Bob Marley's cause of death: The melanoma that took his life

Bob Marley's cause of death: The melanoma that took his life

Bob Marley was a Jamaican reggae singer and guitarist widely recognized for his distinctive vocals. In May 1981, news about the star’s tragic death shocked the world to the core. With one of the brightest futures, he took his last breath at his career's peak, leaving an irreplaceable mark on music. What happened to Bob Marley and what is known about the cause of death?

Bob Marley's cause of death
Bob Marley posing for a photo in 1979 (L). The singer's portrait at a hotel in 1978 (R). Photo: Chris Walter, Watal Asanuma via Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: UGC


Sometimes, when a renowned musician dies, conversations rapidly shift away from their lives and legacy and invariably towards the circumstance of their demise. The subject of Bob Marley’s death has caught the attention of many generations, many seeking answers about what killed the Rastafarian icon. Here is a glimpse of the events leading up to the star’s passing.

Bob Marley's profile summary

Full nameRobert Nesta Marley
Famous asBob Marley
Date of birth 6 February 1945
Date of death11 May 1981
Age at death36 years old
Zodiac signAquarius
BirthplaceNine Mile, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica
Place of deathUniversity of Miami Hospital, Miami, Florida, USA
Height5’7’’ (170 cm)
Weight66 kg (146 lbs)
Hair colourBlack
Eye colourDark brown
Marital statusMarried
SpouseRita Marley
ParentsNorval Sinclair and Cedella Booker
ProfessionSinger-songwriter, guitarist
Years active 1962-1980
GenresReggae, ska
Net worth$11.5 million
Social mediaInstagramFacebookX (Twitter)TikTok

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How old was Bob Marley?

Bob Marley (aged 36 at the time of his death) was born on 6 February 1945 in Nine Mile, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica.

Bob Marley's facts
Jamaican Reggae musician Bob Marley during a performance in 1979. Photo: Allan Tannenbaum
Source: Original

His parents were the late Norval Sinclair and Cedella Booker. Norval died when Nesta was 10 years old, and together with his mother, they relocated to the Trenchtown section of Kingston.

The late singer grew up alongside his four half-siblings, Richard, Anthony, Bunny Wailer, and Claudette Pearl.

What was Bob Marley’s cause of death?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, Bob Marley died due to a rare form of skin cancer known as acral lentiginous melanoma. By the time of his demise, the cancer had spread to his brain and lungs.

How did Bob Marley find his cancer?

In July 1977, Nesta was diagnosed with a type of malignant melanoma under the nail of one of his toes. At first, he thought that it was a football injury until doctors performed a biopsy to confirm that he had cancer.

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Despite his doctor’s advice to have the toe amputated, Robert rejected the idea due to his religious beliefs and did not want to interrupt his performing career. He continued his musical career, even planning the 1980 world tour.

Bob Marley’s treatment

After rejecting various treatments, the late guitarist removed the nail and some affected tissue for a skin graft. Bob’s friend and personal physician, Dr Carlton, recalled in the 2012 documentary Marley that the star maintained a positive attitude despite his grim prognosis. Nesta said:

Listen, we are going to fight it. Regardless of what the doctors might say or do, we will fight because a Rasta never gives up.
A portrait of Bob Marley in 1979
A portrait of Bob Marley in 1979. Photo: Allan Tannenbaum
Source: UGC

How did Bob Marley pass away?

In May 1980, the Rastafarian collapsed while jogging in a park. The doctors later found out that Bob Marley’s cancer had spread to his entire body. In an interview with The New Yorker, his manager Danny Sims recalled what one medic told them after Nesta’s admission:

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He has more cancer in him than I have ever seen in a human being.

Eight months later, on 11 May 1981, the music legend died at the University of Miami Hospital while receiving treatment.

What were Bob Marley's last words before he died?

Days before Marley’s death, Rita, his wife, gathered all of his kids at the hospital so they could bid their dad farewell.

In a 2024 interview with PEOPLE, Ziggly, Bob Marley’s son, shared his dad’s final words of inspiration to him. The late songwriter said:

On your way up, take me up. On your way down, do not let me down.

Where is Marley buried?

On 21 May 1981, Nesta was given a state burial that incorporated Rastafari tradition and Ethiopian Orthodoxy.

Musician Bob Marley during his Amsterdam visit in 1976
Musician Bob Marley during his Amsterdam visit in 1976. Photo: Gijsbert Hanekroot
Source: UGC

He was buried in a chapel near his birthplace with a Bible opened at Psalm 23. Edward Seaga, then Jamaican Prime Minister, read his eulogy, recalling his contribution to the industry.

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His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style are vivid etchings on our minds' landscape. Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience that 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.

Why is Bob Marley so famous?

With a career spanning over a decade, Marley released several songs that propelled him to the spotlight.

Some of his accolades include a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Below are some of his major hits:

  • Soul Rebel (1970)
  • Jamming (1977)
  • Exodus (1977)
  • Zion Train (1980)
  • Bad Card (1980)
  • Buffalo Soldier (1984)

Bob Marley's cause of death was an acral lentiginous melanoma that spread to his entire body by the time of his demise on 11 May 1981. He was survived by his wife, Rita Marley and 11 children, some of whom have followed in their father’s musical footsteps. Although Bob died over four decades ago, his legacy of love lives on.

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Sadly, the show paid tribute to him in March 2023, announcing his death at the end of Season 5. Discover what happened to Gutkowski, the Good Trouble star.

Source: Briefly News

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