Hull FC, where he was widely regarded as their greatest ever player, announced that he passed away peacefully last night, surrounded by his close family.
Loose forward ‘Gentleman John’ played 418 appearances for the Black and Whites between 1950 and 1965, and played 15 times for Great Britain, earning a reputation as one of the world’s greatest players.
Whiteley was also coach of the last Lion side to claim the Ashes in 1970 but will be fondly remembered for his dedication to his beloved Hull, the sport of rugby league and the local community after his retirement.
A Rugby League Hall of Fame member, Whiteley won the World Cup in 1954 and 1960 as well as playing a crucial role in the historic 1962 series win Down Under two years later.
He led Hull to two league titles and their maiden appearance at Wembley Stadium and remained an avid supporter of the club, acting as an ambassador of the Airlie Birds and regularly attending games last season.
However, such is the respect he holds, Whiteley is also revered on the ‘east side of the river’ where he coached arch-rivals Hull KR.
He was made a Freeman of the City of Hull and Hull FC chief executive James Clark admitted: “Johnny is widely regarded as the finest rugby league player to represent this city, and amongst the very best in the history of the sport, so this is an extremely sad day for our club and for rugby league.
“He represented Hull FC as a player, coach and ambassador with passion, humility and the utmost dedication for the last 70 years and he will leave a significant hole in the family and fabric of this club.
“Johnny approached life with such youthful energy, vigour and determination, and despite how sad this moment is, it should also be an opportunity to celebrate his incredible life and legacy, including his dedication to the sport and the city he loved so dearly.
“His influence and contribution reaches far beyond rugby league and he served his community selflessly for many, many years, which will never be forgotten.
“For those of us who knew him and had the privilege of spending invaluable time with him, he will not only be remembered as a legend of the club, the finest ambassador for the sport and a dedicated servant of the city – but most notably, a great friend.
“On behalf of Adam (Pearson), our board and everyone associated with Hull FC, we send our heartfelt condolences to Joan, Kim, Jane and the rest of the family, who will always be part of the family at this club.”
The club will be marking Whitely’s passing at Saturday’s Betfred Super League fixture against St Helens at the MKM Stadium, with full details to be announced in due course.
He leaves behind wife Joan, daughters Kim, Jane and Lisa, grandchildren, Lisa and Sherriden, and great-grandchildren Jack and Leo.
A book of condolence will also be opened from tomorrow at the club’s retail store at St Stephen’s Shopping Centre.