How Did Bob Marley Die?

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Jamaica’s first international superstar, Bob Marley is credited with bringing reggae, rasta and a powerful message of peace and reconciliation to people around the world at a time of great social crisis.

Following his death over three decades ago, “Nesta” left behind a legendary collection of music, but also a lingering sense of frustration at his refusal to save his own life.

Bob Marley

Bob Marley live in concert in Zurich, Switzerland, May 30, 1980 – less than a year before his death. (Photo credit: Drjazz.ch | Wikimedia Commons)

How did Bob Marley die? Having revolutionized popular music and earned lasting fame, Bob Marley died in 1981 at the age of 36 from a brain tumor, which had formed in the wake of a metastasized melanoma cancer on his right foot’s big toe.

This particular toe had been a periodic problem since he was a young boy in Jamaica. When the toe nail was ripped off during a soccer match at the beginning of Marley’s Exodus tour in 1977, he went to a doctor who found preexisting cancerous cells in the afflicted area.

By the late ’70s, Bob’s melanoma had spread to his brain and spawned a tumor that would take his life. When did Bob Markey die? After enduring months of experimental ‘holistic’ treatment in Germany, he passed away in Miami on May 11, 1981 among friends and family.

‘Cause every little is thing gonna be all right’The 1977 Exodus tour would cement Marley’s legend across Europe and the United States. But it began with a bad omen. In Paris for the first show, Bob played a game of soccer with some French journalists in which he badly busted up his right toe, losing most of the toenail. He should have stayed off the foot so it could heal, but Mr. Marley was on his Exodus tour; there was much to be done. The now-famous live recording at the Rainbow Theater in London was just weeks away.

So, Bob left the fate of his foot to chance and hope. By the London show, however, he was limping off the stage, his boot soaked in blood. Finally, he consulted a foot specialist in England who gave him the bad news: the toe was cancerous. Part of his foot would have to be amputated to keep the melanoma from spreading.

Chant Down BabylonAmputation was a big problem. Bob’s Rastafarian faith saw razors, scissors and combs as the technology of ‘Babylon’ and colonial oppression; a Rastaman should not allow his body to be pierced with any of these instruments. Horrified by the prospect, Bob agreed to a compromise: the doctors could resection the top half of his toe and perform a skin graft—but they would not be allowed to amputate through his foot as recommended.

Healing quickly from the less invasive procedure, Bob was heartened and tried to forget about his toe. It worked for a few years, but by the Uprising tour of 1980, the clock was ticking. Days before a major performance in Pittsburgh, he suffered a stroke while jogging in Central Park. His whole body was riddled with cancer, from the liver to the lungs and brain.

It seemed the American leg of the Uprising tour was all but doomed, but Bob—or, according to his family, his road manager and booking agency—was insistent that the show must go on. Despite extremely poor health, he performed his last formal show at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 23rd, 1980.

Jah Melanoma“Tuff Gong” Marley charismatically expressed Rastafarian themes and shared them all over the globe, providing inspiration not only for people of color, but for everyone who cared about peace and justice. Why would Bob Marley reject a life-saving procedure on the basis of this philosophy?

Practitioners of Rastafari commonly place their trust in natural or holistic medicine over the pharmacological approach of the West. Moreover, Marley had long believed Jah would protect him; if his death was a part of the plan, he was okay with that. Rastafarians believe in eternal life: “My richness is life forever,” he often said.

Bob didn’t catch his cancer early, nor did he take appropriate action when he first learned of the abnormal cells—the two biggest mistakes you can make when threatened with melanoma. Unfortunately, many people believe melanoma can be neutralized just by cutting off the mass. Bob Marley tried this route, but it was too little and too late; melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer precisely because it is so eager to metastasize.

A melanoma even a millimeter deep is already deep enough to breach the bloodstream and export cancer to the rest of the body. More often than not, as Marley’s case shows, such a rogue melanoma is nearly impossible to arrest. Yet the five-year survival rate for those that catch melanoma before it spreads is an astonishing 99%. In other words, Bob Marley probably could have survived had he allowed a timely amputation.

