THE death of reggae superstar Bob Marley on May 11, 1981 came as a shock to many. Among the shaken was his personal physician, Dr Carlton “Pee Wee” Fraser, who was part of the small inner circle with Marley when he journeyed to West Germany in September that year for groundbreaking treatment from Dr Josef Issels.
When the decision was taken seven months later for Marley to return to Jamaica, a stance Fraser did not support, he left West Germany for London to deal with personal and professional matters.
Seven days later came the shocking news...Bob Marley was dead. He died en route to Jamaica at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, Florida.
“I was dismantled. The news hit me hard. I was in London dealing with Twelve Tribes [of Israel] matters and a brother came and told me Bob had died. How is that? He was doing so well in Germany. Even if he was to die, it should not been so quickly. It was crazy. I could not believe,” Fraser shared with the Jamaica Observer.
His closeness to Marley transcended patient-doctor relationship. As he put it: “We had become two spiritual children and brothers.”
Fraser and Marley became close in mid-1975. A past student of Wolmer's Boys' School, he had just returned to Jamaica following studies at Howard University in Washington DC and commenced his internship at University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew.
Within weeks of his return, the young doctor found himself at a meeting of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This 'mansion' within Rastafari was at the peak of its popularity; its members included Marley, Dennis Brown and Alan “Skill” Cole.
At this meeting, which was held to celebrate the birthday of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, Fraser was so taken with what he heard that he signed up to become a member and became the organisation's official doctor in Jamaica.
He and Marley also shared a love for football and the two developed a close bond. Any time Marley was ill, he would tell them, “Send for Pee Wee.”
In 1977 Marley was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in his toe. A popular story is that this was due to an injury sustained while playing football. However, Fraser supports an allegation that the reggae king was deliberately injected with cancer cells through a needle placed in a pair of shoes that was given to him.
“After the attempt to murder him at Hope Road when he was shot, Bob retreated to the hills. A few days later he was given a pair of sneakers. When he tried it on a needle went into his big toe and it was so hard to get it out. He then went on tour and when he was in London the toe got worse and it was said they would have to amputate the leg at the hip.
According to Fraser, Marley insisted that, ”Only Pee Wee can touch me,” so he was called in to discuss the matter.
“I then began researching everything I could to find out about the latest techniques, etc. We were in New York because I was not licensed to work in the US and had to work through another doctor. After my presentation they then suggested that it be amputated below the knee. I did not agree and so the decision was taken to remove the malignant area from the toe,” Fraser told the Observer.
He sought the services of a specialist to do a technical scan of the tumour once it was removed.
“Her exact words were: 'Fantastic, you have a clear margin of five millimetres, and in some cases seven millimetres around the tumour, so there is no evidence of spread.' So we had cured Bob as the cancer in his toe had not spread, and everything was fine,” Fraser recalled.
However, he said once Marley resumed touring he began to have “strange disorders” which included nose bleeds and headaches. The diagnosis was that the cancer from his toe had metastasised and had not spread to other parts of his body.
“How could this be?” Fraser questioned. “There were no medical factors to show how this manifested. We had done all the technical scans and X-rays to make sure there was no evidence of cancer in his toe,” he added.
“They definitely know what they did.”
Here, Fraser shared another theory which suggests Marley had been deliberately infected with cancer during his tour to promote the Uprising album.
“The guy who handled the lighting for all Bob's shows said during that tour he was not allowed to work on the lighting. He said for that whole time Bob complained about how hot the lights were and the fact that they burned his skin,” he said.
Things came to a head in in late September, 1980. Just before playing football in Central Park, Marley collapsed and Fraser was called to New York; after a battery of tests he was given two weeks to live and discharged from hospital.
Fraser saw a newspaper advertisement about a lecture by Dr Issels. They were able to hold discussions with the German physician who agreed to take Marley as his latest patient and within days, the singer was in West Germany with Fraser in tow.
“Within weeks of Dr Issels' treatment Bob was showing signs of recovery. Through the electromagnetic machines the size of the tumours in his brain and lungs were reducing. Bob was improving, his body was responding fantastic to it. He could hardly walk when we got there and now he wanted to play football with us. I remember when we would leave the house which we rented to go to Dr Issels clinic; when we were going up the stairs at first I would go up two steps and then wait for Bob to catch up. Within three weeks he was running up the steps. The nosebleeds and headaches had stopped,” Fraser disclosed. “An open laparotomy showed that the tumour were now just lines in his stomach walls. There was no growth. The therapy was reversing it. He was no longer coughing blood. Bob Marley was definitely on the road to recovery.”
Fraser was not privy to the final meetings with Dr Issels. He said he was only informed that Marley was going home, a decision he questioned then, and now.
“I would not have made him leave Germany until there was no more evidence of cancer, which was definitely disappearing. I would say another month or so of the treatment would have done it as all the complex symptomology associated with the tumours had disappeared. I wanted him to stay there longer so that you would have to use a microscope to find even the scar tissue,” Fraser said.
Fraser made his way from London to Jamaica to attend the State funeral for the reggae icon, which was held at National Arena in St Andrew on May 21, 1981.
Dr Carlton “Pee Wee” Fraser is still a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. In 2013 he was controversially sacked as team physician of the Jamaica football team.