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Barry John, Welsh rugby great, dies at 79. Known as 'The King' because of his flyhalf wizardry

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Barry John, the rugby great who played 25 games for Wales and inspired the British and Irish Lions’ famous series victory over New Zealand in 1971 before retiring at the age of 27, has died. He was 79.

John's family announced his death Sunday in a statement released to British media, saying he died peacefully in the hospital.

Known for his wizardry at flyhalf and regarded by some as rugby's first superstar, John made his debut for Wales in 1966 and soon struck up a partnership in the national team with scrumhalf Gareth Edwards that flourished for his country and for the Lions.

John was partnered by Edwards in 23 of his international appearances for Wales, plus all five of his test matches for the Lions — one against South Africa in 1968 and four against New Zealand in '71 when the touring team won the series 2-1 against the All Blacks.

During that New Zealand tour, local journalists gave John the nickname “The King.”

John played his club rugby for Llanelli and then Cardiff.

“Barry John died peacefully today at the University Hospital of Wales surrounded by his loving wife and four children," the family statement read.

“He was a loving dad to his 11 grandchildren and much-loved brother.”

Cardiff said the club was “devastated” to lean of the death of John, who it described as an "absolute icon."

“Long live the King,” Cardiff said.

The Lions said on its official account on X, formerly Twitter, that John “inspired so many and will forever be remembered for how much he gave to the sport.”

John's death comes four weeks after that of another Wales rugby great, JPR Williams.

Welsh Rugby Union president Terry Cobner described John as “probably the greatest” flyhalf of all time.

“To be crowned ‘The King’ in New Zealand when every back row forward in both the North and South Islands is trying to take your head off is quite some accolade,” Cobner said.

“He was a glider, rather than a sidestepper, who had a subtle change of pace and direction ... this is another huge blow for Welsh rugby."

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AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby