Her battles with hard drugs are legendary and she struggled for artistic recognition in the shadow of the Rolling Stones; now, it has been announced that the Swinging Sixties survivor Marianne Faithfull faces the biggest fight of her life - against breast cancer.

Publicists for Faithfull, 59, and on the brink of a major tour, disclosed yesterday that the cancer, said to be in its early stages, had been diagnosed two days ago, in France, where she has a home. Her tour has been rescheduled for next year.

In a statement, Faithfull, whose career spans four decades, said: "I have absolute faith and confidence in my fantastic medical team and of course I will be well again, if not better than ever. Next year's tour, I want to assure fans, will be one big celebration."

Her spokesman, Rob Partridge, told BBC radio: "Obviously she was very upset, but now she's in a big fighting mood and determined to beat the cancer."

Faithfull's tour was due to have started in Paris on 7 October, with concerts in the United States, Canada, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Hungary and Spain before ending at the Pigalle Club in London on 18 December.

Her situation has similarities with that of the singer Kylie Minogue who was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in May last year as she was about to embark on her biggest tour. Following surgery and chemotherapy, she is expected to resume performing later this year.

Christine Fogg, chief executive of the charity Breast Cancer Care, said: "We wish her well with her treatment and hope to see her performing again soon. Kylie's experience of the disease significantly helped get the breast awareness message out to more people and we hope Marianne's experience helps reach even more."

After her discovery as an angelic-faced teenager among a Rolling Stones audience by their manager Andrew Loog Oldham in 1964, Faithfull has had one of the more interesting and long-lived careers in pop. Eventually, she revelled in the image of the damaged chanteuse, complete with gravelly voice - she has been a lifelong smoker - and a suitably world-weary demeanour.

Born in Hampstead, north London, her father was a British military officer and her mother a Viennese noblewoman of Jewish-Austrian descent. The young Faithfull was educated at a Roman Catholic girls' school. She quickly became a household name in the Sixties: not only for a string of catchy singles - the most famous was "As Tears Go By" written for her by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards - but also for her relationship with Jagger himself. Together, they became one of the most photographed couples of the Swinging Sixties.

Faithfull achieved even more notoriety when she was found naked and wrapped in a fur rug during the well-documented police drugs raid on Richards' home in Surrey. The suggestion, stemming from the incident, that Faithfull had also been involved in a sexual act relating to a Mars chocolate bar was later denied by both herself and members of the Stones.

Faithfull was more than just an adornment to the rock group. A book she gave Jagger inspired "Sympathy for the Devil", one of their best-known songs, while the lyrics to "Wild Horses" stemmed from the words she used after a barbiturate overdose. She is also said to have written all the words to "Sister Morphine", also on the album Sticky Fingers. The couple split up in 1970.

During the Seventies, an addiction to heroin and barbiturates intensified and she spent some time living rough in Soho. Rehabilitation came with the critically aclaimed Broken English in 1979, when her more mature, throaty voice was unveiled. Although she had another spell in a drug addiction clinic in the late Eighties, she continued to produce more well-received jazz and blues-flavoured albums and worked with artists as diverse as Damon Albarn, Nick Cave, Tom Waits and David Bowie.

As an actress, she has appeared in Girl on a Motorcycle, alongside Alain Delon, and played Ophelia opposite Nicol Williamson in Hamlet, as well as a number of other minor roles. She will also appear as Marie Antoinette's mother in a biography of the French aristocrat by Sofia Coppola and staring Kirsten Dunst, due for release next month.

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