June 28, 2004 12:00 PM

When she launched her world tour in March, Britney Spears bizarrely dubbed it the “Onyx Hotel Tour.” Three months later the “Jinx Inn” seems far more appropriate. On June 8, while shooting the video for “Outrageous” with Snoop Dogg, Spears slipped on a water-slicked street in Queens, N.Y., and tore cartilage in her left knee. The next day she underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the damage. According to her spokesperson, the 22-year-old diva will be in a leg brace for six weeks before beginning several months of physical therapy. With 37 concerts to go on a summer tour that was supposed to reinvigorate a floundering career, Spears canceled the remaining dates, with no plan to return to the circuit anytime soon.

The devastating decision follows a rash of bad luck and worse buzz. Spears’s latest album, In the Zone, has not sold nearly as well as her earlier multiplatinum success, Oops!…I Did It Again–not even with naughty lyrics (“I don’t really want to be a tease/But would you undo my zipper please?”). On the recent European leg, she failed to attract a solid string of sold-out crowds–one show in Germany was canceled for “technical reasons,” after selling only two thirds of its seats–and critics were appalled by her listless, lip-synched performances. Speculation that something was amiss just made her laugh, says a friend. “Britney said, ‘If only people knew the truth, they’d be jealous. I’m happy and in love.’ ”

But even her love life is fraught with complications. Her boyfriend of the past month, dancer Kevin Federline, 26, comes with baggage in the form of a pregnant girlfriend back home. Still, it’s Federline who has been providing Spears the shoulder she needs to lean on. “Kevin was with her when the incident happened,” says her rep, “and was by her side through the entire surgery. He has been nothing but supportive.”

She’ll need all the support she can get–and she might want to practice the optimism she expressed during one of her last shows. “The last months in my life have been like a roller coaster ride. I’ve gone through a lot of highs and lows,” Spears told the audience. “But all these experiences just show you how beautiful life is, don’t they?”

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