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How did Bob Marley die? Inside the tragic death of reggae star as One Love biopic film is released

The legendary singer passed away at the age of 36 

Bob Marley performing on stage in 1980.
Megan Bull
TV Writer
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On 11 May 1981, the world lost one of its brightest lights. Bob Marley, aged 36, was pronounced dead following a battle with a type of malignant melanoma. The reggae star – revered for his messages of love and unity – had passed away at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, Florida. 

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Bob – who survived an assassination attempt in December 1976 – had been living with acral lentiginous melanoma for 22 months by the time of his passing. Back in 1978, the star had noticed a dark spot under his toenail, which he'd attributed to a soccer injury. But, with further investigation, Bob was diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma – a rare and aggressive type of skin cancer. 

Initially, doctors recommended a toe amputation, but Bob declined due to his Rastafarian faith, which considers the removal of any part of the body to be a sin. Instead, the father-of-eleven opted for alternative treatment, receiving excision surgery. 

Bob Marley wearing a yellow T-shirt© Getty
Bob Marley passed away at the age of 36

According to Cancer Research, excision surgery is a "small operation" that involves a doctor removing "a larger area of healthy skin and tissue from around where the melanoma was." However, in Bob's case, it proved unsuccessful. 

By 1980, the musician's cancer had metastasised, spreading to his brain, lungs, and liver. During his final tour, Bob headed for a jog in Central Park before collapsing, which prompted him to cancel his remaining tour dates. 

After pursuing a diet-based cancer treatment under Josef Issels in Germany, the reggae legend decided to fly back to Jamaica, but during his journey home, his symptoms worsened, forcing Bob to touch down in Miami and head to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, where he sadly passed away. 

Bob Marley wearing a denim outfit © Getty
The reggae star was diagnosed with a type of malignant melanoma

Bob's son, Ziggy Marley, revealed his father's final words to him. In an Instagram post, he shared: "The last thing my father told me was: 'On your way up, take me up. On your way down, don't let me down.'

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"A father telling his son that puts some responsibility on my shoulders," explained Ziggy. "He told me that, and I take it very seriously."

Following Bob's death, the singer was given a state funeral in Jamaica. With his body flown from Miami to Kingston, a mausoleum was constructed, and Prime Minister Edward Seaga prepared a eulogy. 

Bob Marley signing autographs© Getty
Bob was given a state funeral in Jamaica

Fans were also given the chance to pay their respects, and on the day before his funeral, 100,000 of them journeyed to the National Arena – where the ceremony would be held – to view his casket.   

On 21 May 1981, Bob was officially laid to rest in the village of Nine Mile. His red Gibson Les Paul guitar, a football, a Bible opened at Psalm 23, and a stalk of ganja placed by his wife, Rita Marley, were buried alongside him. 

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