Bob Marley facts: Songs, wife, children, religion and tragic early death of the reggae icon

21 March 2022, 11:21 | Updated: 10 March 2023, 13:15

Bob Marley
Bob Marley. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Bob Marley is undoubtedly the most iconic reggae artist of all time, and remains a hugely popular figure nearly 40 years after his death.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

From his upbringing, to his incredible career to his untimely death, here are all the big facts about Bob Marley that you need to know:

  1. What were Bob Marley's biggest songs?

    Bob marley "no woman no cry" 1979

    Among his many hits, Bob Marley's most famous songs include:

    - Three Little Birds

    - One Love

    - Jamming

    - No Woman, No Cry

    - Redemption Song

    - I Shot the Sheriff

    - Is This Love?

    - Could You Be Loved?

    - Buffalo Soldier

  2. Who were Bob Marley's parents?

    Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, on the farm of his maternal grandfather in Nine Mile, Jamaica, to Norval Sinclair Marley (1885–1955) and Cedella Booker (1926–2008).

    Norval was a white Jamaican originally from Sussex, England. Bob Marley's full name is Robert Nesta Marley.

    In 1955, when Bob was 10, his father died of a heart attack at the age of 70. His mother went on to marry Edward Booker, an American civil servant, giving Bob two American brothers.

  3. How did he get his start in music?

    Bob Marley
    Bob Marley. Picture: Getty

    Bob Marley and Neville Livingston (later Bunny Wailer) had been childhood friends in Nine Mile.

    They had started to play music together while at Stepney Primary and Junior High School. Soon after, he was in a vocal group with Wailer, Peter Tosh, Beverley Kelso and Junior Braithwaite.

    Singer Joe Higgs took Marley under his wing, teaching him how to play the guitar.

  4. How did Bob Marley die?

    In July 1977, Marley was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma under the nail of a toe. Marley turned down his doctors' advice to have his toe amputated due to his religious beliefs, and the nail and nail bed were removed and a skin graft taken from his thigh as a cover.

    In 1980, the cancer had spread throughout his body. While he was flying from Germany to Jamaica, his condition worsened.

    After landing in Miami, he died on May 11, 1981, at the age of 36.

  5. Was Bob Marley shot?

    On December 3, 1976, two days before a free concert organised by the Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley to ease tension between two fighting political groups, Marley, his wife, and manager Don Taylor were wounded by unknown gunmen inside Marley's home.

    Taylor and Marley's wife had serious injuries, but made full recoveries. Bob Marley received minor wounds in the chest and arm. The attempt on his life was thought to have been political, as many felt the concert was supporting Manley.

  6. Who was Bob Marley's wife?

    Bob Marley and Rita Marley in 1978
    Bob Marley and Rita Marley in 1978. Picture: Getty

    Bob Marley married Alpharita Constantia 'Rita' Anderson in Kingston, Jamaica, on February 10, 1966.

  7. How many children did Bob Marley have?

    Ziggy Marley
    Ziggy Marley. Picture: Getty

    Bob Marley had many children: four with wife Rita, two adopted from Rita's previous relationships, and several others with different women.

    His official website acknowledges 11 children.

    His most famous children include singer Ziggy Marley (pictured, who recorded the theme tune to kids' TV show 'Arthur'), musician Stephen Marley, footballer Rohan Marley, singer Julian Marley and reggae artist Damian Marley.

  8. What was Bob Marley's religion?

    Bob Marley was a member of the Rastafari movement, whose culture was a key element in the growth of reggae.

    He became an proponent of Rastafari, taking its music out of the socially deprived areas of Jamaica, and onto an international audience. Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq baptised Marley into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, giving him the name Berhane Selassie, on November 4, 1980, soon before his death.