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Barry Sheene, 52; Racer Was Flamboyant World Motorcycle Champion

March 11, 2003|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

Barry Sheene, a two-time world road-racing motorcycle champion whose colorful personality often overshadowed his racing prowess, died Monday in a hospital in Gold Coast, Australia. He was 52.

The British-born rider, who won the 500cc road-racing championship in 1976 and 1977, had been diagnosed with cancer of the throat and stomach in August.

After learning of his disease, Sheene switched to a liquid diet, a cocktail made of the juices of beets, Chinese cabbage, carrots and radishes, and underwent microwave therapy. He refused surgery or chemotherapy.

"I would rather die," he told the Express of London. "I have had microwave therapy, which is kind of revolutionary. It must be good, because most of the other doctors don't fancy it."

At the height of his career, Sheene stood out by wearing white leather when nearly every rider wore black. He also had a picture of Donald Duck on his helmet.

From 1975 to 1982, Sheene won more international 500cc and 750cc Grand Prix events that any rider. He became known as "the bionic man" after surviving a series of crashes that left him with metal plates in both knees, 28 screws in his legs and a bolt in his left wrist.

He began riding at age 5, when his father, Frank Sheene, gave him a 50cc Ducati. He made his professional debut at 18 on a 125cc bike and won the British 750cc title when he was 20.

He entered the Daytona 200, America's premier road race, in 1975 but crashed during practice at 175 mph, shattering a leg and thigh and breaking six ribs.

He was made a Member of the British Empire in 1978, retired from riding in 1984 and moved to Australia in 1987.

Among Sheene's companions during his heyday were world Formula One race-car champion James Hunt and two Beatles, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. "James used to let it all hang out and still win races, and so did I," Sheene once said. "I used to smoke 50 Gitanes non-filter fags a day, and if I wanted to drink a bottle of wine and go to bed at 3 a.m., I would. Those were ridiculous times."

Harrison persuaded him to move to Australia, which he had never considered, he said, because his race mechanics were Australians.

"And I never wanted to go near the place that made them," he told the London Daily Telegraph.

But he did, settling in Queensland, where he worked as a TV commentator and ran a lucrative advertising business.

Sheene is survived by his wife, Stephanie; and two children, Sidonie, 17, and Freddie, 13.

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