There are a number of eye-opening moments in the new Ronnie O’Sullivan documentary, The Edge of Everything, which lays bare one of the most complex and compelling characters in sport and a lifelong battle with his own genius. But one scene is particularly striking, when O’Sullivan and his parents remember his father’s arrest and sentencing for murder.
“He hit me over the head with a full bottle of champagne and I don’t remember anything else,” recalls Ronnie O’Sullivan Sr, of the night he stabbed Bruce Bryan to death in a club on Chelsea’s King’s Road and injured Bruce’s brother Kelvin. “But I know I took that man’s life and I know I hurt the other one.
“I don’t want to talk about this because it’s not fair on the people that have lost their son. I’m still alive, thank God, but if I hadn’t done what I’d done, I’d be dead.”
When O’Sullivan’s mother, Maria, found out about her husband’s arrest, she encouraged the management team of a 16-year-old Ronnie to send him away to a tournament in Thailand, so he might be distanced from the news when it broke. When he was eventually told his dad had been charged with murder, Ronnie screamed and collapsed. “I’ve always regretted sending him away, I was just trying to protect him,” Maria says. “I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me.”
Reflecting on the moment he found out, O’Sullivan breaks down in tears, saying: “Nothing can prepare you for that. I couldn’t make sense of any of it. I couldn’t believe it.”
He remembers his dad’s words after being sentenced to life in prison. “He said, ‘tell my boy to win’.”
It is a part of the O’Sullivan story which undoubtedly impacted everything that followed. The Amazon documentary charts his rise from a young boy whose father built a snooker room in their Essex garden, and whose talent was so clear that his dad sat him down aged nine to tell him he would be the best in the world, to the superstar player who wrestled with drink, drugs and his erratic mental health.
It is a problem soothed in recent years by his relationship with the renowned sports psychologist Dr Steve Peters, but O’Sullivan continues to search for happiness alongside the thing that most torments him: chasing snooker perfection.
O’Sullivan calls it a “toxic competitiveness” and the best way he has found to deal with it is to detach himself from results, to stop himself obsessing over his game. But it remains a permanent struggle – only last week, he withdrew from the Champion of Champions tournament citing his mental wellbeing, saying he was “drained and stressed”.
I had moments when I was young when I felt invincible
Ronnie O’Sullivan in ‘The Edge of Everything'
Among the talking heads recruited to unpick O’Sullivan’s mindset are his parents, who feature heavily in the documentary alongside previously unseen home video from his childhood, and his great rival Stephen Hendry, who describes O’Sullivan as “a genius” whose record five-minute 147 is “the greatest thing that’s ever happened in sport”.
Then there are his friends, the Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood and the artist Damien Hirst, who try to define the real Ronnie. “Chekhov said anybody can face a crisis,” says Wood. “It’s day-to-day living that drives you mad.”
O’Sullivan has long been open about his mental health struggles, but perhaps more revealing is his admission of what he calls “stage fright” before snooker matches, even now, 30 years into a career with nothing left to prove.
A clip during last year’s World Snooker Championship final shows O’Sullivan confiding in Dr Peters, while sitting in his dressing room. “I feel like I want to cry,” O’Sullivan says. “I don’t even feel like I want to face it. I’m looking at my cue, I feel like my eyes are blurry. I’m scared, mate.”
It is worlds apart from Netflix’s Beckham series, an entertaining watch, but from which it is impossible to recall anything of significance that David Beckham said. Such is Beckham’s dedication to his own clean brand that even his major flaw, infidelity, does not elicit an admission or apology but is brushed under the carpet.
By contrast, there is a rawness to O’Sullivan’s documentary (incidentally co-produced by Beckham) which reveals weakness as well as depth of thought. It is clear that he spends too much time terrified of not being able to locate his best game, and becomes distressed when he doesn’t. He worries about his advancing years and when his talents will fade.
But he cannot walk away, no matter how many times he threatens to quit the sport. He is addicted to the pleasure of playing flawless snooker, on a euphoric plane no one else can reach, and in the documentary he describes that feeling in poetic detail.
“It’s a place where you lose yourself. You don’t think. Your mind feels clear, feels free. Free from any thought. It goes beyond that, in a way. It becomes very instinctive, and quiet, but yet very sharp. It’s like you’re razor sharp. It’s like you’re floating. It feels like you’ve got all the time in the world. And yeah, it’s just good. It feels good. It feels powerful.
“I had moments when I was young when I felt invincible. I know what that feeling’s like and I love it. I want that high.”
The latter part of the documentary shows his World Championship victory in 2022 – a record-equalling seventh crown – and captures the conversations with his opponent immediately after the final, Judd Trump, and with his father.
As they embrace, Trump says: “You’re the best player of all time, I love you man,” which brings tears from the champion.
While posing for photos, O’Sullivan’s father asks: “That’s it now, isn’t it? Done now, aren’t you?”
His son responds: “I don’t know, mate…”
More than a year later, he is still going. O’Sullivan has won everything there is to win in snooker, but giving up is the hardest part.
‘Ronnie O’Sullivan: The Edge of Everything’ is available exclusively in cinemas across UK & Ireland on 21 November and launches on Prime Video on 23 November