Yet 15 years after his last first-class match, the 51-year-old former rebel turned charity fundraiser is now one of a select band of respectable sporting 'sirs.'
Ian Terence Botham played cricket like most fans dream it: smashing sixes with a bat like a railway sleeper and toppling stumps with devilish swing. Even the cricket gear he endorsed exhorted enthusiastic amateurs: 'Attack!'
He also enjoyed life off the field: while lesser mortals might need eight hours of sleep, Botham could prop up the bar all night and still be a match-winner.
But his game was built on sound cricketing principles. Especially in his early career, he combined classical fast-medium pace bowling and a textbook sideways-on action with powerful, orthodox batting.
He departed from the coaching manuals as a slip fielder, standing almost nonchalantly with hands on thighs and much closer than a normal second slip, yet taking some breathtaking catches.
Unlike many English sportsmen, Botham - whose all-round abilities also saw him turn out for English Football League side Scunthorpe United - was blessed with immense self-confidence but a total lack of reticence about his talents.
In 1980 against India, he became the first player to score 100 and take 10 wickets in a Test and of all the players who have achieved the Test double of 2,000 runs and 200 wickets, Botham got there quickest -- in 42 matches.
He became England captain later that year but with nine of his Tests in charge against the then-world-beating West Indies, he faced an uphill battle for results.
In 1981, with eight draws and four defeats as England skipper, Botham jumped before he was pushed by the selectors after a 'pair' against Australia at Lord's.
But he soon made it "Botham's Ashes," sealing his place in the pantheon of cricketing greats.
Forced to follow on after a meagre first innings, England were heading for a crushing defeat in the third Test at Headingley. But Botham's extraordinary 149 not out gave them a slender lead.
Fast bowler Bob Willis then took eight for 43 as England won by 18 runs. It was only the second time in Test history a side had won after following-on.
In the next match at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run in 28 balls as Australia, seemingly on course for victory, collapsed spectacularly.
And in the fifth Test, a bare-headed Botham powered his way to an assured 118.
England, having been down and out, won the series 3-1. Botham was later named BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Botham's great days subsequently became fewer as his weight increased, although he still proved a thorn in Australia's side during the 1986-87 Ashes.
He was unable to produce his best form against the in-form West Indies of his close friend and Somerset team-mate Vivian Richards.
In the early 1980s with English football not hogging the nation's sporting headlines to today's extent, Botham dominated the news and sports pages in a way only previously seen in the days of Manchester United legend George Best.
Botham's reputation suffered not only through increasingly common displays of on-field petulance but also by his admission in 1986 that he had smoked cannabis. He was banned from cricket for 63 days.
A bitter rivalry with former Pakistan all-rounder Imran Khan culminated in an unsuccessful libel action by Botham and former England colleague Allan Lamb, while revelations about his private life surfaced periodically.
But 'Beefy' Botham has remained popular since his retirement in 1992, not least because of England's until recently fruitless search for a successor, but the millions of pounds he has raised for leukaemia charities since 1985.
Botham, honoured with an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1992 and now a cricket commentator and pundit, is married to Kath, mother to his three children, including former professional rugby player Liam.