WILMINGTON, DEL. -- Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden has made few public appearances since being hospitalized at a Texas cancer center in August. So when he took his place in the audience for the governor's State of the State speech last month, many people attending got their first look at him in months.
What they saw was a rail-thin man with a long, curving scar on the side of his head, visible because Biden -- known for Kennedyesque hair parted on the side and carefully combed -- now has a flat-top style with the sides shaved.
"He looks worn and drawn, much more than he did in November," said Republican state Sen. Greg Lavelle, who last encountered Biden at a Veterans Day function. "He looks like he's getting medical treatment for something. Everybody thinks there's something wrong with him, clearly."
Since his hospitalization, the second-term attorney general and those in his inner circle, including his father, Vice President Joe Biden, have steadfastly refused to discuss his medical condition.
But on Friday, a doctor on Beau Biden's medical team released a statement saying the attorney general had surgery to remove a "small lesion" on Aug. 20 and now has "a clean bill of health."
Delaware House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf said he has seen Biden a handful of times since he sought care at three hospitals in three states within a week in August, including the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
"He looks a little gaunt or a little like he could put a little weight on, but I do think he is fine," Schwartzkopf said.
Many said Biden's silence about his personal health issues is understandable. But his visible weight loss, head scar, buzz cut and low public profile have only fueled speculation that he has been undergoing some medical treatment.
Delaware Treasurer Chip Flowers, who sat next to Biden during Gov. Jack Markell's State of the State speech, said Delaware voters would not think less of Biden if he revealed his medical condition or any treatment he has undergone.
"With 99 percent of the voting public, I think the fundamental question people are going to ask themselves is, 'Is he still capable of doing this job?'" Flowers said.
One of Biden's doctors, Dr. W.K. Alfred Yung, chairman of M.D. Anderson's Department of Neuro-oncology, released a statement saying a hospital team "saw Beau Biden to remove a small lesion" on Aug. 20.
"The procedure went flawlessly and the entire lesion was removed. He was discharged 36 hours later, with no restrictions on his activities," Yung's statement read.
He said he conducted a follow-up exam Nov. 11 and gave Biden a "clean bill of health."
Yung, the hospital and Biden's office would provide no other information, including more description of the lesion, what his prognosis is, and whether he will be under continued supervision or require additional treatment.
Since his hospitalization, Biden has declined more than a dozen interview requests, not only about his health but also about his political future and criminal justice matters.
He was characteristically evasive when approached Wednesday at Legislative Hall in Dover.
"I told you, I'm all good. I got very lucky," Biden said. "I'm seeing my doctors every now and then, but it's all good. I'm doing my job. And I've been doing that."
Biden said he has actually been gaining weight and taking regular 4-mile runs.
The questions come at a critical time in Biden's political career. Biden, who has made a name for himself nationally as a proud ambassador for his father and Obama administration policies, has amassed more than $1 million in campaign cash. He is up for re-election this year and is considered a contender for the 2016 race for governor.
"I have options going forward," Biden said last week. "There are a lot of options."
Biden considered a 2010 run for the U.S. Senate seat held by his father for 36 years, but opted out of that race to seek a second term as attorney general, which he won without Republican opposition.
Six months before that election, he suffered what doctors called a "mild stroke." He was rushed to the hospital after being overcome by a headache, numbness and some paralysis. He returned home after a week, issuing a news release declaring: "I'm feeling great." His doctor described his neurological status at the time as "perfect in all arenas including motor skills, language function, and cognitive assessment."
Over the next three years Biden said often that he had no lingering effects from the stroke. But on Aug. 1, rescue crews were sent to Joe Biden's house in Greenville to respond to a 911 call about someone suffering a "possible stroke."
Beau Biden was living then at his father's home while renovating a nearby home he had bought. While the Bidens have not revealed who fell ill that night, sources have confirmed it was Beau Biden. The call for the ambulance was canceled soon after crews were dispatched.
Thirteen days later while vacationing in Indiana, Biden checked into Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago after feeling "weak and disoriented." He next went to Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University Hospital before flying to Houston's M.D. Anderson on Aug. 19, where he stayed for several days, meeting with doctors, undergoing tests and completing what his father said was a "successful procedure."
Biden filmed a video interview with The News Journal on Sept. 10 and showed no signs of weight loss. He sported his customary full head of hair without any signs of the large scar that now is apparent, stretching from the front of his ear, rising up the side and curving sharply around toward the top of his hairline.
The scar and newly shaved side of his head were apparent when Biden met in November with state budget officials in Dover. He also appeared somewhat thinner.
Questions about Biden's health and his August surgery haven't gone away.
One prominent donor who requested anonymity is concerned that the attorney general is "noticeably defensive" on the topic.
Lavelle, the Republican state senator, urged Biden to end the mystery and speculation about his medical condition.
"It's important to the state," the lawmaker said. "He should be able to talk about whatever is going on. It doesn't have to be in great detail, but it is in the public interest."
(The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal)