Today (May 11th) marks 40 years since Bob Marley’s death, and to this day, his legacy still lives on in the hearts of his many fans across the globe. His impact was so great that, to date, he still has one of the best-selling albums of all time. His greatest hits compilation, Legend, which was released in 1984, has sold over 11 million copies in the U.S. and has spent nearly 300 weeks on the Billboard 200.
Bob Marley died of acral lentiginous melanoma on May 11, 1981, after being diagnosed in 1977. At the time of his death and for many years after, many fans believed that he was purposefully injected with cancer. It’s a theory that many fervent fans still believe. A recent interview that his personal physician, Dr. Carlton “Pee Wee” Fraser, had with Jamaica Observer may lend some credence to their theory.
He believes that Bob Marley may have been injected with the disease a little while after the assassination attempt at Hope Road. In fact, he added that he believed he is aware of the method of delivery. Most people believe that Marley’s woes started after a football injury but Dr Fraser believes differently. He believes that Marley’s troubles all started with the gift of a pair of sneakers.
“After the attempt to murder him at Hope Road when he was shot, Bob retreated to the hills. A few days later he was given a pair of sneakers. When he tried it on a needle went into his big toe and it was so hard to get it out. He then went on tour and when he was in London the toe got worse and it was said they would have to amputate the leg at the hip,” he said. When this was told to Bob Marley, he insisted that he speak with his own doctor. Dr. Fraser then began researching different techniques that would not require amputation.
“We were in New York because I was not licensed to work in the US and had to work through another doctor. After my presentation, they then suggested that it be amputated below the knee. I did not agree and so the decision was taken to remove the malignant area from the toe,” he explained. After that, the doctor sought out a specialist to verify that the procedure had been a success.
“Her exact words were: ‘Fantastic, you have a clear margin of five millimetres, and in some cases seven millimetres around the tumour, so there is no evidence of spread.’ So we had cured Bob as the cancer in his toe had not spread, and everything was fine,” Fraser recalled.
That’s just one of the reasons that he believes the reggae icon might have been deliberately infected. He shared another instance later in Marley’s life that he thinks led to his final diagnosis. He explained that after the procedure, Bob Marley went back on tour but began to have very strange maladies like nose bleeds and headaches. This was when he was told that cancer from his toe had spread throughout his body. He said he was in disbelief at this point because “we had done all the technical scans and X-rays to make sure there was no evidence of cancer in his toe. According to him, “they definitely know what they did.”
He believes the second instance of Marley being infected came during his tour to promote the Uprising album.
“The guy who handled the lighting for all Bob’s shows said during that tour he was not allowed to work on the lighting. He said for that whole time Bob complained about how hot the lights were and the fact that they burned his skin,” he revealed. Marley pressed on, probably driven by his ideals and his belief that he had a message to spread. That was until September 1980, when just before playing football in Central Park, he collapsed. After Fraser went To New York and various tests were conducted, Marley was told that he had two weeks to live.
That’s when Fraser suggested that the reggae star fly to West Germany to be part of some groundbreaking treatment from Dr. Josef Issels. Fraser discovered Dr. Issels after he saw a newspaper advertisement about his innovative ways of treating cancer. He made contact, and the German physician agreed to take Marley on as a patient, where he stayed for seven months. Things looked good from that point, for a little while. Fraser admitted he was hopeful as Marley seemed on the road to recovery.
“Within weeks of Dr Issels’ treatment Bob was showing signs of recovery. Through the electromagnetic machines the size of the tumours in his brain and lungs were reducing. Bob was improving, his body was responding fantastic to it,” he said.
Fraser explained that before the treatment, the “Three Little Birds” singer could hardly walk but while in Germany, he was doing so well that he wanted to get up and play football. “When we were going up the stairs at first I would go up two steps and then wait for Bob to catch up. Within three weeks he was running up the steps. The nosebleeds and headaches had stopped,” he added.
As time passed, an open laparotomy showed that the tumor was now just a lining in his stomach walls. To Fraser, this meant that the therapy was reversing his cancer. He believed that he was definitely on the road to recovery. This is one of the reasons why he was so surprised to learn that Marley was going home. He wanted him to stay longer until the tumor had completely shrunk. He added, though, that he was not privy to the final meetings with Dr. Issels. It’s a decision that he still grapples with.
“I would not have made him leave Germany until there was no more evidence of cancer, which was definitely disappearing. I would say another month or so of the treatment would have done it as all the complex symptomology associated with the tumours had disappeared. I wanted him to stay there longer so that you would have to use a microscope to find even the scar tissue,” Fraser said.
Just before Marley’s death, Fraser left West Germany for London to deal with some issues there. Following his departure just seven days later, the jarring news came to him that Marley had died while en route to Jamaica at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, Florida.
“I was dismantled. The news hit me hard. I was in London dealing with Twelve Tribes [of Israel] matters and a brother came and told me Bob had died. How is that? He was doing so well in Germany. Even if he was to die, it should not been so quickly. It was crazy. I could not believe,” Fraser shared with the Jamaica Observer.
The two had become close friends after meeting in 1975. Fraser is a past student of Wolmer’s Boys’ School and studied at Howard University in Washington DC. He met Marley after he joined the Twelve Tribes of Israel and became the organization’s doctor.
He would return to Jamaica to attend Marley’s funeral on May 21, 1981, at the National Arena in St Andrew. He would join over 30,000 people as they mourned the son of the soil who spread a message of peace and love while flying the Jamaican and Rastafarian colors high.