Supreme icon of reggae music, the great Robert Nesta died one sad day in May, but his cult lives on thanks to the power of tattoo.
It had all started four years before, with a minor injury to his right big toe, perhaps during a tackle. Bob Marley (aka Robert Nesta Marley) was, in fact, a huge football enthusiast.
The king of reggae paid no attention, but the cut strangely refused to heal. He was subsequently diagnosed with something far more serious: a malign melanoma underneath the nail. They needed to act immediately and either he got rid of the nail or they would need to amputate the entire toe. Marley chose the less drastic solution.
The years went by and two albums came out which were the keystone of his musical career (apart from‘Exodus’, an absolute masterpiece of the genre, which came out in 1977): ‘Survival’ in 1979 followed the year after by ‘Uprising’, the album which featured the unforgettable ballad ‘Redemption song’. The track with the famous lines: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery / none but ourselves can free our minds”.
In September 1980, after two sold out concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Jamaican artist collapsed while jogging in Central Park. Despite this, on the 23rd, he gave his last performance at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh which in 2011 would come out posthumously on CD with the emblematic title ‘Live Forever’. A marvellous record, incidentally.
Face to face with the harsh reality of his imminent demise, Marley flew to Germany to the doctor Josef Issels, a luminary in the treatment of terminal illness. But there was nothing they could do, and it was during his stay on German soil that Bob cut off his beloved dreadlocks, the ultimate symbol of his Rastafarianism and, for the singer, a sort of fountain of life.
On the return flight to the United States his condition worsened to such an extent that the flight was detoured to Miami where he was immediately admitted to the Cedar of Lebanon Hospital. It was here that he finally passed away in the morning on 11th May 1981. It is said that shortly before he died, he turned to Ziggy, one of his many children, and uttered the prophetic words, “Money can’t buy life”.
The man died, but the legend is still with us, almost forty years later, on the skin of thousands of his followers. His memory lives on In their respectful tattoos, as you can well see in this gallery.