steve-jobs-appleApple chief executive Steve Jobs is receiving treatment from the Stanford Cancer Center, according to reports in the tabloid National Enquirer and celebrity gossip site Radar Online.

This seems like a real “consider the source” moment, but the Enquirer has apparently published photos of Jobs looking obviously ill. Neither the Enquirer story nor its photos have been posted online, but The Daily Mail has a summary. It says Jobs appears “painfully frail and weak” in the photos. The Enquirer says it showed the photos to a physician (not exactly the most reliable way to get a diagnosis) who described Jobs as “close to terminal” and likely to have only six weeks to live.

Jobs announced his most recent leave of absence from Apple in January, spurring another round of discussion about his health and the company’s future. There was considerable speculation around the fact that Jobs didn’t offer a specific timespan for his leave of absence, suggesting that he could be gone indefinitely.

Jobs’ first leave came in 2004, when he underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer. Then he left again in 2009 for a liver transplant. In each case, Apple was tight-lipped about the reasons for his absence. All Jobs has said publicly is that his leave is medically-related.

If the reports are true, they confirm shareholder fears that Jobs’ condition is serious indeed and that they may have to face Apple’s future without him. The company’s chief operating officer, Tim Cook, has successfully led Apple during Jobs’ past absences, but Jobs is still seen as the main visionary behind the company’s products. Hence the shareholder demands that Apple’s board create a written succession policy, as well as the interest around Jobs’ day-to-day involvement in the company. A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that he remains closely involved with the company’s product development and strategic decisions.

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