Most tourists appreciate Jamaica for its feel-good vibes and party atmosphere, which goes to show that music is an important aspect of the country’s culture. While traditional styles are still being sung all across the island, there’s nothing more prominent in our perception than reggae and its various adjacent artists.
And when it comes to Jamaican reggae musical icons, there’s no one more famous than Bob Marley. And yet, many people still wonder, how did Bob Marley die? The circumstances surrounding his passing gave birth to controversies, but in the end, the situation is clearer than we’d think. Here’s some essential information about his death and legacy.
Bob Marley’s Struggle with Melanoma
In 1977, Bob Marley was enjoying a game of football as he usually would. During the match, one player stepped on his big toe, causing a minor injury. But things quickly took a turn for the worse and the wound became severely infected. When he noticed that it wouldn’t heal, he consulted with doctors. That’s when Bob Marley was first diagnosed with melanoma.
Simply put, melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Due to this, he was strongly advised to amputate his toe. However, his religion impeded him from following this recommendation, and he opted for a skin graft instead. But this simply wasn’t enough to hold cancer at bay. But why the adversity to medical procedures?
One particular Bible verse, namely Leviticus 21:5, is something that most Rastafarians practice in their daily lives. According to it, “they shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh." The first part of it is obvious enough. It refers to the belief in wearing the hair in dreadlocks.
The last part of the verse is the one that has to do with Marley’s refusal to amputate his diseased toe. By not being allowed to “make any cuttings in the flesh", surgical interventions of any kind are firmly prohibited, as is any other type of bodily modification. In the Rastafari religious system, the body is a temple and it should be kept intact.
Unfortunately for Bob Marley, this is also what brought him his death, albeit it was one he embraced fully. Cancer spread to his entire body by late 1980. He started chemotherapy, but ultimately, he succumbed to the illness in Miami, on May 11, 1981, after a long and strenuous battle. He was 36 years old.
Legends Never Die: His Legacy
With the occasion of what would have been his 70th birthday, Marley’s dear friend Vivian Goldman wrote an endearing piece for The Guardian that best captures the essence of the artist’s legacy. It’s no secret that his music is rarely played on mainstream radio nowadays. Furthermore, many people associate him solely with smoking marijuana.
But Bob Marley has taught us more than how to relax and take it easy. He was an astute activist, and many of his angrier songs reflect this militant attitude. But he was also a kind man who sang about the world in all its beauty, and who treasured women above all else. In addition, Bob Marley strongly believed in the mediation between nature and nurture.
He had a rough childhood growing up in the ghettos of Trench Town, but he never let that trauma consume him or poison his worldview. He was cynical at points, but he also put his life on the line when it came to his beliefs. If there’s one thing we should all learn from him, it’s how to stand our ground in spite of everything that might tell us otherwise.
While Bob Marley’s death seems like an unfortunate turn of events in the eyes of Westerners and other outsiders, the cultural reality behind it is a vastly different one. At the end of the day, it was simply further proof that he was a person willing to risk their life for what they believed in. This is also something he promoted in his music, and that’s what makes his legacy relevant.