Playing for Time

updated 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

HE SURELY WOULD HAVE PREFERRED a Grammy nomination. Or a hit record. Or even the standard gold watch. Nothing doing. Instead, what fate handed David Crosby shortly before the 25th anniversary of his triumphant first Woodstock appearance was a cruel bit of irony. Having survived nearly two decades of self-abuse via pot, cocaine, LSD, heroin and alcohol, Crosby in recent years managed to kick his habits only to have his long-suffering body give out anyway. In July, during the Crosby, Stills & Nash 25th-anniversary tour, the 53-year-old singer suffered crippling abdominal pain and couldn't go onstage in Salt Lake City. Two weeks later came the diagnosis: a failing liver.

Instead of celebrating his long run of success, promoting his group's recently released album, After the Storm—or making plans for the birth of the baby he and his wife, Jan, 43, are expecting this spring—Crosby was admitted on Nov. 2 to the UCLA Medical Center. Though now listed in fair condition, Crosby's illness could become life-threatening if he does not receive a transplant within a year.

While he waits for a matching liver, which doctors expect may take up to six months, Crosby counts on the company of band-mates Stephen Stills and Graham Nash and former drummer Dallas Taylor to boost his spirits, if not his strength. "We walked down to the lobby," says Taylor of a recent visit, "and he was so exhausted he had to go back to bed." Having gone through a similar transplant nearly five years ago (detailed in his autobiography Prisoner of Woodstock), Taylor can tell his friend what he has to look forward to: a long wait followed by a long operation, if a donor is found in time. Mean-while Taylor's wife, Betty, can only urge Jan, who sleeps in her husband's private room, to hang tight. "They're scared," says Taylor, "but tough."

And not sinking into self-pity. If a liver is not found soon, Crosby recently suggested to Taylor that they take matters into their own hands. "Why don't you ride your motorcycle, get in a wreck and give me your liver? "Crosby wryly asked him. Sorry, said his pal, but thanks for asking. "As long as he's that ornery," says Taylor, "he'll be okay."

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