Reggae legend Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley died from cancer on May 11th 1981 aged 36. The illness stemmed from a toe injury acquired by the former Wailers singer during a football game in May 1977. Marley refused to have his toe amputated, due to his Rastafari belief that the body must remain “whole”, even after doctors found a form of malignant melanoma – a less common and very serious type of skin cancer – in his wound in July of that year. Despite his distrust of medical doctors, he let an orthopaedic surgeon perform a skin graft on his toe. However, the cancer continued to grow and eventually spread to his lungs, liver, stomach and brain. Marley collapsed while jogging in New York’s Central Park after playing two shows as part of his autumn 1980 Uprising Tour. The tour was cancelled, but Marley played one last concert at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 23rd 1980. The famous live version of his “Redemption Song” was recorded at this concert.
Towards the end of his life, Marley sought the help of German physician Josef Issels, who offered an alternative treatment of cancer. “The Issels Treatment” is based on holistic principles and involves eliminating certain substances from the diet, having specialised vaccines and vitamin supplements, and chelation and enzymatic therapies. The method is unapproved in the UK and deemed ineffective by the American Cancer Society. Marley died shortly afterwards, during a stop-over in a Miami hospital, whilst on his way back to Jamaica from Germany. It is said to be the brain tumour that eventually killed him, though it may also have been the lung or stomach cancer. The star refused to write a will, because he believed that doing so would go against the Rastafari belief that life is “everlasting”. Ferocious legal battles between Marley’s children ensued as a result of this.
To this day, Bob Marley remains the most widely known and reverred performer of reggae music in the world. The singer-songwriter is also hailed for helping the spread of Jamaican music and the Rastafari Movement, of which he remained a committed follower till his death. In 1994 Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2001 he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.