Bob Marley: The King of Reggae died of melanoma skin cancer after playing football with friends

Bob Marley was one of the biggest stars of his generation. Now, he is an iconic figure in music, particularly reggae and the singer is considered to be a legend all over the world. But do you know the uncanny story of his death?

Bob Marley king of reggae cause of death music legend
© Charlie Steiner / Getty Images
Bob Marley king of reggae cause of death music legend

Natty Dread, Rastaman Vibration, Survival, Exodus... So many reggae albums that make Bob Marley what he is and what he still represents today. But more than just a singer, he was also a composer and performer, as well as a guitarist. Today, more than 42 years have passed since Bob Marley died. But what was the real cause of his death? Find out below.

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Who was Bob Marley?

Robert Nesta Marley, better known as Bob Marley, was born on February 6, 1945 in the town of Rhoden Hall, near Nine Miles, Jamaica. He was born on the farm of his maternal grandparents, Omeriah Malcolm and Albertha Whilby.

His mother, Cedella Malcolm, gave birth to Bob when she was just 18. His father, Norval Sinclair Marley, was 59 when Bob was born. Although his frequent travels meant that he was not very involved in his son's life, he did provide him and his mother with financial support.

When Bob Marley reached his teens, he followed his mother to Trenchtown, located in the Jamaican capital of Kingston. There he met Neville Livingston, later to become Bunny Wailer, as well as Peter Tosh, with whom Bob Marley sometimes sang. It was the singer Joe Higgs who gave them lessons and helped them improve their singing. At the age of 17, the future star recorded his very first song, Judge Not, as well as a cover of One Cup of Coffee. Although these songs did notachievethe success he had hoped for, Bob Marley continued down the same path.

In 1963, the music group The Wailers was formed, featuring Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. They were later joined by Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso and Cherry Green. In February 1964, the group released Simmer Down, which quickly climbed to the top of the charts in Jamaica, selling over 80,000 copies. The song holds a lot of meaning, it called for a ceasefire between rival ghettos. Several other tracks followed, including Rude Boy, I'm Still Waiting, Put It On, and an early version of One Love.

After a short break, Bob Marley reunited with his band and became increasingly interested in the Rastafari movement, which began in Jamaica in the 1930s. A movement to which the star felt increasingly attached. It was at this point that, with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston, he created the independent Wail'n Soul'm label. This was followed by several more songs, hard work, a contract with American singer Johnny Nash as well as with Leslie Kong (a Jamaican reggae producer). Over 350 tracks were recorded yet nothing could be done... success just wouldn't take.

Dejected, Bob Marley decided to contact Chris Blackwell, founder of several labels. Blackwell decided to put his faith in Marley, buying out his contract and offering the future star £8,000 to record an album. This is how the Wailers recorded the first tracks of Catch a Fire, which was pure marvel to Blackwell's ears.

Bob Marley, the King of Reggae

Catch a Fire and Burnin' are the very first Wailers albums recorded for Blackwell, released in April and October 1973. They were a success with the press, but not yet with the public... Later, the group would be called Bob Marley and The Wailers, which created a few tensions between its members.

The album Natty Dread was released on October 25, 1974, and hit the jackpot. Before going on tour, the band played with the Jackson Five and then with Stevie Wonder. This brand-new album was a worldwide success: it marked the band's very first hit, but also their last, since Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh eventually left the group after growing tensions.

For Bob Marley, it was a true consecration. During public performances, he set the dancefloor alight, watched by thousands of people. His fame grew by leaps and bounds, and No Woman, No Cry was a worldwide hit: Bob Marley had become an international star.

And his fame only grew with his next album, Rastaman Vibration, released in 1976. Although everyone already knew his name, by this time Bob Marley had become a legend in the music world, and in reggae in particular. Around the world, he was dubbed 'The King of Reggae' and became an icon of the Rasta movement (Rastafari). Several other albums followed, including Exodus, Kaya and Survival, which is considered one of the artist's best.

What did Bob Marley die of?

On 3 December 1976, Bob Marley narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. The events took place in Kingston, Jamaica. In the middle of an election campaign, the artist decided to take part in the free Smile Jamaica concert, organised by Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley. It was then that several men entered the star's home and started a gunfight: a bullet grazed Bob Marley's chest before sliding into his left arm. Fortunately for him, the wound was not fatal.

Sadly, however, he died a few years later. In 1977, Bob Marley was out promoting his new album around the world. While in Paris, he played a friendly game of football with his musicians and some French journalists. It was during this game that he injured his toe, which would later be diagnosed as a full-blown melanoma skin cancer. As he was a Rastafari, Bob Marley refused to be treated so as not to contaminate his body and viewed his illness as his fate. On 23 September 1980, he gave his last concert before passing away in Miami on 11 May 1981, aged just 36. He is now buried in his native Saint Ann.

In his private life, Bob Marley was a heartthrob. He shared his life with Rita Anderson, whom he married on February 11 1966. They had five children: Sharon, Cedella, David, Stephen and Robert. In all, he acknowledges eleven children (Rohan, Karen, Stephanie, Julian, Ky-Mani and Damian) with several different women.

This article has been translated from Oh!MyMag FR.

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