He was a man obsessed with privacy and devoted much of his lifetime protecting this mystique. It was said that not even some of his closest friends, family, and associates were not able to get a full picture of this Rasta Man. His unfathomable easy going attitude towards life added to his allure. His lyrics were able to transcend languages, cultures, and nationalities. Rising like the phoenix from the ashes he was able to rise out to his humble Trench Town beginnings to become the Reggae Superstar.
Born of a middle-aged white father and a teenage black mother, Robert Nesta Marley or popularly known as Bob Marley grew up poor in Trenchtown, Jamaica and was the biological product of a mixed race relationship. Cedella, his teenage mother, became involved with Norval Marley. Bob Marley was the product of that relationship. Norval was of an English upper class background. This fact placed a strain on the relationship between the two from the very beginning.
Marley began singing professionally at 16 with two friends, Bunny Livingston (a.k.a. Bunny Wailer) and Peter McIntosh (a.k.a. “Tosh”). He made his first record, “Judge Not,” in 1962 with the band called Teenagers. A few years later, as the Wailers, Marley and associates had begun mixing political content with unusual covers such as “And I Love Her” and “What’s New Pussycat?” — slowing the quick, prevalent ska beat down and calling it “rude boy music.”
It wasn’t until 1973 that Marley made his first professional recording. It was the album, “Catch A Fire” which introduced the reggae idiom to an international audience. With the Wailers, one of the greatest back-up bands of all time behind him, the freshness gave rock fans something new to dance to and a powerfully compelling brand of lyrical consciousness to hear. In the late ’70s, Marley continued to enjoy worldwide hits with songs like “Exodus” (1977), “Waiting In Vain” (1977), “Jamming” (1977), and “Is This Love” (1978), and albums “Rastaman Vibration” and “Exodus.”
On a European tour in 1977, Marley & the Wailers played his other passion, a soccer game against a team of French journalists. In the process, Marley injured his foot. Treatment revealed cancerous cells, but he refused surgery. The wound would not completely heal, and his toenail later fell off during the soccer game. It was then that the correct diagnosis was made. Marley actually had a form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, which grew under his toenail.
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It involves the cells that produce the skin pigment melanin which is responsible for skin and hair color. Malignant melanoma is a cancer which usually starts in the skin, either in a mole or in normal-looking skin. Although the number of people who develop melanoma is rising, it is still an uncommon type of cancer.
Melanoma develops from cells in the skin known as melanocytes. Melanocytes give the skin its color. In melanoma, the melanocytes start to grow and divide more quickly than usual and start to spread into the surrounding surface layers of skin. This happens slowly over some months. If the melanoma is found at this early stage, it can be removed with surgery. Most people with melanoma less than one millimeter in depth are cured. In the United States, most melanomas are found at this early stage.
If the melanoma is not removed, the cells can begin to grow down into the deeper layers of the skin. These layers contain tiny blood vessels and lymph channels. If the melanoma cells go into the blood vessels or lymph channels, they can travel to other parts of the body in the blood stream or lymph system, which what actually happened to Marley. The cancer had spread to his brain, lungs, and liver. He did have surgery to try to excise the cancer cells. The cancer was kept a secret from the wider public.
He was advised to get his toe amputated, but he refused because of the Rastafarian belief that doctors are “samfai,” men who cheat the gullible by pretending to have the power of witchcraft. He was also concerned about the impact the operation would have on his dancing. Amputation would greatly affect his career at a time when success was close at hand. Still, Marley based this refusal on his Rastafarian beliefs, saying, “Rasta no abide amputation. I and I don’t allow a mon ta be dismantled.”
In 1980, again on tour, Marley collapsed while jogging in New York’s Central Park, and he died eight months later. The music world had lost one of its true and potent activists, a man who had grown up from the ghettos of Trenchtown to become a musical ambassador the world over.
Powered by his Rastafarian faith and lifestyle, his love for pop music, and his transparently honest political convictions, Bob Marley was certainly the one and only universal ambassador of Jamaica’s renowned reggae music. His songs of resolution, rebellion, and justice moved millions of audiences all over the world then and even until now. As a top-selling superstar and a semi-religious icon, Marley’s work in promoting peace, justice, and brotherhood nearly outweighed the brilliance of his reggae music. Sadly, the cancer that struck him ended his career and led him to another exodus to the next world.