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Was Sean “Puffy” Combs really illin’ when he canceled a European concert tour last year? That question is at the heart of a federal-court fight between a New York concert promoter and two London firms that have refused to pay a $683,000 insurance claim.

Combs and cohorts like Mase and Lil’ Kim were scheduled to perform a total of eight shows in Germany and Switzerland in January 1998, but the tour was shelved – days before the opening concert – when Puffy reportedly was stricken. In a January 10 letter submitted in support of the promoter’s insurance claim, Dr. Robert A. Adair noted that the entertainer – whose U.S. tour had ended two weeks earlier – was suffering from “hypertension, exhaustion, headaches, insomnia, anxiety reaction, and dehydration.” Adair concluded that Combs’s “condition is fair and his prognosis is guarded.” Because of these symptoms, Adair placed Puffy on “bed and house rest” and noted that the run-down rapper was unable to travel or work.

But that diagnosis didn’t stop Puffy from playing. Against doctor’s orders – and braving headaches and anxiety – Combs made two trips to Madison Square Garden, where he cheered the Knicks from Celebrity Row. During an exciting January 9 contest against the Chicago Bulls, Combs conspicuously chatted away on his cell phone (before the game, he was interviewed courtside by CNN). Were he not so ill, Combs would have opened his European tour that evening with a show for 9,000 at Basel’s Jakobshalle. Four days later, Puffy pulled a Spike Lee, spending much of a Knicks-Atlanta game trash-talking Hawks guard Steve Smith. Smith won the game with a last-second hoop, a heart-stopping finish that must have jolted Puffy’s already dicey blood pressure.

Asserting that Combs’s “alleged illness” should not have kept him from performing in Europe, the British underwriting firms have declined to honor a “non-appearance policy” secured by the Concert Organization, a Manhattan-based promoter of rap shows that claims to have lost nearly $700,000 as a result of Combs’s cancellation. Depositions in the case are expected to begin next month, with Puffy, Adair, CNN officials, and employees of either the Knicks or MSG included among those scheduled for pretrial examinations.

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