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Wales and British and Irish Lions legend Barry John dies aged 79

Barry John, the Welsh rugby legend, has died aged 79.

He died peacefully in hospital on Sunday.

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

"He was a loving Dadcu [grandfather] to his 11 grandchildren and much-loved brother."

The rugby union fly-half won three Five Nations titles, a Grand Slam and two Triple Crowns - while also playing five Tests for the British and Irish Lions on their 1968 and 1971 tours.

Nicknamed The King by New Zealand journalists after he inspired the Lions' famous 1971 Test series victory over the All Blacks, John won 25 Wales caps between 1966 and 1972.

He played his club rugby for Llanelli and then Cardiff, where he struck up a half-back partnership with Gareth Edwards that went on to flourish for Wales and the Lions.

John was partnered by Edwards in 23 of his Wales international appearances, plus all five Lions Tests - one against South Africa and four against New Zealand.

He announced his shock retirement at the age of 27, citing pressures of fame and expectation.

Considered one of rugby's first superstars, Edwards wrote in his autobiography that John "had this marvellous easiness in the mind, reducing problems to their simplest form, backing his own talent all the time.

"One success on the field bred another and soon he gave off a cool superiority which spread to others in the side."

Another revered Wales and Lions colleague, Gerald Davies, said: "Whilst the hustle and bustle went on around him, he could divorce himself from it all.

"He kept his emotions in check and a careful rein on the surrounding action. The game would go according to his will and no one else's."

'One of the greatest'

The rugby world paid tribute to John after news of his death was announced.

The British and Irish Lions said in a post on X that John was "truly one of the greatest".

"Barry inspired so many and will forever be remembered for how much he gave to the sport. All our thoughts are with his family and friends."

Jonathan Davies, one of the most renowned Welsh players of the 1980s and 1990s, paid tribute to John, writing on X: "RIP Barry - another one of my heroes sadly gone. #BarryJohnTheKing."

Llanelli's Scarlets, with whom John started in 1964, described him as "an icon of the game", while former Lions tourist John Devereux posted on X: "My greatest idol of all time has gone."

Born in the village of Cefneithin in Carmarthenshire to a mining family, John was one of six children. All three of his brothers - Delville, Alan and Clive - played rugby.

He made his first team debut for Llanelli in 1964 just two days before his 19th birthday. His first cap for Wales came two years later, before moving to play for Cardiff in 1967.

Shock retirement at 27

He recalled his early retirement while speaking to Wales Online, saying: "I was the first rugby pop star, superstar, call it whatever you want.

"I was third in BBC Sports Personality, then a month later I was the first rugby player to be the subject of This is Your Life."

He continued: "I didn't want to retire, but it was the circumstances. People didn't understand how you had to go to work, how you had to be fit for international level rugby.

"I was getting lethargic, tired. You can't be like that on the international stage, especially at number 10.

"The invitations just flew in thick and fast. I had no time to myself, just knew I wasn't as sharp mentally or physically as I wanted to be."

He added: "I was up there [in North Wales] doing a promotion for the bank. Youngsters were out, lots of people to greet me. I said a few words, and as I was being introduced to someone, she curtsied. Not a major one, a little one, but a curtsy nonetheless.

"That convinced me this was not normal. I was becoming more and more detached from real people. I didn't want this any more."

But he remained in rugby after retirement, reporting and writing columns for the Daily Express and Wales On Sunday.

John, who lived in Cardiff, is survived by his wife Janet and children Kathryn, Lucy, Anna and David.

His death comes just four weeks after another star of Welsh rugby's golden era, full-back JPR Williams, died aged 74.