How did Bob Marley die? The Wailers icon's untimely death explained 40 years on

25 July 2022, 12:44 | Updated: 20 July 2023, 10:13

Bob Marley
Bob Marley. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

The reggae passed away in 1981, aged just 36. He left behind a legacy that lives on to this day, and music that still inspires and uplifts us.

But what happened to Bob Marley in the last years of his life?

40 years on from his passing, here are all the important facts:

  1. When and where did Bob Marley die?

    Bob Marley passed away at the Cedars Of Lebanon Hospital in Miami on May 11, 1981.

    His final words to his son Ziggy were "Money can't buy life."

  2. What was Bob Marley's cause of death?

    Bob Marley
    Bob Marley in 1977. Picture: Getty

    Marley died from an acral lentiginous melanoma, which is a form of skin cancer.

    He had been diagnosed in 1977, and it had spread from under a nail of his toe.

    He first discovered melanoma while playing football in 1977. A foot injury seemed worse than usual, and got worse over time. After doctors discovered it was cancer, he was advised to have his toe amputated.

    However, he refused as his Rastafarian faith considers it a sin to have any part of the body ‘temple’ removed. Instead, he agreed to a skin graft, but sadly this didn’t stop the disease from spreading throughout his body by 1980.

  3. What was he doing in 1981?

    Marley collapsed while jogging in Central Park during his final tour, and he played his final gig in Pittsburgh in September 1980.

    He then cancelled all remaining live dates and flew to Germany for a diet-based treatment under Josef Issels.

    However, after eight months of unsuccessful treatment, Marley flew home to Jamaica.

    On the flight home, his condition worsened and he was rushed to hospital on arrival in Miami, and he died on May 11, 1981.

  4. Where was Bob Marley's funeral held?

    Bob Marley - Robin Denselow: Marley Funeral Report 05/21/81

    Bob Marley was given a state funeral in Jamaica on May 21, 1981.

    The eulogy was delivered by Prime Minister Edward Seaga He was buried in a chapel near his birthplace, alongside his Gibson Les Paul guitar.

    Seaga said: "His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style are a vivid etching on the landscape of our minds.

    "Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation."

  5. Are there any conspiracy theories about his death?

    Marlon James: 'Bob Marley was dangerous'

    One popular theory claims that due to his popular political presence in Jamaica, Marley was murdered by the CIA.

    It has been suggested that the CIA were behind his attempted assassination at Hope Road in 1976, and that after failing to kill him, they attempted different methods to end his life.

    The theory alleges that Carl Colby, the son of late CIA director William Colby, gave Marley a pair of boots and, when Bob put them on, a radioactive copper wire inside pricked his toe, causing his cancer.

    There have also been stories that Issels was an ex-SS officer working with the CIA to poison Marley.