By 1976, Robert Nesta Marley and his Wailers band had become popular and influential in Jamaica where they had scored many hits as well as globally where Marley was viewed as reggae’s foremost exponent. However, the tension in Jamaica, his home country, was anything but tranquil.
Poverty afflicted citizens while supporters of Michael Manley’s ruling People’s National Party and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party led by Edward Seaga engaged in continuous violence.
To enable a modicum of peace and heal the land, Marley offered to stage a free peace concert dubbed Smile Jamaica to be attended by both supporters of the parties.
However, two days before the concert on December 3, 1976, Marley and his band were rehearsing at his home at 56 Hope Road in the neighborhood of both the governor and prime minister when three armed men made their way onto the property. The gunmen shot Marley and his wife, Rita, in what many suggest was a politically motivated assassination attempt.
“She got shot in her head,” Ziggy Marley said of his mother. “She got a bullet in her head, one inch from the brain, during the time of the assassination attempt. My father got shot in the hand.”
Either by good fortune or poor aim, the bullet aimed at Marley skidded off his chest, lodging in his arm rather while wife Rita, although shot in the head while disembarking from a vehicle, survived the hit. Marley’s manager Don Taylor sustained serious injuries from being shot in the leg. It’s believed Rita’s super dense dreadlocks blocked the bullet and minimized the impact. They were all rushed to the University Hospital and treated.
The nation was shocked about the attempt on Marley’s life at a time he had become a national treasure. Nonetheless, many ordinary folks wished to see him perform and he did perform. Fans waited over four hours before Marley, with his Wailers, arrived to a tumultuous welcome from about 8,000 people leading to the performance at the National Heroes Park in Kingston on December 5, 1976,
Ziggy Marley, who was eight at the time of the incident, notes: “This is the type of woman that my mother is. Even a bullet in her head couldn’t stop her from serving that higher purpose.”
But a pained Marley would go into exile after the shooting and concert. He, together with the team, relocated to London. They took a break before making new music and touring.
Somebody stepped on Marley’s toe with a spiked boot during a football game which resulted in him being diagnosed with melanoma (skin cancer) but Marley continued to play football. While some doctors proffered disarticulating his leg, another in Miami said that was not necessary and that taking his affected toenail off was okay.
Eventually, the cancer spread all over his body. He died on May 11, 1981, aged 36. He was buried in a mausoleum at Nine Mile, the village where he had been born.