George Best, 59, one of the most dazzling players in soccer history who also reveled in a hard-drinking playboy lifestyle, died Nov. 25 of multiple organ failure at a London hospital after decades of alcohol abuse.

The 1960s and 1970s star for Manchester United and Northern Ireland had a liver transplant three years ago and had been hospitalized since Oct. 1 because of a reaction to medication to control his alcoholism.

"We all know that George Best was probably the most naturally gifted footballer of his generation, one of the greatest footballers the U.K. has ever produced," Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

After the liver transplant, Mr. Best was told never to drink again, but he went back to his old ways and was regularly seen at pubs.

"Unfortunately there is no solution to alcohol, you can't make it go away," Mr. Best wrote in a recent update to his second autobiography, "Blessed." "Drink is the only opponent I've been unable to beat."

Twenty-five years after his career ended, a panel of British journalists named Mr. Best the greatest British athlete of all time. With his mop-top haircut and his frankly hedonistic life, he embodied the mod, swinging style of 1960s London.

He once said, "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars -- the rest I just squandered."

Denis Law, a former Manchester United teammate, commented: "From 1964 to 1969, he was the best player in the country. It's sad as hell, but I don't think we saw the best of him. I think he went on the blink at a time when he could have got even better."

Mr. Best humiliated defenders and frustrated coaches during his wayward career. He scored 180 goals in 465 appearances for Manchester United, helping the team win the 1968 European Cup. He also played in the North American Soccer League, scoring 54 goals in 139 games for the Los Angeles Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and San Jose Earthquakes.

Mr. Best was only 17 when he began baffling defenders with his extraordinary dribbling, thrilling fans with spectacular goals for Manchester United. Slightly built but with amazing balance and devastating speed, he would run at defenders and leave them tackling thin air.

Mr. Best made 37 international appearances for Northern Ireland, but the team had few other players capable of making an impact in the World Cup or European Championship. FIFA, the international soccer governing body, called Mr. Best "arguably the greatest player never to play at a FIFA World Cup finals."

In 1966, he starred in United's 5-1 European Cup win in Portugal, scoring twice in the first 12 minutes, and the shaggy-haired star with screaming fans became known as the "fifth Beatle." He was voted European Player of the Year in 1968.

"Pele called me the greatest footballer in the world," Mr. Best once said. "That is the ultimate salute to my life."

Mr. Best retired at 27 in 1972 to concentrate on his business ventures, which included nightclubs and clothing boutiques, only to come out of retirement three years later, considerably overweight.

He slimmed down and came to the United States, where he played for the now-defunct NASL. After signing to play with Fulham in 1976, he walked out on the second-division English club and was banned by FIFA for breaking his contract.

After the ban was lifted, Mr. Best played with San Jose before moving to the Scottish club Hibernian. He was fired after he missed two games because of late-night drinking binges.

Mr. Best had a reputation as someone who could not be relied on to keep appointments as a player, TV soccer analyst or after-dinner speaker. His private life was splashed across the British tabloids, and he seemed to enjoy the attention.

At times, he had a comic's sense of wit and timing.

"I used to go missing a lot -- Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World," he said.

In 1983, Mr. Best was hit over the head with a beer glass in a London pub hours after he appeared in bankruptcy court for failing to pay back taxes. The last 20 years of his life were a continuing litany of convictions for drunken driving, assaults on police officers and deteriorating health.

With the help of his second wife, Alex Pursey, he controlled his drinking enough to work as a soccer analyst on Sky TV in the 1990s.

In 2004, his wife was granted a divorce after nine years of marriage because of Mr. Best's adultery. He had a son from a four-year marriage to his first wife, Angie.

British journalists considered George Best, pictured in 1975 near New York's Central Park, the greatest British athlete of all time.