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Jonah Lomu, Former All Blacks Rugby Star, Dies at Age 40

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistNovember 18, 2015

New Zeland rugby legend Jonah Lomu, former All Blacks winger, leaves the field, after a training session with his new rugby club of Marseille-Vitrolles, in Vitrolles, southern France, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
STR/Associated Press

Former New Zealand rugby star Jonah Lomu died on Wednesday at the age of 40.

The All Blacks, whom Lomu represented on 63 occasions, paid their respects on Twitter:

All Blacks @AllBlacks

#RIPJonah https://t.co/b72VujMNUG

All Blacks team doctor John Mayhew confirmed Lomu died of a heart attack at his Auckland home, per the Telegraph's Barney Henderson and Vicki Hodges.

"We're all shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden death of Jonah Lomu," New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said in a statement on the organisation's official Twitter account. "We're lost for words and our heartfelt sympathies go out to Jonah's family. Jonah was a legend of our game and loved by his many fans both here and around the world."

Dan Carter, part of New Zealand's recent 2015 World Cup-winning side, added his condolences:

Dan Carter @DanCarter

I still can't believe the sad news. Love & thoughts go out to Jonahs family #RIPJonah

He was joined by Lomu's former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick:

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Sean Fitzpatrick @SFitzpatrick92

Our thoughts are with the @JONAHTALILOMU family tonight. A very special person. @AllBlacks

Lomu suffered from nephrotic syndrome, a kidney disorder, throughout his career, per the New Zealand Herald.

He received a kidney transplant in 2004, but it failed in 2011, and he had been undergoing dialysis treatments, according to the Sydney Morning Herald's Tom Decent. The disorder forced Lomu to retire from international rugby in 2002.

Per BBC Sport, Mayhew described Lomu's death as "totally unexpected" to New Zealand television.

England World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson was among many to pay his respects:       

Jonny Wilkinson @JonnyWilkinson

I am so, so devastated to hear of the passing away of @JONAHTALILOMU The greatest superstar and just a fabulous human being. Deeply saddened

Sonny Bill Williams, another star of the recent World Cup triumph, noted what an inspiration Lomu—whose parents were Tongan immigrants—was to Pacific Islanders, per Phil Lutton on Stuff.co.nz:

Everyone has memories. For me, Jonah embodied that islander spirit. You would have to say he was the first proper worldwide rugby superstar.

The thing that stood out for me and a lot of the other young kids was how proud he was of his islander heritage.

That gave us all a sense of pride. When we saw him on the world stage, doing what he was doing and accomplishing what he was accomplishing, that gave us a sense of pride and the feeling that we could do that, that any islander could do that kind of thing.

An All Blacks and rugby legend, Lomu ascended into the public eye during the 1995 World Cup, when he helped lead his country to a runner-up finish.

His devastating performance against England in the semi-finals has gone down in rugby history, per sports journalist Ben Smith:

Ben Smith @BSmith

Never forget first seeing Lomu at his devastating best. Combination of speed & size changed rugby forever https://t.co/EOd1yt6aiD #RIPJonah

South Africa eventually triumphed at the tournament, and Joost van der Westhuizen, the scrum-half for the winning Springboks side, paid an emotional tribute to his former opponent and friend:

Joostvdwesthuizen @9Joost

Difficult to write with eyes full of tears on my eye tracker. Thank you for EVERYTHING Jonah. RIP my dear friend!

Lomu became the youngest debutant in the history of the All Blacks when he first stepped on the field at the age of 19 years and 45 days, per Decent.

His pace and power on the wing lifted rugby to a new level, forcing opponents to find new ways to shut down the threat of one-on-one situations out wide. He remains the joint holder of the record for the most tries in World Cup history, alongside Bryan Habana, scoring 15 in 11 matches.

Lomu tallied 37 tries in his 63 New Zealand appearances over the course of his illustrious career and cemented himself as one of the most dynamic wingers to ever grace the sport.

Lomu is survived by his wife Nadene and two sons.

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