Billiards champion Jeanette “Black Widow” Lee, a top-ranked player in the world in the 1990s, revealed in a news release Thursday that she has been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.
Lee’s agent Tom George confirmed the news by phone after a GoFundMe online fundraiser was publicized by the Asian Hall of Fame. Lee, a Tampa resident who gained fame through frequent ESPN appearances, is an inductee.
George said he and others started the fundraiser because the 49-year-old Lee’s biggest source of anxiety since receiving the diagnosis several weeks ago has been the wellbeing of her three daughters, Cheyenne, 16, Chloe, 11, and Savannah, 10.
Donations to the GoFundMe campaign will help create a trust to “ensure the girls are appropriately cared for and can afford to go to college,” the description said.
Lee, a native of New York City, moved to Tampa in 2015 from Indiana to become the owner of the local franchise of the American Poolplayers Association, which organizes leagues in bars and taverns. George said that when the COVID-19 pandemic began driving people out of bars, Lee’s source of income was hit hard.
“I’ve always said the American sports consciousness only has enough room in its collective memory for one billiards star per generation,” George said. “It was Minnesota Fats, Willie Mosconi, for a while it was Steve Mizerak, and then it was the Black Widow. And honestly, it’s still the Black Widow. Nobody has replaced her, or come along with that kind of star power.”
George said that Lee, who appeared in ads for Bass Pro Shops and Canadian Club whiskey, is the only pool player to score big endorsements outside the sport, and, he believes, “if you discount hustling, and talk about legit money,” she earned more money in billiards than anyone else in history.
And yet, he said, “there are assistant college football coaches who will make more in a year than she made in her whole career. It’s still a niche sport.”
George said he’s holding out hope that Lee can “beat this,” but that doctors have said she likely has months to a year to live.
“I intend to bring the same resolve I brought to the billiards table to this fight,” Lee said in the news release. “Jim Valvano so eloquently told us to ‘Never give up’ I owe it to my three young daughters to do exactly that.”
Lee had mostly left behind competition over the past decade due to increasing pain and complications from scoliosis, George said. She has had more than a dozen related surgeries, and could no longer reach the far side of a billiards table without a bridge.
The fundraiser for Lee’s daughters surpassed $50,000 in its first day. One donation of $10,000 came from a user listed as Tony Stewart. George confirmed that it was the NASCAR champion, saying, “Yes, Jeanette knows Tony.”
George said that for years Lee did not believe she could have children. She adopted a son who is now grown, then adopted a daughter. She then had a daughter through surrogacy and within a year became pregnant with her youngest daughter.
“She’s a very giving person,” George said. “When people were in trouble she helped them, and that’s the Jeanette I know, and I’ve been repping athletes for 40 years, and she’s the sweetest purest person I know.”