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Born 8 October 1932, in the coal mining community of Tredegar in Wales, Reardon left school and became a miner when he was 14. It is rumoured that he used to wear gloves to protect his hands for snooker. Following an accident in which Reardon was buried for several hours, he quit mining and became a police officer. He played snooker at an amateur level for many years, before finally turning professional in 1967.
When the world rankings were introduced in 1976, Reardon was the first number 1, retaining that position until 1980/81. His win in the 1982 Professional Players Tournament at the age of 50 led to him recapturing the world number 1 position in the first set of rankings to be calculated on tournaments other than the World Championship. Apart from Reardon, only Mark Williams, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry have ever recaptured the number 1 ranking. Reardon remains the oldest player ever to win a ranking tournament.
He retired in 1992, but maintains an active interest in the game. He has recently been advising Ronnie O'Sullivan.
Ray Reardon's Dracula-like appearance was satirized in the 1985 musical Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire, in the character of Maxwell, played by Alun Armstrong.