Marley died 25 years ago but his music remains alive
Twenty-five years after he died in Miami, reggae artist Bob Marley's impact worldwide continues to grow.
BY EVELYN McDONNELL
Twenty-five years ago today, at 11:45 a.m., the heart of Nesta Robert Marley -- aka Bob Marley -- stopped beating at Miami's Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. The body of the 36-year-old pioneering music star gave in to cancer in the city that was his American home, where he came frequently to visit his mother and other family members.
Marley, true to his Rasta faith, didn't believe in death. In the quarter-century since his passing, the snowballing impact of his work has fulfilled the religion's vision of ''ever living'' life.
''They say he's physically not here, but he's still here, because his message is still around,'' says Daudi, a 29-year-old Miami-based hip-hop and reggae artist who goes by the one name. The thin man with long dreadlocks is one of the perhaps millions of people around the world who regard Marley as not merely a great
artist but also a leader of the Third World and incarnation of Jah, the Rasta deity.
''He's an example of the most high,'' says Daudi, who was hanging out Tuesday at Miami Beach's Vintage Marley store. ``He's a representation of the light, the truth.''
The Marley family, many of whom live in South Florida, is not marking today's anniversary. In response to an interview request, the company that represents his estate, Bob Marley Music, released this statement: ``The family of Bob Marley is appreciative of the fact that you have chosen to honor him. His works are a celebration of life, love and unity, and we commemorate his life. Jah live.''
''We're addressing the life,'' his son, Stephen Marley, told The Miami Herald in February.
A trio of new books have been released in conjunction with the anniversary of the singer's death and extend the growing scholarly interest in the man. Before the Legend, Marley Legend and The Book of Exodus help put his importance in historical geopolitical perspective: Marley, who began recording as a member of the Wailers in the volatile years after Jamaica gained independence from British rule, was the first, loudest and strongest voice of post-colonialism.
''He's a symbol for the less privileged of the world,'' says James Henke, author of the coffee-table book Marley Legend.
A politically emergent global population has rallied behind Marley. That's why the lion-like image of the Tuff Gong (one of Marley's many nicknames) appears on the T-shirts, baseball caps, flags and posters of Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, American Indians, aboriginal Australians and native Hawaiians -- and in ghettos everywhere. He has become a global icon of the oppressed rising up against oppression.
''Bob lives. He supposedly died in 1981, but never has he been more alive,'' says Vivien Goldman, author of The Book of Exodus: The Making & Meaning of Bob Marley & the Wailers' Album of the Century. ``He's one of the few artists whose records sell more every year, and everywhere you go in the world you see people wearing Bob Marley T-shirts. They might not know anything about his life. They just know he represents a higher essence and the way they would like to live their life.''
Marley did not plan to make his final exodus from Earth in Florida. For years he had battled cancer that started in his toe. Initially, in part because of his religious beliefs, he refused treatment.
''Getting his message across was literally more important to him than physical life itself,'' says Goldman, who first met Marley when she worked as his English publicist in 1975.
LAST JOURNEY HOME
The cancer spread to Marley's lungs and brain. He was being treated in Germany when he and his doctors decided it was time for him to return to the land of his birth. He never made it farther than Miami, his American home.
''He wanted to go home to Jamaica,'' Stephen Marley says. ``They had to stop here first because he was getting worse.''
He was admitted to Cedars of Lebanon (now called Cedars Medical Center) May 7, according to The Miami Herald obituary. His family was with him until the end.
''We don't have much to go off of, so we hold those memories,'' Stephen said.
At his death, Marley was an international star who had already graced the cover of Rolling Stone. And yet many still viewed him as a kind of cult figure who championed marijuana use, worshiped the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie and fathered multiple children with different mothers.
Marley since has turned out to be much more than reggae's king. Polls have shown the singer and writer of Lively Up Yourself and Three Little Birds is held in more universal esteem than Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Madonna or Sinatra.
The BBC named his song One Love the anthem of the millennium. In 1999, Time magazine called his opus Exodus the album of the century.
''He keeps getting discovered by new generations of fans,'' says Henke, chief curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. ``His legacy really extends around the world. . . . He's someone who's opened a lot of people's minds.''
Marley rose from extreme poverty to deliver messages of spiritual and political transcendence. He survived an attack by gunmen with a bullet in his arm. To many, he is nothing less than a messiah.
''A lot of people nowadays really turn to Bob Marley's canon for sustenance, direction, inspiration, hope and strength, as they would turn to the Book of Psalms,'' says Goldman, who also teaches reggae at New York University.
BIGGER THAN LENNON
John Lennon once infamously got in trouble for saying the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. Henke, who also authored Lennon Legend, says the reggae star has eclipsed the rocker.
``They had very similar philosophies. But the worldwide impact of Bob is much stronger. If you look at pure sales figures, Bob is a more vital artist now in terms of people still buying his music. Bob has this much broader appeal.''
Goldman pauses when asked if, when Marley was alive, she thought he would be a growing cultural force 25 years after his death.
''Even though I thought he was a genius as an artist, I think this level of appreciation is almost impossible to actually predict,'' she says.
``Why did Leonardo da Vinci stand out? He was a towering artist with a vision. There aren't really that many of them. I think partly Bob had been through a lot, and he managed to instill it all in his lyrics with the deftness of a great people's poet.''