How Did Bob Marley Die? What to Know About His Tragic Death at 36

Bob Marley was a legend in the music industry before he tragically passed away too soon. Here's what you need to know about his death.

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Bob Marley is one of the many stars who died too soon. Bob was known for being a pioneer of the reggae genre and helped form the band The Wailers, who were responsible for huge hits like “One Love” and “No Woman, No Cry.” Bob was also known for his spirituality and belief in Rastafarianism, as well as his support for marijuana legalization. Sadly, the superstar got sick and died in 1981 at the age of 36.

Bob lived a short but incredible life that will be explored in the upcoming biopic Bob Marley: One Love. Kingsley Ben-Adir is playing Bob in the Paramount Pictures movie, which comes out in theaters on February 14. Ahead of the film’s release, learn about how we lost the legendary Bob Marley.

How Did Bob Marley Die?

Bob died on May 11, 1981 after being diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) four years earlier. ALM is a rare form of skin cancer that forms on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, or under the nails.

Bob was diagnosed with ALM under his right toe in July 1977. He went to two doctors to get a biopsy, but he rejected their advice to get his toe amputated because of his religious beliefs. He continued on with his career and went on tour, as the cancer spread.

Bob Marley
Bob Marley in 1976 (Photo: Bobby Bank/

In September 1980, after performing at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Bob collapsed while jogging in Central Park and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered the melanoma spread to his brain, liver, and lungs. Over the next eights months, Bob pursued alternative treatments for his cancer that were ultimately ineffective. He traveled to Germany and tried Issels treatment, which involves avoiding certain food, drinks, and other substances.

Bob fell critically ill while on a flight to Jamaica on May 11, 1981. The plane landed in Miami and Bob was taken to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, where he passed away. Bob was survived by his wife, Rita Marley, and his 11 children from several relationships.

Will Bob Marley’s Death Be Featured In His Biopic?

Bob Marley: One Love will explore Bob’s rise to fame up until his death. That means the film will partly focus on his health issues and untimely passing.

Kingsley Ben-Adir, best known for his role as Colonel Ben Younger in Peaky Blinders, is playing Bob in the upcoming biopic. The cast also includes Lashana Lynch as Rita, Bob’s wife, James Norton as Chris Blackwell, Bob’s record producer, and Sevana and Tosin Cole as Judy Mowatt and Tyrone Downie, Bob’s bandmates, respectively. Reinaldo Marcus Green, who helmed the Will Smith Oscar-winning film King Richard, is directing Bob Marley: One Love

Kingsley discussed why he didn’t do method acting to portray Bob on the big screen in a December 2023 interview with Entertainment Weekly. “It’s about knowing what it is you’re trying to achieve,” the British actor said. “There’s a degree to which you have to stay in it, but that’s a state of concentration; that’s not walking around pretending to be the character. ”

“If you need to spend a few minutes before doing what you need to do, that’s all for between action and cut, and to separate yourself after that so you can have a conversation about what it is you need to do to improve the scene,” he added. “I feel like walking around and being in it can draw the attention unnecessarily away from everything else and just have it on you the whole time.”