Bonus Facts To Arouse Your CuriosityAssassination Attempt: 1976Bob Marley and his close entourage survived a politically-motivated assassination attempt by anonymous gunmen in Jamaica a year before discovering his cancer. It was on the eve of a peace concert amid intensifying political violence in the Caribbean island nation. Bob played the concert anyway, explaining: “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”

‘Africa for the Africans’Rastafarianism’s roots hearken to 1920s Jamaica, when Marcus Garvey was a prominent public figure. It was from the beginning an empowering Afro-Caribbean cultural response to Western colonialism and racism. By the peak of Marley’s career in the ’70s, the Rasta lifestyle had been adopted by some 60% of indigenous Jamaicans.

Acral Lentiginous MelanomaSkin cancer is most prevalent among white people but that doesn’t mean people of color can’t get it, as young Marley’s untimely death demonstrates. Metastatic skin cancer, or melanoma, is the most lethal form of skin cancer. Bob Marley had a particularly aggressive type called “acral lentiginous melanoma,” which disproportionately affects individuals of African and Asian ancestry.

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61 Comments

  1. Bibas bastola

    Bibas bastola

    June 30, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Rip bob marley

  2. Bibas bastola

    Bibas bastola

    June 30, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Miss you bob

  3. Micky

    Micky

    May 11, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    The voice that lifts and carries me everyday.Thank you Bob!

  4. Jeanè

    Jeanè

    April 8, 2016 at 4:03 am

    Bob we love you. Can’t wait to meet you.. Jah bless.. You passed the test of faith.. One love

  5. Med P

    Med P

    February 25, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    Coomon men..this guy na waaa…..blessed!!!!!

  6. michael chukwudi

    michael chukwudi

    February 5, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    Bob we love You but God love You most,test on peace.

  7. Sharon

    Sharon

    February 5, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    He is Seated at the right hand ov the father..
    May his soul rest in peace..
    He songs are inspiring

    • Aron mojela

      Aron mojela

      May 27, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      Brother bob u show us the ryt way jah bless man we miss u nd u will always beloved in our heart…AKA Aron Mojela 4rm tzaneen ahoyi selasie i

    • Matthew

      Matthew

      July 12, 2016 at 5:27 am

      To claim that Bob would be seated in authority at the right hand of God our Father is blasphemy. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Every knee will bow and declare that Jesus is Lord. Hallelujah

  8. Angel wani

    Angel wani

    January 27, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Marley live in my memory forever and he’s my Legend
    Rest in peace

  9. Grace brooks

    Grace brooks

    January 8, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    God takes the good ones first.. May your soul continue to rest in peace. Your music lives forever.. You died when I was 8 yrs but now your music touches me..ONE LOVE..

  10. Sowlana Mathais

    Sowlana Mathais

    January 2, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Bob Marley if i am listening to music i feeling like i am in heaven . And i get words from your music reggae to say to people’s to change from thier bad behavior to good behaviour . I learn from music lot . Even myself i get to change when listening to songs Marley .

  11. shalesh

    shalesh

    December 1, 2015 at 7:33 am

    R.I.P marleyyy god
    Blesss yOu

    • shaliyah gordon

      shaliyah gordon

      May 5, 2016 at 1:03 am

      i love u marley i did not know u but chen i lesson to your songs i feel like i did your songs makes me really happy hopefully god made a space for u in heaven R.I.P. one love for u and .V.I. and jamacia

      • shaliyah gordon

        shaliyah gordon

        May 5, 2016 at 1:06 am

        i mean i feel like i know u

  12. Debran

    Debran

    November 19, 2015 at 3:58 am

    I’m proud tuh be a Jamaican I was born here and I’ll stay here for ever I love every one of bob songs but I love (natty dread rise again most of all) to say he was just a man would be limited as he was a propet he lived three year longer than yahshua before they kill I’m we love him here so much even tho the government don’t appoint I’m a national hero tho he is more than a hero he couldn’t stay a day longer on this sinful earth as he got a job with yah in heaven to sing for the angels.

