Call him abrasive, call him rough, call him what you will, John Bonetti was as loved by his fellow poker players as he was feared by them at the tables.Bonetti, who won over $4 million in his tournament career even though he didn’t start playing poker until he was 57, passed away Saturday in his hometown of Houston at the age of 80.

Of Italian descent and a New Yorker by birth, Bonetti’s personality at the table almost played to the stereotype.He cursed, he was intimidating, he was someone whom you did not want to cross.But inside, he was known to his peers and friends as a truly kind-hearted, generous guy.

Phil Hellmuth, who became very close to Bonetti over the years, was particularly saddened by his friend’s passing, which was not unexpected as he was recently told he only had a couple months to live because of cancer.Hellmuth explained that while he knew it was coming, Bonetti always had outs.

“In Bono's (Bonetti’s) case, I had heard that line before! At least two other times in the last 25 years, Bono was told that he had months to live, the last time being in about 1998. Bono always beat the odds!”

In a phone call to Bonetti on Thursday, Hellmuth told him, “I respect the fierceness and fieriness that you had at the poker table. I respect the way that you handle your family. John I love you.”

John Bonetti won three World Series of Poker Bracelets in his career: two in the $5,000 Deuce-to-Seven Draw event (1990 and 1995) and one in $1,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em (1993).He made several other final tables at the WSOP, including two third place finishes in the $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Main Event.

One of Bonetti’s greatest feats was winning three events at the 1999 U.S. Poker Championship.He almost one a fourth, but came one card away from busting Daniel Negreanu in the $7,500 Main Event.

Bonetti is survived by his wife, Jean, and three sons.

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