RUGBY league great Arthur Beetson has died this morning at the age of 66 after suffering a heart attack.
A Queensland Ambulance Service spokeswoman said officers were called to a home at Paradise Point on the Gold Coast where a man had suffered a heart attack and fallen from a bicycle shortly before 9am.
Paramedics performed CPR but he was unable to be resuscitated and was transported to Gold Coast Hospital.
Beetson was one of only seven rugby league Immortals, along with Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper, Graeme Langlands and Wally Lewis.
He captained Queensland in the first State of Origin match in 1980 at the age of 35.
Beetson was instrumental to the Maroons’ early success, and that of the State of Origin concept.
He famously clobbered then-Parramatta teammate and Blues opponent Mick Cronin in the inaugural game, supposedly proving that representing Queensland meant more to him than club loyalties.
Current Queensland Origin coach and former Beetson teammate Mal Meninga was rocked by the news this morning.
“I hold him dear to my heart, especially in my early years, he was very influential for my growth as a man,” Meninga said.
“He was one of the people I admire greatly not only for his footy, what he did on the park, but what he did as a human being for his people and for business people as well.
“It’s a tragedy.”
Meninga first met Beetson in the lead up to that first Origin game in 1980, and said the veteran changed his perspective on being an Indigenous footballer.
“He was part of the Origin start-up, he was instrumental in all that obviously,” Meninga said.
“Came back home, captained Queensland in the very first Origin game.
“But my thoughts revolve around his thoughts on me as a person.
“And he was instrumental in making me proud of my heritage and that sort of thing.
“It is real shock.”
Beetson played 14 Tests for Australia as well as representing his country in 14 World Cup matches (which then didn’t count as Tests).
He had two successful terms as Queensland coach (1981-84, 89-90) for an overall record of 11 wins from 16 matches.
Born in Roma, where Darren Lockyer also grew up, Beetson was part of Jack Gibson’s high-achieving Eastern Suburbs team of the mid 1970s.
A renowned big eater, his weight peaked at 156kg in 1994 before trimming down back to near his playing weight of 110kg.
Beetson has battled weight-related health issues all his life, and close friend and former Origin teammates Chris Close and Gene Miles revealed this morning that bike riding was a daily part of his effort to maintain his health.
“It’s ironic because with the Fogs [Former Queensland Origin Greats] we do a program named in his honour, the Artie Program – Achieving Results Through Indigenous Education.
“And today was the day we celebrate with the kids who achieved their goals, so we are down at White Water World at Dreamworld with 400 indigenous kids and I was expecting Arthur to walk through the gates at about 10am,” Miles said.
“Instead I got the message of his passing. I’m totally shattered…
“He said he’d see me around 10 to help out flipping the burgers and obviously polishing a few off,” Miles said with a chuckle.
Close said no better forward ever played the game.
“He was the best forward I’ve ever seen in my lifetime and I have a great admiration and respect for the man.
“As a matter of fact, I’d go as far as to say I loved him.
“He had a big influence on my life and thousands of others and he’ll be sadly, sadly missed.”
In recent years, Beetson had fallen out with rugby league administrators.
He boycotted the Centenary Ball in 2008 where he was due to be acknowledged as a member of the Team of the Century.
At the time he said he would not be attending the gala ball because of his fears for the future of the sport, as well as the fact he couldn’t wear shorts and thongs to the event.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told State Parliament about the death just after 10am and offered her sympathies.
“This morning Queensland has lost one of its legends and one of its favourite sons,” she said.
“He loved his league, he loved his Queensland and his loss will be felt by many.”