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Steve Mizerak, 61; 'The Miz' turned pool skills into celebrity

MIAMI -- Steve Mizerak, a winner of multiple pool championships who became one of the game's more recognizable figures by appearing in training videos, beer commercials, and a movie, has died at age 61, said his wife, Karen.

Mr. Mizerak died Monday from complications stemming from gall bladder surgery, she said. Mr. Mizerak had not returned home since entering the hospital in January.

Known by his nickname ``The Miz," Mr. Mizerak won four US Open Championships among dozens of billiards tournaments in his professional career, which began when he was 13. He was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America's Hall of Fame in 1980.

He used his talent and name recognition to make training books and videos, bringing basics such as breaks and bank shots, plus advanced techniques for trick shots, to the masses.

Mr. Mizerak also made a difficult trick shot in a then-famous commercial for Miller Lite, when the beer maker was using sports celebrities to sell its product in the 1970s and 1980s.

``He falls in there with Minnesota Fats and [Willie] Mosconi and some of the more popular players," said Stephen Ducoff, executive director of the billiard congress, based in Colorado Springs. ``He's a recognizable household name."

Mr. Mizerak appeared in the 1986 film ``The Color of Money," playing an opponent of Paul Newman's character, Fast Eddie Felson.

He also branched out in the billiards merchandise business, serving as president and designer for a company he formed to make pool cues.

Born in Perth Amboy, N.J., Mr. Mizerak learned to play billiards at age 4, standing on a milk box in his father's pool hall. Later, he taught history in public school and played pool in his spare time.

``He touched so many people. Everyone loved him, the kids at school looked up to him," Karen Mizerak said.

Later in life, Mr. Mizerak, who lived on Singer Island, founded the Seniors Masters Tour. He opened a billiard hall in Lake Park and taught amateurs, even after suffering a stroke in 2001, his wife said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Mizerak leaves two sons, a stepson, and two granddaughters.

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