Cornbread Red Dies at 72

378aBD is saddened to report the passing of Billy Joe “Cornbread Red” Burge, 72, on Friday, Feb. 13, of natural causes. He lived in Prestonsburg, Ky.

Burge was born on Dec. 17, 1931, in Paducah, Ky. As his nickname suggests, “Red” was one of the more colorful personalities in the “hustlers era” of pocket billiards, which ran from the 1950s to 1970s and produced more than its fair share of outsized characters. He was described in R.A. Dyer’s recent tome on the era, “Hustler Days,” as “the wild-man one-pocket specialist,” and was known for his knack for showmanship.

He spent the vast majority of his time as a hustler, but his occasional forays into the tournament world included competing at the fabled 1960s hustlers’ tournaments in Johnston City, Ill.

“He was a hustler, and he did it all his life, from when he walked into a billiard hall when he was 8 or 9,” recalled friend Chris Walker, who served as a pallbearer at Burge’s funeral on Feb. 15. Burge continued to play up until his death. He also enjoyed attending tournaments as a spectator; one of his most recent appearances was at the 2003 Derby City Classic in Louisville, Ky., which itself was inspired by the Johnston City events.