How did Bob Marley die?

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 found to have a malignant melanoma under the nail of one of his toes, and an amputation of the toe was recommended. Contrary to the urban legend the cancer already existed and was not caused by the football injury, which highlighted it.

As a devout Rastafarian, Bob Marley adhered strongly to the tenets of his religion, which include a belief that amputation is sinful.  Marley also believed that death is not a certainty and that immortality was possible in a physical form. This may explain why he refused the amputation.  But it would not heal. Marley was limping by July and consulted a physician, who was shocked by the toe’s appearance. It was so eaten away that doctors in London advised again that it be amputated. Marley’s religion forbade it: “Rasta no abide amputation,” he insisted. He told the physician, “De living God, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Ras Tafari, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah…He will heal me wit’ de meditations of me ganja chalice.” No scalpel, he said, “will crease me flesh… C’yant kill Rasta. Rastamon live out.”

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.

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 travel home he took a flight from Germany to Jamaica, Marley’s vital functions worsened. After landing in Miami, Florida, he was taken to the hospital for immediate medical attention. He died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami (now University of Miami Hospital) on the morning of 11 May 1981, at the age of 36.

According to some reports, his final words were spoken to his son Ziggy Marley: “Money can’t buy life.”

Rumors persist that Bob Marley was murdered by the CIA (among other theorised 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 eventually leading to the metastatic cancer that he died of.