On the 6th of February 1945, a star was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Robert Nesta Marley, fondly referred by most people as Bob Marley, grew to become one of the most influential human beings ever born. His ability to whip emotions through music- his willingness to speak against social injustices that no one else could even dare think of- made him a darling to many people around the world.
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Had he lived long enough, he probably would have changed- for the better- people’s perceptions towards good governance, racism, love, and unity. Sadly, the celebrated Jamaican singer and songwriter passed on 38 years ago from what was believed to be skin cancer.
Marley made a name for himself in the 60s and 70s for popularizing reggae music and the Rastafarian culture globally. His impeccable vocal style revolutionized the global music industry at the time and gave birth to one of the biggest music genres today. That explains why nearly four decades after his death, the prophetic messages and spiritualism in his songs still appeal to many people across the planet, especially the people of color.
Bob Marley is, without a doubt, a bright star that was dimmed too soon. Understandably, none of his fans back in the day, as well as the modern-day reggae fanatics, have ever managed to wrap their minds around their idol’s death. We all struggle to find closure on these three pertinent questions: How did Bob Marley die? Why did the charismatic, ital songwriter die so young? Couldn’t the doctors have saved his life or at least extend it for another decade or two?
The Truths, Half-Truths, and Conspiracies that Surround Bob Marley’s Death:
Bob Marley died in his hospital bed in the modern-day University Of Miami Hospital, Miami, Florida on the 11th day of May 1981 aged 36 years. Medical records from the hospital attributed his death to a cancerous brain tumor that had precipitated from his long battle with Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (skin cancer). The cancer is said to have spread to the iconic singer’s lungs, brain, and other vital organs and that made it nearly impossible for the doctors and the medical technology of the time to save his life. A recent report by the American Academy of Dermatology confirmed that there wasn’t a proven therapy to treat Marley back in the 70s and, heartbreakingly, none has been developed up to today.
But how did the malignant melanoma come from in the first place?
Bob Marley and the Wailers were the proud headliners of the Independence Day celebrations that marked the official inauguration of Zimbabwe as a free African nation.Mugabe’s general secretary, Edgar Tekere, contacted Bob to invite him to be one of the officiating dignitaries at the independence celebrations, as his music had played such a key role inemboldening the spirits of the Zimbabwean freedom fighters.After the formal invitation to attend the celebration had been delivered, Bob was visited by two African businessmen who invited him and the Wailers to perform as part of the event.The Wailers were met at the airport by Joshua Nkomo, who had been the leader of the ZAPU movement and had been made Mugabe’s minister of home affairs.Twenty-one tons of Wailers’ gear, staging, lights, and a 25,000-watt amplification system with 20 foot tallspeaker boxes were unloaded and set up by a 12-man road crew.6.The Wailers again assumed that they would be performing for the African masses and were disappointed to learn that they were slotted to perform immediately after the independence ceremony for an audience of dignitaries, including Mugabe,Prince Charles, and India’s Indira Gandhi.Bob, who had been noticeably shaken the previous dayby the tear gas incident, did not seem his usual self during the performance.After the concerts in Zimbabwe, the Wailers left Africa, and on the plane several members of the entourage noticed that Bob did not appear healthy. His complexion was ashen and he did not look well.
Bob Marley spent most of 1977 performing in shows across Europe; he refused to relax or at least allow the injured toe to heal. One day while in London- going by the unconfirmed reports- the toe hurt too much that his manager took him to the hospital. The doctors did a biopsy on the toe and discovered that a malignant tissue had been growing under the nail even long before the purported soccer injury. That is the point at which his cancer diagnosis kicked in.
Not everyone was convinced by the medical reports nor the soccer injury claims. Whereas all conspiracy theorists agree that Marley’s life couldn’t have been saved, there are those who believe that the singer didn’t die of a natural cause. It was rumored that cancer was artificially-induced in his right great toe by people who were threatened by his existence.
In one conspiracy theory, Bob’s manager Mr. Chris Blackwell could have liaised with the legend’s wife, Rita Marley, to get rid of him so as to take the full control of his wealth. His royalties and estates at the time of his death were in excess of $30 million. This figure has since increased tenfold. However, those close to Bob, particularly his friends in the Wailers band, have consistently dismissed this theory. Their argument is that Rita was constantly begging Bob to take a break from music and instead focus solely on his treatment and recuperation process.