  13. Jah4Iver

    Jah4Iver

    November 9, 2015 at 5:21 am

    He didn’t just know Jesus, he was Jesus. He is now seated at the right hand of jah in Zion

    • felix nyarko

      felix nyarko

      November 10, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      I just love his music.May his soul rest in perfect peace.His music i like best is redemption song i love each line of that music especially the line in which he said emancipate yourselves from mental slavery none but ourselves can free our mind

    • Andrew

      Andrew

      June 24, 2016 at 5:56 am

      He isn’t Jesus, you should be ashamed of yourself to say such a thing.

  14. Jah4Iver

    Jah4Iver

    November 9, 2015 at 4:56 am

    He didn’t just believe in Jesus, he was Jesus. He is now seated at the right hand of jah in zion.

  15. sheryl

    sheryl

    November 3, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Just lost our beautiful grandson Jordan aged 17 whilst on holiday in Turkey when he suffered multiple cardiac arrests. His funeral song was three little bird’s xxxx

    • thembelihle fihlani

      thembelihle fihlani

      March 26, 2016 at 9:34 pm

      Rest in peace Marley we still miss you a lot,you show us if how us to be a r

      • thembelihle fihlani

        thembelihle fihlani

        March 26, 2016 at 9:36 pm

        If how to believe and to be a real man,couse you never ignored your religion, jah man,mncwaaa

  16. Zeppa Amakali

    Zeppa Amakali

    October 2, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    R I P InI

  17. Anil Barwal (Shimla)

    Anil Barwal (Shimla)

    October 1, 2015 at 3:32 am

    Legend…..Live Forever. I Miss You Brother……..

  18. ekp town

    ekp town

    September 5, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    RIP bro God bless you.

  19. mukesh shetty

    mukesh shetty

    September 4, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    LegeNd…liVe FoReVER..
    BoB MaRLeY..

  20. sanatan digal

    sanatan digal

    August 29, 2015 at 9:19 am

    I love you Bob. ..We miss you forever

  21. Bablu

    Bablu

    August 16, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    We alayas mis u…Marley…brother….!!! N TRP

  22. Ilemuemhe frank

    Ilemuemhe frank

    August 13, 2015 at 1:15 am

    rest in peace master till we meet again.

  23. victor

    victor

    July 14, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Rip bob……miss you friend

  24. Francis Ogbuso

    Francis Ogbuso

    July 4, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Bob is a legend. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace

  25. wayne

    wayne

    June 29, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Bob was more of a prophet
    I love his music

  26. kingsley ndzi tata

    kingsley ndzi tata

    May 11, 2015 at 10:55 am

    his music still leave and shall for ever leave,one love

  27. Cathy Rogers

    Cathy Rogers

    May 1, 2015 at 6:06 am

    to say jesus you are limit of bible and bible teachings and awareness and ., no, we don’t he died with all, may I say ; buddha loves him too.

  28. Cathy Rogers

    Cathy Rogers

    May 1, 2015 at 6:02 am

    no he did not go to jesus before he died, he went to god and higher support and it was very spiritual and loved beyond awareness of illness and death.

  29. Cathy Rogers

    Cathy Rogers

    May 1, 2015 at 5:58 am

    we never die, that is to remember, his music lives forever, and , and who he is was and who we feel, love the way he was orangize himself at the end. he really so far ahead but giving and waiting for us to catch up… we’ll any way, my favorite , song, no woman cry,

  30. cOpy_cOt

    cOpy_cOt

    April 26, 2015 at 12:28 am

    Marley forever

  31. cedie

    cedie

    April 11, 2015 at 5:33 am

    We always respect and love you Bob Marley.
    Rasta salute!!!!!

