While Steve Jobs' famed "reality distortion field" transformed, despite all odds, computers, music, movies and cell phones, it is his own body which has proven resistant to his formidable power to reshape the world.
At each pass, he faced incredible skepticism; a rational analysis would have predicted defeat. But he persevered. His legion of admirers — and critics — are now wishing him a full recovery now that he begins a six-month medical leave from Apple. And whatever suffering his present physical condition is causing, the mental anguish of acknowledging that he is not well enough to lead his company must be its own particular pain.
Every hero's strength is usually also a flaw. With Jobs, it is his relationship with the truth. That spirit of denial is exactly what has led him to reinvent industry after industry for the past three decades. But the truth about his own declining health — at first flatly denied, then grudgingly confirmed but downplayed, and now confirmed as grave — cannot be changed simply through the power of belief.
In 2005, two years after he was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Jobs waxed philosophical about death in a commencement address he delivered at Stanford University:
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Therein lies the contradiction: In his health, Jobs does indeed have something to lose. And following his heart, which surely tells him to ignore the problem, in this matter is dangerous.
Jobs's track record, though, makes his defiance understandable. Having overcome so many other obstacles, why would he not think the aftereffects of cancer would prove trivial, too? Here's the career which helped feed Jobs's hubris:
1976 Jobs, a college dropout, founds Apple Computer with engineer Steve Wozniak. They introduce the Apple I, a personal computer for hobbyists.
1977 Apple introduces the Apple II, one of the first personal computers with a color display. Over the next 16 years, Apple sells more than 5 million units.
1984 Jobs, with a crew of self-described "pirates" pulled from other projects at Apple, introduces the Macintosh, a computer with a graphical user interface and a mouse.
1985 Apple's board fires Jobs. He founds Next Computer.
1986 Filmmaker George Lucas sells Pixar, then an animation-software startup, to Jobs.
1995 Pixar releases its first digitally animated feature film, Toy Story, and goes public; Jobs owns 80 percent, a stake worth nearly $600 million. (Pixar movies make regular appearances in Jobs's presentations for Apple, like this one in 1999.)
1996 Apple buys Next for $430 million; Jobs becomes an advisor to hapless CEO Gil Amelio.
1997 Having lost faith in Amelio, Jobs sells his entire stake in Apple. Amelio is forced out. Jobs becomes interim CEO.
1998 Jobs unveils the iMac.
2000 Jobs drops the "interim" bit and becomes Apple's CEO.
2001 A month after 9/11, to little notice, Jobs introduces the iPod.
2003 Apple launches the iTunes Music Store, with a little help from rock-star friends like Mick Jagger.
2005 The iPod Nano comes out, unveiled by Jobs as an aside at the launch of a now-forgotten iPod-phone combination.
2006 Disney buys Pixar; Jobs's stake is now worth $4.6 billion.
2007 Jobs unveils the iPhone.
2008 The MacBook Air and the iPhone 3G are announced. Observers notice Jobs's dramatic weight loss.
(Photos by AP and Getty Images)