The day Bob Marley diedMonday, May 11, 2020
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
On Monday, May 11, 1981 the sitting prime minister in Jamaica was Edward Seaga. His Jamaica Labour Party had swept to power seven months earlier following a landslide victory at the polls. The Leader of the Opposition was Michael Manley. The United States president was Ronald Reagan.
That week, people in US were listening to Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes. In the United Kingdom Stand And Deliver by Adam & The Ants was in the Top Five. Possession, directed by Andrzej Zulawski, was one of the most viewed movies released in 1981, while Danse Macabre by Stephen King was a best-selling book.
However, all of that was forgotten by the majority of Jamaicans and reggae lovers worldwide when it was confirmed that reggae king Bob Marley had died.
As the 36-year-old superstar was flying home from West Germany to Jamaica his vital functions worsened. After landing in Miami, Florida, he was taken to the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami (now University of Miami Hospital) for immediate medical attention, where he died with his family by his side.
It is widely reported that his final words to his eldest son Ziggy were “Money can't buy life.”
In September the previous year, Marley had collapsed while jogging in New York's Central Park. Following tests it was confirmed that cancer originally found in one of his toes had spread throughout his body and he was forced to end his most ambitious US tour.
Marley sought treatment at the Bavarian clinic of Dr Josef Issels, where he received an alternative diet partly based on avoidance of certain foods, drinks, and other substances. After eight months there, an ailing Marley boarded a plane for Jamaica, but did not make it home.
Music insider Clyde McKenzie was just out of high school on that day in May 1981. He recalled clearly what happened when news broke that Bob Marley had passed.
“I was with my friends next door. It was a spot where we hung out and I learned a lot about Jamaican music. I recall hearing this deluge of his music being played on Jamaican radio... it was endless Marley. I was hearing music that I never knew existed, and had never been played on radio like this,” he recalled.
McKenzie noted that constant focus on the music of Marley helped create an even greater awareness of his greatness.
“At the time the Government owned the JBC (Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation) radio and TV. They were able to control the narrative. This determined the response of the public to the death of this great Jamaican. Yes, many of us were aware that he was an enormous figure, but how the Government controlled the message showcased his greatness and importance,” said McKenzie.
Marley received a State Funeral at the National Arena on May 21, which combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodox and Rastafari traditional rites.
Seaga delivered the eulogy and stated:
“His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. 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.”
Since his death, Marley has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, given a star on the celebrated Walk of Fame in Hollywood, his album Exodus was named Album of the Century by Time magazine, and his single One Love was declared Anthem of the Millennium by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
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