Remembering Bob Marley, 30 Years Later
On May 11, 1981, the reggae superstar died at age 36. Here's why his musical legacy and personal legend are still holding strong around the world.
He was not just outspoken politically; Marley was also not afraid to mix spirituality and song. For this strong believer in the Rastafarian movement and the divinity of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, religion was an integral part of his music and work ethic. The movement most recognizable to outsiders by its adherents' long dreadlocks, spiritual use of marijuana and belief in Africa (Zion) as the birthplace of mankind has been adopted in the African continent, the United States and even Japan. The influence of Marley's faith can be seen on tracks such as 1974's "Natty Dread" and "So Jah S'eh."
Marley's involvement in Jamaica's politics almost got him killed. In 1976 violent clashes between supporters of Jamaica's two major political parties left hundreds dead, inspiring Marley to play the Smile Jamaica festival at the government's invitation in order to help quell the ongoing bloodshed. Unfortunately, some saw the festival as a support rally for the People's National Party leader, Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, and his endorsement of political violence against dissent.
As tensions in the country grew high, gunmen entered the Marley home, shooting Marley; his wife, Rita; and his manager, Don Taylor, in the middle of the night. They all survived, and despite his injuries, Marley performed at the festival two days later, saying, "The people who are trying to make this world worse aren't taking a day off. How can I?" After the concert, Marley and his band left Jamaica for more than a year, recording the international hit album Exodus while in the U.K. However, his commitment to his home country would see Marley return, organizing the One Love Peace concert in 1978.
Another love of Marley's life was Rita, a musician in her own right who often sang backup for the Wailers and recorded several albums of her own. The couple met in the mid-1960s through Peter Tosh, fell in love and married shortly afterward. Throughout Marley's career, Rita was by his side, even through his repeated infidelities. She was his rock, especially in his later years as he battled health problems.
In 1977 a routine toe injury during a soccer game in France refused to heal. Testing revealed he had melanoma, a type of skin cancer. In accordance with his Rastafarian beliefs, Marley refused to have the toe amputated, and the cancer began to spread throughout his body. Marley lived, recorded and performed for more than three years despite the severity of his disease. In 1980 he released his last album, Uprising, penning the iconic classic "Redemption Song," a track in which he confronted his mortality.