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Bob's baptism

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the 15th in a series titled Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.

HOURS after collapsing before a friendly game of football in New York's Central Park on September 21, 1980, Bob Marley got some life-changing news.

A CT scan revealed the cancer caused by an old injury to his right toe had spread throughout his body. His American doctors gave him weeks to live.

The diagnosis sent the reggae superstar — who was in the United States leg of his Uprising tour — on a spiritual journey.

“He got baptised in di Ethiopian Orthodox religion. Dem baptise him inna di hotel. Dem sprinkle him inna di hotel... Dem do dem ritual,” Allan “Skill” Cole, Marley's former manager and confidant, told the Jamaica Observer.

“He was christened Berhane Selassie,” he continued.

Cole, 70, said he was not present at the baptism but the singer apprised him of developments at the hotel in Manhattan the next day.

“Mi leave him di night an' di next morning mi go back a di hotel. Wi stay a Fifth Avenue with Danny Sims dem. Mi reach di next morning about after 10, 11 o'clock and smell di incense. This was before his chemotherapy...this was about October,” said Cole.

Sims was an American show promoter and music producer who recorded several songs with The Wailers (Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston) during the 1960s.

Marley was baptised by Ethiopian Archibishop Abuna Yesehaq, leader of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the Western hemisphere.

In an interview with broadcaster Ian Boyne on Profile aired on Television Jamaica in the 1990s, Yesehaq said only few family members were present during the baptism.

“When he was baptised he cried for half an hour. It was about seven months before he died. His wife, Rita, was baptised in 1973. She is a main supporter of the church,” said Yesehaq who died on December 29, 2005.

Cole, a former Jamaica national footballer, said the chemotherapy had an adverse effect on Marley.

“After that, wi fly go Germany fi go fight di struggle,” said Cole.

Marley was administered alternative medicine in Bavaria, West Germany by Dr Josef Issels. Despite initial improvement, his health declined and he decided to return to Jamaica.

While en route from West Germany to Jamaica, Marley fell ill and was rushed to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (later University of Miami Hospital) where he died on May 11, 1981. He was 36 years old.