On This Day: Bob Marley Passes Away in 1981

by Emily Morgan

It’s been 40 years since legendary reggae singer Bob Marley died of cancer in Miami on May 11, 1981. At just 36-years-old, the “One Love” singer died from acral lentiginous melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Doctors had diagnosed Marley with the disease in 1977, spreading from under his toenail.

Marley first discovered the melanoma during a football game in 1977, when a foot injury bothered him. After doctors found the melanoma, they told him to have his toe amputated. However, his Rastafarian faith considered it a sin to have a part of the body removed. Yet, he did agree to a skin graft, but it didn’t stop the disease from spreading throughout his body. 

During the summer of 1980, Marley collapsed while jogging in Central Park. In Pittsburgh, he played his final gig in September 1980 before canceling all remaining tour dates. Afterward, he flew to Germany for a controversial diet-based treatment under Josef Issels. 

After nearly a year of treatment, it sadly proved unsuccessful. Marley boarded a plane home to Jamaica, but while flying, he had to stop in Miami because his condition had gotten so worse. He was rushed to a local hospital but tragically died at the hospital on May 11, 1981.

Fans Worldwide Mourn the Loss of the Legendary Bob Marley

Marley’s funeral was held in Jamaica on May 21, with the eulogy delivered by Prime Minister Edward Seaga.

“His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world,” Seaga began. He added, “His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style 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.”

Marley’s funeral combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy as well as Rastafari traditions. He was laid to rest in a chapel near his birthplace with his Gibson Les Paul. 

The Wailer’s fans expressed their grief worldwide. His greatest hits album, Legend, was released posthumously in 1984 and became the best-selling reggae album of all time. 

Today, he’s still beloved by millions and is considered one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with estimated sales of more than 75 million records worldwide. In 1994, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him as an official member. Rolling Stone also ranked him No. 11 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.