Tinfoil Hat Time: Did the CIA assassinate Bob Marley?

By on October 5, 2015

Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” Concert footage originally aired on Night Flight.

It might not rank as high on the conspiracy scale as the fake moon landings, the death of JFK and the creation of AIDS as a method of population control, but the assassination of Bob Marley by the CIA does have ardent supporters. It’s one of those tales that has just enough twists, turns and unexpected loose ends to make some people believe that the official story of Bob’s death by cancer just doesn’t add up.

It goes without saying that Marley was one of the great musical pioneers of the 20th century whose influence has spread to virtually every corner of the globe. (I once drove through a remove village in Indonesia to find the only store had dedicated one entire exterior wall to a Marley mural.) It’s largely because of him that reggae is the force that it is. His messages of love, freedom and peace will resonate forever, making his influence on music beyond calculation. Ironically, it’s from these universal values that the conspiracy took root, resulting in him being taken out by a cabal of secret shady forces.

In December 1976, Marley had his band, The Wailers, were hiding out in the Blue Mountains outside of Kingston waiting to perform at the Smile Jamaica Festival, a concert arranged by president Michael Manley. The goal of the event was to ease the tensions between two political groups who were essentially at war with each other. The Jamaican political situation was of great concern to the US which had already lost Cuba for Castro and was fighting all kinds of anti-American interests (and anti-capitalist) interests in Central America. Jamaica, a major source of bauxite–the raw material that goes into making aluminum–could not be allowed to become unfriendly.


An episode of t “Strange Universe” investigating Marley’s death and the CIA’s involvement.

A visitor appeared at the compound sometime in late November or early December. His name was Carl Colby, the son of former CIA Director William Colby. His purpose? To present Bob with a gift: a brand new pair of boots.

Bob was touched. But when he slipped his foot into one of the boots, he felt a stab of pain. Looking inside, he realized that he’d just been poked by a piece of copper wire which left a nasty wound. Colby offered an apology, which was accepted. After some rum and jerk chicken, he left.

Two days before the Smile Jamaica show–December 3, 1976–Marley and his family were found out and attacked by unknown gunmen. Bob received minor injuries but his wife and manager were hurt quite badly but were able to recover. Refusing to be cowed, Marley went ahead with the show which went off without incident. And the issue with the boot was forgotten.

Fast-forward to 1977, Marley was playing soccer with some mates when he injured his foot–specifically the same toe that had been poked by the wire inside the book.  The fact that Marley hurt his foot while playing soccer is undisputed; so is the fact that the injury never properly healed.

After it became apparent that things were more serious than first thought, Marley made an appointment with a local doctor. He said that the toe could not be saved and needed to be amputated. Marley, a devout Rastafarian, did not believe in amputation, so he refused. “Jah will take care of it,” he said, citing Leviticus 21:5, which reads “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh.”  In other words, Marley believe amputation to be sinful and against the word of God.

Unfortunately, Bob had developed a very rare but fast-growing kind of skin cancer call acral melanoma, which affects the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet and–and this is crucial–nail beds. This cancer affects the cells that give us skin pigment and at the time was extremely hard to diagnose. Even today it requires some fancy genetic knowledge to properly identify it.

Over the next several years, Marley’s acral melanoma metastasized throughout his body, eventually reaching his brain. Realizing the seriousness of his condition, Marley finally relented and began to seek out all sorts of treatment options, including a skin graft in place of an outright amputation. It didn’t work.  While jogging through Central Park in New York late in the summer of 1980, Marley collapsed. The cancer had become terminal.

Someone recommended a visit to Dr. Josef Issels, a German specialist in holistic medicine. It’s alleged by some–unproven, of course–that he worked under the infamous Nazi, Dr. Josef Mengele, at Auschwitz. It’s also alleged that Issels prescribed some unusual and painful treatments which, rather than treating the cancer, made it worse. We’ll never know because Marley’s medical records have never been released.

When it became apparent that all hope was lost, Marley made plans to fly home to die. But he became so sick in transit, he never made it, dying in a Miami hospital on May 11, 1981.

Here’s where the conspiracy freaks really begin to weigh in. How do you go from an injured toe to brain cancer? It all goes back to the gift of those boots from an alleged CIA bagman. Lee Lew-Lee, a former Black Panther, filmmaker and confidante of the Wailers, believes that Carl Colby was a CIA plant. The wire in the boot was radioactive, planting the seeds of the cancer.  Marley was then finished off by a Nazi doctor.

But why? Because Marley’s political views–Jamaican independence from outside forces, his support of the wrong political institutions and his ability to rouse the rabble with his music made him a danger to those who sought to keep his country on a pro-American path. Someone somewhere decided he needed to be eliminated.

Truth or wingnut fantasy? You figure it out.

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