Dr Josef Issels: A man of mysteryTuesday, April 06, 2021
BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the third in a series titled Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.
From entirely different worlds, Bob Marley and Dr Josef Issels were highly regarded in their respective fields when their paths first crossed in 1980.
Marley was the king of reggae, one of the biggest names in pop music. Issels was considered among the leading figures in alternative cancer treatment.
After Marley collapsed during a football warm-up session in Central Park, New York, on September 21 that year, tests revealed he had widespread cancer and was given less than one month to live.
In an October 2010 interview with this writer, Alan Cole, Marley's manager, said the suggestion to seek Issels' expertise came from a former football colleague with whom Cole had played football in Jamaica. Issels was in New York City attending a cancer symposium.
Born in Moenchengladbach, Western Germany, Issels had operated The Ringberg Klinik in Bavaria since 1951. According to biologicalmedicineinstitute.com, the facility “became the first hospital in Europe to offer treatment to 'incurable' cancer patients who had been rejected by other doctors. Dr Issels had been researching immunology and microbial aspects of cancer etiology since 1948 and established several research units in his hospital”.
The website further disclosed that, “By 1952, the clinic and Dr Issels' work in oncology became widely known. By 1956, 1,473 patients had been treated at the Ringberg Klinik. By 1957, the clinic had doubled its original capacity of 32 beds. Eight staff cared for the patients.”
There were reports that Issels had been a member of Adolf Hitler's Nazi party, but fell out of favour with its hierarchy because he continued to treat Jewish patients, which went against party policy.
As a result, he was sent to the Russian front, one of the most dangerous arenas in the second World War. He was a prisoner of war there until the conflict ended in 1945.
Cole said no one close to Marley knew about Issels' ties to the Nazis.
“All we'd a deal wid was him track record. When yuh got to know him he had great humour,” Cole said. “To me, he was a great humanitarian.”
Along with Marley's personal doctor, Carlton “Pee Wee” Fraser and cook Glenford “Early Bird” Phipps (older brother of Donald “Zekes” Phipps), Cole accompanied the ailing Marley by Concorde to Issels' Rottach-Egern clinic in Bavaria.
He recalls the Rastafarian artiste making remarkable progress shortly after his arrival.
“When him leave New York mi haffi a lift him up. Dem give him one week to live 'cause him weak, weak, weak,” Cole said. “After treatment him start walk strong, all start play ball again. By Christmas the man start get healthy.”
Things were not as optimistic in April 1981 when Marley's health deteriorated significantly. He made the decision to return to Jamaica but died in a Miami hospital on May 11, 1981 at age 36.
That year, Issels was appointed to the German Federal Government's Cancer Commission. In 1996, at age 89, he and his wife moved to Rancho Santa Fe, California. He died in California of pneumonia at age 90 on February 11, 1998.
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