So much so the global poker community was universally devastated when word filtered out in January that Hansen had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
It didn't take long for that devastation to turn into action, though, once news also spread that Hansen was living without insurance and struggling with his medical bills.
The community quickly rallied in support with everything from charity online tournaments to emergency funds for Hansen to return to Norway for treatment.
Unfortunately still very sick but finding moments of relief in (and for) poker, Hansen spoke with our PokerListings Germany colleague Dirk Oetzmann today at WPT Prague about his illness, treatment, 2012 Hall of Fame nomination and irrepressible poker talent.
PokerListings: First and most important question: How are you?
"As long as I feel good enough, there's no reason why I wouldn't (play)."
Thor Hansen: I’m pretty good right now. I’m a sick man, I have a disease that can’t be treated, but for that I’m feeling pretty well. I’ve been on chemo for several months, but it seems I’m taking it very well.
PL: Chemo is usually very physically demanding.
TH: I know. It looks like I’m very lucky when it comes to this. The problem is that it’s not going to work for a very long time.
PL: You still came here to Prague to play.
TH: Yes. As long as I feel good enough there is no reason why I wouldn’t. I have booked my flight back for Saturday.
PL: But we expect you to be here on Sunday for the final.
TH: Well, I just lost a big pot, so I don’t know. I’m not giving up, of course, and if I manage to come back, I’ll cancel the flight.
PL: When and why did you move back to Norway?
TH: I moved in February, so I could get the best possible treatment. I have better options in Norway, so it was the right thing to do.
PL: Was your illness the only reason why you came back?
TH: The main reason, yes.
"I have better options in Norway, so it was the right thing to do."
PL: How long did you live in the States?
TH: Not that long, 16 or 17 years.
PL: That’s not long?
TH: Well, I’ve been in and out the US for around 30 years. I lived mostly in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It’s a four-hour drive from LA to Vegas.
PL: An apartment in LA, and playing in Vegas. Sounds like a good life.
TH: It sure was. But in the end I was very sick, and for a long time I didn’t know I was. Then I received the diagnosis.
I was in a pretty bad state. I didn’t tell anyone about it, and for a while I didn’t realize I was, because my health had been pretty good all my life.
PL: It was upsetting for the whole community.
TH: I know, I had amazing responses.
PL: You won’t be staying here for the EPT?
TH: I don’t have time. I have to go on chemo again. Maybe if I catch a break in the summer, I’ll go travelling.
PL: Talking about the summer. You won a WCOOP event last summer. Not many people can say that. Congratulations. By the way, which one was it?
TH: The Stud event.
PL: Regular Stud?
PL: An old-school event for an old-school guy.
TH: Absolutely old school. It’s pretty tough to win a Hold’em event, although I have made it to the final table.
PL: Are you still active online?
TH: Yes. I play as much as I can. Poker is still my first priority.
PL: You were also nominated for the Poker Hall of Fame this year, but didn’t make it. Are you disappointed?
TH: Not at all. My very best friend [Eric Drache] made it, and he deserves it more than anyone else. Also, it is already an honor to be nominated.
I was very surprised to be deemed worthy. It’s an honor because you are already part of a very elite group if you are nominated.
Not being inducted might bother me a little bit, but not that much.
PL: You said you received a lot of support from the community. What happened?
TH: I was sick, I was broke. I went to the emergency room, and I didn’t have insurance. But they have to treat you, if you go to the emergency room.
"All I can say is thank you."
They took x-rays and saw that the cancer had already spread over my lungs and liver, a lot of internal organs, so it was obvious that it was very bad. The next day I had surgery.
The doctor said that two years is the absolute maximum life expectancy for a case like mine. So they were reluctant to treat me as they didn’t think it was worth it.
That’s the basic message I got from the hospital. I would have gotten some treatment for a while, but not the best possible.
As I had been to the doctor several times before without insurance, I had spent loads of money on the invoices, and the regular bills kept coming in, too.
I was so broke, I couldn’t afford the flight to Norway.
The reactions were amazing, when the diagnosis went public. All the young players in Norway collected money and bought me the flight ticket.
It was unbelievable. I never cried over my sickness, but I cried over the support I received.
PL: What would you like to tell them?
TH: All I can say is thank you. It was crazy, the way they helped me. I think this was the craziest thing that happened in all my life.