15 years.
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