In a different theory, there is a widespread belief that Bob Marley was assassinated by the CIA. His influence among the black people across the world was excessively high and that made the agency a little uncomfortable. He was “dangerously influential” according to the theory. These theorists anchor their argument on the 3rd December 1976 attempt on his life while at his home in Hope Road, Jamaica. Bob escaped with a minor arm injury but Rita Marley and several other people were seriously injured. The argument is that the assailants were hired by the CIA and when they failed to finish the job, the agency opted for a “quieter” mode of assassination; artificially-induced cancer.
The second theory has survived the test of time. A former CIA operative, Mr. Bill Oxley, is said to have confessed to having played a part in the singer’s “assassination” a couple of years back. On his death bed, Bill is said to have indicted Carl Colby, son to William Colby – a former CIA director- on the purported murder. He alluded that Carl sent Bob a shoe “gift” during his tour to Paris but unknown to Bob, the shoe had an embedded copper wire that was contaminated with a carcinogenic substance. When Bob wore the shoe, the wire pricked his great toe and introduced the cancerous cells into his body.
There are more purported confessions in this theory. Dr. Philip Thompson- a prominent Bahamian doctor who was treating Bob Marley at some point- is also rumored to have suggested that Bob was indeed murdered. Conspiracy theorists claim that the doctor admitted that some highly-connected people were coercing him into stopping Marley’s treatment. He, however, had refused to succumb to their pressure.
The Ailment History of Bob Marley:
Whether Bob Marley was assassinated or not is a subject for debate. The truth, however, is that he was in the final stages of brain and skin cancer at the time of his death. There are reliable records confirming that his cancer was discovered in the summer of 1977 when he was visiting the University of Miami Hospital (formerly Cedar’s of Lebanon Hospital).
Among his doctors at the time was the legendary orthopedic surgeon, Dr. William Bacon. The surgeon had advised Marley that amputating the affected toe was the only way cancer could have been stopped from spreading further. Bob Marley rejected the advice on the grounds that as a Rastafarian, it is abominable to cut the flesh.
But after much convincing, the legendary musician finally agreed to skin grafting whereby the cancerous tissues were surgically removed from the toe and then replaced by a piece of flesh from his thigh. That wasn’t as successful as the doctors had initially thought because, as they later realized, the cancer was already in the 3rd-4th stage by the time the surgical excision was done.
Bob’s Diagnosis with a Cancerous Brain Tumor
Bob was conducting a nationwide tour across the US in September 1980, even when he clearly wasn’t in the best health condition for such a strenuous tour. His wife is said to have objected and begged him to take things slow but Bob was never easy to convince against his resolve.
On the 20th of that month, as he was conducting a show in Madison Square Gardens, New York, he fell ill and was forced to cut short his performance. He suffered a stroke and fainted as he jogged at the Central Pak, New York on the following day. His associates rushed him to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, New York City. It was on this day that the doctors discovered how badly cancer had spread to the liver, lungs, and the brain. Neurologists at the hospital advised him to discontinue the tour failure to which he wouldn’t survive another month.
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center was and still is one of the best cancer centers in the world, but not much so for Marley’s liking. The Jamaican was not impressed by the nosiness of New York media; he loathed western medicine too. After a brief session of radiation therapy, he chickened out of the US and went back to Jamaica where he continued his treatment under the care of Dr. Carl Fraser.
Bob’s Last Days of Torture and Pain:
All indications at this point were pointing towards Bob’s cancer being terminal, particularly because he had lost too much weight and hair (he weighed only about 82 pounds). Later that year, Dr. Fraser referred Bob Marley to Dr. Josef Issels, a German physician whose specialty was in comprehensive immunotherapy of cancer. The doctor was operating the Ringberg Clinic in Rottach-Egern, Bavaria. Was he the man to save Bob?
No, he wasn’t. According to Cedella Booker-Marley, Dr. Josef was a man possessed by rage and hate for the blacks. Records show that the doctor was a former Nazi practitioner and that, by itself, made him extremely dangerous. Marley’s mother has been quoted saying that the German doctor deliberately tortured her son to death. The doctor shaved Marley’s dreadlocks and gave him an extremely rough treatment, often leading to extreme shivering and desperation. Ms. Cedella actually believed that her son was left to starve so that his body would waste away.
Bob stayed in Bavaria for about 5 months; he even celebrated his 36th birthday in the country, on his hospital bed. After realizing that Dr. Josef was hell-bent to kill Bob with his unfounded therapies, Bob’s associates decided to relocate him to Jamaica so that he could at least spend his last days with his people. But that was, unfortunately, not to be as his condition deteriorated on the flight and had to be rushed to Cedar’s of Lebanon Hospital from where he breathed his last. Cedella and Rita Marley were present at his time of birth.
Bob was buried honourably in his hometown on May 21st, 1981, 10 days after his death.