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After the 2000 have been sated, a celebration bulges the small, smoky dressing room. The late hours pass. Dury holds court with old friends, reluctant to end the evening. "He's usually the last one to leave," Watt-Roy says with a fond chuckle. "The last chicken in the shop."
He was first diagnosed five years ago, and in 1998, when the cancer spread to his liver, doctors said he might be dead in eight months. So he married his girlfriend, sculptor Sophy Tilson, who's 23 years youngerthey have two sons, Bill, 4, and Albert, 2. He's chosen private medical care over England's national plan: "I'm a socialist, but I don't want to be a dead socialist." He continues a regimen of chemotherapy through a permanent Hickman line in his chest.
A few close friends have died of cancer, including his ex-wife Betty, so "it's hard not to think of it as a sword of Damocles," he says. For the most part, he maintains a darkly comic stoicism in public, though his moods vary nearly as widely as his health. Lately, he's felt tired and weak. He has a few gigs booked in England for April and May, and vows to perform from a wheelchair if he has to.
Even now, with interest in oddballs and misfits a pop staple, Dury remains unjustly obscure, partly because he's just too prickly to ingratiate himself with history. Knowing how he's going to die has only strengthened his resolve about how he wants to live. Last year, Madness regrouped for Wonderful, which they dedicated to Dury. And they wrote a song for Dury to sing on, "Drip Fed Fred," a comic fable about a formidable gangster ailing in prison. "We were supposed to start recording at 11 a.m.," Suggs says with a laugh, "and when we turned up at midday, he'd already finished and gone. He doesn't have any time left to fuck around."