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Biographer: Mortality motivated Steve Jobs

Brandon Griggs, CNN
  • Walter Isaacson talks about his upcoming Steve Jobs book on CBS' "60 Minutes"
  • Isaacson: Apple co-founder regretted not getting surgery earlier for his cancer
  • The first authorized biography of Jobs hits stores Monday

(CNN) -- Upon being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs put off surgery for nine months against the advice of his doctors while he tried to treat the disease with a special macrobiotic diet -- a decision he later regretted, his biographer said.

When asked why he didn't have the surgery right away, Jobs said, "I didn't want my body to be opened," according to an interview with the biographer, Walter Isaacson, that aired Sunday on CBS News' "60 Minutes." By the time Jobs was finally operated on, the cancer had spread to the surrounding tissue, Isaacson said.

But his mortality also motivated Jobs, who died October 5, to create some of Apple's boldest products in his final years, Isaacson told CBS's Steve Kroft.

"He talked a lot to me about what happened when he got sick and how it focused him," said Isaacson, in a transcript of the show provided by CBS News.

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"He said he no longer wanted to go out, no longer wanted to travel the world. He would focus on the products. He knew the couple of things he wanted to do, which was the iPhone and then the iPad. He had a few other visions. I think he would've loved to have conquered television."

Isaacson's book, "Steve Jobs," goes on sale Monday. In the "60 Minutes" interview, Isaacson described Jobs as a driven, eccentric and sometimes cruel man who grew more reflective and fatalistic in his later years.

"I saw my life as an arc and that it would end, and compared to that nothing mattered," Jobs told him in one recorded interview. "You're born alone, you're going to die alone. And does anything else really matter? I mean, what is it exactly is it that you have to lose, Steve? You know? There's nothing."

Adopted as a baby, Jobs recalled as a child once confronting his parents in tears about why his real parents had rejected him. His parents sat him down and said, "No, you don't understand. We specifically picked you out."

"He said, 'From then on, I realized that I was not -- just abandoned. I was chosen. I was special,' " Isaacson said. "And I think that's the key to understanding Steve Jobs."

Always something of a rebel, Jobs often thought the usual rules didn't apply to him, Isaacson said. He went through a period as a young man where he didn't bathe regularly -- his managers at Atari made him work the night shift because his co-workers complained about his body odor -- and drove a Mercedes with no license plate because he didn't want people tracking him.

Jobs also was a Buddhist and a spiritual person whose religious beliefs were altered by his cancer diagnosis, Isaacson said.

"I remember sitting in his backyard in his garden one day and he started talking about God. He said, 'Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don't. I think it's 50-50 maybe.

"But ever since I've had cancer, I've been thinking about it more. And I find myself believing a bit more. I kind of -- maybe it's 'cause I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn't just all disappear. The wisdom you've accumulated. Somehow it lives on.' "

Isaacson's book is based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs conducted over two years, as well as interviews with more than 100 family members, friends, adversaries, competitors and colleagues.

Simon & Schuster says that although Jobs cooperated with the book, he asked for no control over what was written nor the right to read it before it was published.

Isaacson, a former chairman of CNN and the former managing editor of Time magazine, which shares a parent company with CNN, has written biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger. The 656-page Jobs book retails for $35.

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