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Jonah Lomu (1975 - 2015)

AP Photo / Rob Griffith

Jonah Lomu (1975 - 2015)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - Jonah Lomu, who bulldozed opponents with his size and blistering speed only to be felled by a kidney illness that extinguished his meteoric All Blacks career, died suddenly at his home in Auckland. He was 40.

Nadene Lomu, the wife and manager of the rugby great, confirmed Lomu's death in a statement Wednesday. Lomu had struggled with a kidney illness for 20 years but former All Blacks doctor and family friend John Mayhew said the cause of death was cardiac arrest.

"It is with great sadness that I must announce my dear husband Jonah Lomu died (overnight)," Nadene Lomu said. "This is a devastating loss for our family and may I ask that our privacy, especially the privacy of our two very young boys, be respected as we take them through this traumatic time."

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said "Jonah was a legend of our game and loved by his many fans both here and around the world."

The son of immigrants from Tonga, innately humble off the pitch, was at his devastating best at the 1995 and 1999 World Cups, scoring 15 tries in 11 games but never winning the trophy.

The stabbing death of a friend steered Lomu away from street gangs in the blue-collar suburbs of Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, where he grew up.

Rugby gave him new direction. He channeled anger he felt about his father into the sport. Aged just 19 for the first of his 63 tests, he was a physical colossus for a winger - 1.96 meters tall (6-foot-4); 119 kilograms (262 pounds) - and quite terrifying when pounding through defensive lines at speed.

Nephrotic syndrome, a degenerative kidney illness, curtailed his career at his peak. Lomu tried making a comeback after a 2004 transplant but was forced to abandon hopes of playing the 2007 World Cup. He played his last match in 2006.

At the height of his career, Lomu had the ear of Nelson Mandela, charmed Hollywood comedian Robin Williams – who wore an All Blacks cap and called him "mate" – and visited parliaments and palaces.

In 1998, he won a rugby sevens gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. At the 1999 World Cup, he scored eight tries in six games, including two in New Zealand's semifinal loss to France.

Lomu remained an All Black until 2002, but his health faded. He required dialysis three times a week. After his kidney transplant, he played with New Zealand's North Harbour province and, with moderate success, for the Cardiff Blues in Wales.

"I was hoping that it would get better but it never did," he said. "But, you know, I would never change anything."

Lomu is survived by his third wife Nadene and his sons Brayley, 6, and Dhyreille, 5. He was previously married to Tanya Rutter from 1996 to 2000 and Fiona Lomu (nee Taylor) from 2003 to 2008.

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STEVE McMORRAN, AP Sports Writer

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