NEW YORK — Eric Bristow, a British laborer’s son who began mastering the pub game of darts as a teenager and became a dominant world champion in the 1980s, died Thursday in Liverpool. He was 60.
The cause was a heart attack he suffered outside the Echo Arena after a tournament, where he was working as a hospitality host, the Professional Darts Corp. said.
“I’m just a great darts player,” Mr. Bristow said in “Arrows,” a 1979 documentary filmed after he had started winning tournaments.
He became nearly unstoppable in the 1980s. Nicknamed the Crafty Cockney, he won five British Darts Organization world titles from 1980 to 1986 using an unusual technique: Before letting a dart fly, he would raise his right pinkie, as if he were daintily lifting a cup of tea.
When Mr. Bristow won the 1984 world championship, his third, television commentator Sid Waddell, who was known as the Voice of Darts, said: “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer. Bristow’s only 27.”
There was more to the chunky Bristow than his deftness at throwing a dart at a board 7-feet-9¼ inches away. His cheeky personality helped fuel the popularity of the game and move its tournaments from halls with 1,000 seats to arenas filled with 10,000 or more screaming fans.
Prize money has swelled since the 1980s; when he won the world title in 1986, Mr. Bristow earned the equivalent of $29,650. The reigning Professional Darts Corp. world champion, Rob Cross, earned the equivalent of $541,000 in taking the title.
“Eric was the first superstar darts player,” Matthew Porter, the PDC’s chief executive, said in a telephone interview. “He was the biggest character — brash and arrogant — and didn’t care what people thought of him. And he backed it up with his talent.”
Patrick Chaplin, a darts historian, wrote in an e-mail that darts would not have reached its potential in the late 1970s and early ’80s’ without Mr. Bristow’s personality and darting skills.
“Darts by its very nature is a repetitive sport,” he wrote, “and in those early days of the new era of darts, it needed some players that would hold fans’ attention. Bristow was such a player.”
Eric John Bristow was born April 25, 1957, in the Hackney borough of London. His father, George, was a plasterer. His mother, Pamela, was a telephone operator. Eric was 11 when he received a dartboard from his father — a proficient player himself — and soon after they were playing at a pub in the Stoke Newington part of London.
Eric left school at 14, and within a year, he later said, he was earning more money at weekend darts tournaments than he was as a proofreader for an advertising agency. He quit the job at 16.
In all, Mr. Bristow won more than 70 tournaments, including a World Masters title at 20. Soon after that victory, he was at a London pub one morning in January 1978, preparing for the start of the British Open darts championship later that day. And he was ordering pints.
“You know how much you can take,” he told The New York Times in 1978. “I’ll have about four or five.”
Mr. Bristow’s brilliant play ended suddenly in 1987, at the Swedish Open. He could no longer release a dart properly, an affliction he compared to the yips, a movement disorder that notably affects golfers when they putt.
He leaves a daughter, Louise; a son, James; and a companion, Rebecca Gadd, known as Bex. His marriage to Jane Bristow ended in divorce.