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How and why did Bob Marley die?

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Bob Marley - 'Legend' (c) Island Records

Bob Marley - 'Legend'

(c) Island Records
Question: How and why did Bob Marley die?
Answer: Bob Marley died in 1981, officially due to malignant melanoma, a dangerous type of cancer that was found on his toe. It's not quite as simple as it sounds, though.

Discovering the Melanoma

Reggae legend Bob Marley first discovered that something was wrong in 1977 when he injured his foot while playing soccer with some friends. The wound seemed pretty extreme for a simple soccer injury, and when it got worse instead of healing, he decided to see a doctor. Marley was diagnosed with melanoma (a rare condition in people of African descent, but one that does occur), and an amputation of the toe was recommended.

Why didn't Bob Marley just have the amputation?

As a devout Rastafarian, Bob Marley adhered strongly to the tenets of his religion, which include a belief that amputation is sinful. A Bible verse that Rastafarians hold as very important is Leviticus 21:5 - "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 this verse is the foundation of the belief in the wearing of dreadlocks, and the last part is the basis for a belief that amputation (as well as other types of body modification) is sinful. Other verses, including those which refer to the body as a holy temple, may also influence this belief.

There is an additional tenet of Rastafarianism which is slightly more difficult for non-Rastas to understand, but which probably also influenced Marley's decision. The belief is essentially that death is not a certainty, and that truly holy people will gain immortality in their physical bodies. To acknowledge that death is a possibility is to make certain that it will come soon. It is believed that this is the reason that Bob Marley never wrote a will, either, which resulted in difficulty in dividing his assets after his death.

The cancer spreads

Bob Marley's medical records were never made public, but according to most accounts, he did eventually allow for a skin graft in place of a full amputation. It seems that if this procedure did take place, it was either ineffective or simply too late. By the late summer of 1980, the cancer had metastasized throughout his body. While he was in New York City performing, Marley collapsed during a jog through Central Park. He performed for the last time in September of 1980 in Pittsburgh, a performance that was remastered and released in February of 2011 as Bob Marley and the Wailers Live Forever.

Death at age 36

After traveling to Germany to be cared for by Josef Issels, a holistic physician, Bob Marley soon realized that his cancer was terminal. Intending to fly home to Jamaica, he became even sicker while in transit, and the plane stopped over in Miami, where he died on May 11, 1981. According to some reports, his final words were spoken to his son Ziggy Marley: "Money can't buy life."

Conspiracy Theories

Rumors persist that Bob Marley was murdered by the CIA (among other theorized assassins), with assistance from Dr. Issels, who has been reported in these accounts to be a former Nazi. The most common version of the story is that the CIA had an operative give Marley a pair of boots as a gift, and the boots had a radioactive wire hidden in them, which caused the cancer on his toe. A 2011 article from High Times magazine details this theory further.
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