By 1976, Robert Nesta Marley and his Wailers band had become well-known and influential both in Jamaica, where they had many hits and internationally, where Marley was regarded as reggae’s leading exponent. However, tensions in his home country of Jamaica were anything but calm.
Citizens were poor, and followers of Michael Manley’s ruling People’s National Party and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party, led by Edward Seaga, were constantly fighting.
To help restore some kind of peace and heal the land, Marley volunteered to host a free peace concert called Smile Jamaica, which would be attended by all parties’ supporters.
On December 3, 1976, two days before the event, Marley and his band were rehearsing at his home at 56 Hope Road, in the neighborhood of both the governor and the prime minister, when three armed men stormed the property. Marley and his wife, Rita, were shot by assailants in what many believe was a politically motivated murder attempt.
Ziggy Marley stated of his mother, “She got shot in the head.” “During the assassination attempt, she was shot in the skull, one inch from the brain.” My father received a gunshot wound to the hand.”
The bullet fired at Marley slid off his chest and lodged in his arm rather than hitting him, while wife Rita was wounded in the head when disembarking from a car but survived. Don Taylor, Marley’s manager, was shot in the leg and suffered critical injuries. Rita’s dense dreadlocks are thought to have shielded the bullet and reduced the effect. They were all brought to and treated at the University Hospital.
The attempted assassination of Bob Marley, who had become a national treasure, shook the country. Despite this, many regular people wanted to watch him play, and he did. On December 5, 1976, fans waited almost four hours for Bob Marley and his Wailers to arrive to a raucous greeting from over 8,000 people at the National Heroes Park in Kingston.
“This is the type of woman that my mother is,” Ziggy Marley, who was eight at the time of the event, says. Even a bullet to the head couldn’t stop her from fulfilling her destiny.”
However, following the shooting and concert, a distraught Marley would go into exile. He and the rest of the crew moved to London. Before releasing new music and performing, they took a pause.
Marley was diagnosed with melanoma (skin cancer) after someone stepped on his toe with a spiked boot during a football game, yet he continued to play football. While some specialists suggested disarticulating his leg, another doctor in Miami stated it was unnecessary and that removing his afflicted toenail was fine.
The cancer eventually spread throughout his body. He passed away on May 11, 1981, at the age of 36. He was laid to rest at a mausoleum in Nine Mile, where he was born.