  32. Pingback: Who Was Bob Marley? | Pop Rock Factory

  33. Chijioke

    Chijioke

    February 11, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    I’m unhappy, he died without jesus christ as his lord and personal saviour

    • Bob

      Bob

      February 13, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      Bob Marley n other rastafarians do belive in jesus so cheer up, they look to the king James version of the bible n the heart. One of the few religons that havent spilt blood, so yea!

      • Cathy Rogers

        Cathy Rogers

        May 1, 2015 at 6:08 am

        yes.

      • Cathy Rogers

        Cathy Rogers

        May 1, 2015 at 6:24 am

        they beleive in themselves that creates their love of a living energy field that would not know how to do any thing but love , just love, and to say he was limited to one region or spiritual door is , well, i am to be kind, bob marley knew love , himself and family, and you.

    • Jess

      Jess

      March 20, 2015 at 4:57 am

      He converted to Christianity before he died( although not a death bed conversion). His folks weren’t too happy. In addition, we know people are hostile towards Christians and friendly towards Rastas, so that information won’t be placed in the forefront. And lastly, his Rasta image and legacy (which placed him and Jamaica on the map) just wouldn’t hold up too well with expectations of the dreads, reggae music etc–> the Rasta culture.

      • Cathy Rogers

        Cathy Rogers

        May 1, 2015 at 6:00 am

        we never die, that is to remember, his music lives forever, and , and who he is was and who we feel, love the way he was orangize himself at the end. he really so far ahead but giving and waiting for us to catch up… we’ll any way, my favorite , song, no woman cry,

      • Cathy Rogers

        Cathy Rogers

        May 1, 2015 at 6:10 am

        that is not true,,,,,., umm do we need to ask how do you know, waiting, please.

      • Cathy Rogers

        Cathy Rogers

        May 1, 2015 at 6:18 am

        that is not true,,,,,., umm do we need to ask how do you know, waiting, please. and where do you feel he did not he the lord jesus, your awareness is looking award for him, you want him to be without jesus, do you get it. sit around oh so sad, while all angels and words oll say , yes, you did good work,,,,,

      • Cathy Rogers

        Cathy Rogers

        May 1, 2015 at 6:25 am

        they beleive in themselves that creates their love of a living energy field that would not know how to do any thing but love , just love, and to say he was limited to one region or spiritual door is , well, i am to be kind, bob marley knew love , himself and family, and you.

    • Cathy Rogers

      Cathy Rogers

      May 1, 2015 at 6:12 am

      that is not true,,,,,., umm do we need to ask how do you know, waiting, please.

    • Cathy Rogers

      Cathy Rogers

      May 1, 2015 at 6:16 am

      that is not true,,,,,., umm do we need to ask how do you know, waiting, please. and where do you feel he did not he the lord jesus, your awareness is looking award for him, you want him to be without jesus, do you get it. sit around oh so sad, while all angels and words oll say , yes, you did good work,,,,,

  34. blaine

    blaine

    February 9, 2015 at 4:32 am

    .music.

  35. blaine

    blaine

    February 9, 2015 at 4:32 am

    his mmusic is so inspiering

  36. Kayla

    Kayla

    February 6, 2015 at 3:46 am

    Neva met him but I feel the love already that’s why I shall go to Jamaica and sing his song

  37. Kayla

    Kayla

    February 6, 2015 at 2:00 am

    Good man yes he was and he shall live on 4eva and eva

  38. mike

    mike

    January 12, 2015 at 3:24 am

    His music lives on and is so alive.

  39. Todd

    Todd

    January 3, 2015 at 6:01 am

    I’m going to be iron, like a lion in zion. God bless this man.

  40. Phineas mungai

    Phineas mungai

    December 30, 2014 at 3:57 am

    Rasta live forever

  41. anthany matenga

    anthany matenga

    November 20, 2014 at 8:17 am

    RIP Marley

    • Med P

      Med P

      February 25, 2016 at 10:57 pm

      Coomon men..this guy na waaa…..blessed!

  42. Pingback: Bob Marley & The Rise of Reggae in America | SLINT INDEX

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