Poker lost an icon today with the passing of “Amarillo Slim” Preston. Preston passed away Sunday just after midnight at a hospice near his home in Amarillo, Texas. He was 83 years old. His family was by his side.
Preston's daughter confirmed the poker legend's death with noted poker historian, Nolan Dalla. The family released the following statement regarding Preston's passing:
"We hope everyone will remember our beloved Amarillo Slim for all the positive things he did for poker and to popularize his favorite game - Texas Hold'em."
Born Thomas Austin Preston, Jr. on December 31, 1928 in the small town of Johnson, Arkansas, the five-time World Series of Poker gold bracelet champion was one of the early pioneers of modern-day poker. He is widely credited for introducing the game to mainstream culture through his media appearances, almost always embellished by his larger-than-life personality.
Preston, along with fellow road gamblers of the 1950s and 1960s Doyle Brunson and Brian “Sailor” Roberts, were the original "Texas Rounders" – which referred to a famed group of poker pioneers who traveled throughout Texas and the American South and Midwest in search of underground poker games before eventually becoming famous at the poker tables in Las Vegas. Their exploits have been romanticized over the years in both film and literature, making the icons sort of modern-day rock stars in their later years.
Soon after winning the 1972 World Series of Poker Main Event Championship, Preston became a pop culture icon. He appeared frequently on network television talk shows, including NBC’s “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” His quick natural wit and southern charm served him well as he introduced poker to countless American viewers and households. Preston also appeared on several television game shows, such as “To Tell the Truth” and “What’s My Line?”
Standing six feet, two inches tall and never weighing over 175 pounds, Preston lived up to his moniker and was easily recognized by his trademark white Stetson hat and cowboy boots, often caked with dust from his 600-acre ranch in the Texas Panhandle.
In 2003, National Public Radio’s Scott Simon sat down with Preston for an interview where the gambling icon shared some of his exploits over the years while promoting his memoir co-written with Greg Dinkin, titled “Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People.” Listen to the 13-minute interview here.
“In my humble opinion, I’m no ordinary hustler,” wrote Preston in his introduction. “You see, neighbor, I never go looking for a sucker. I look for a champion and make a sucker out of him.”
Preston will be missed by many who knew him and his contributions to the great game of poker will never be forgotten.