Bob Marley may not have invented reggae, but he certainly helped bring it out of the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, and into more mainstream popularity. However, the totality of Marley includes more than just his music; his politically-tinged lyrics come from a place of his own political advocacy, railing against the oppression of Black people and calling for humane treatment of the poor, as Western Oregon University notes.
On at least one occasion, Marley’s political activism almost cost him his life. As Rolling Stone notes, a team of assassins attempted to kill the musician in 1976, allegedly because they believed he was supporting a rival politician. What actually cost Bob Marley his life was untreated cancer, according to Daily Star. However, a conspiracy theory claims that his death was hastened along by the CIA, who were keen to have Marley silenced because … reasons. It is, of course, not true at all.
Michael Manley, Bob Marley, and the CIA
Michael Manley, of the democratic socialist People’s National Party, served as Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1972 to 1980, and again from 1989 to 1992, according to Britannica. And though Bob Marley wrote political lyrics and advocated for the poor and the oppressed, when it came to specifics, he remained neutral. According to Midnight Raver, Marley didn’t throw his support behind any specific politician, Manley included.
According to Esquire, a conspiracy theory holds that Marley was about to expose the CIA’s efforts to bring down the Manley government. Why the agency wanted the Manley government brought down, and what role Marley supposedly had in it, is unclear. So how did the CIA supposedly go about killing Marley? By infecting him with the cancer of the toe that eventually spread to his brain and killed him, of course. Supposedly, a retired CIA agent named “William Oxley” confessed on his deathbed to having injected cancer into Marley, according to Daily Star. Specifically, Oxley posed as a photographer to gain access to the singer, then somehow pricked his toe and injected “cancer viruses and bacteria” into him.
The conspiracy theory gains credence
In 2018, rappers T.I. and Busta Rhymes both shared this conspiracy theory on their own social media accounts, according to NME. Both shared screenshots of an article that bears the headline that claimed Marley was killed by the CIA, and that the retired agent, William/Bill Oxley, infected him with cancer and supposedly owned up to it on his deathbed. Indeed, Rhymes’ Instagram post is still live today.
In addition to being propagated by two popular and respected Black musicians with large fanbases, there’s another aspect to this story that makes it at least a hair believable. Melanomas, the type of skin cancer that eventually killed Marley, aren’t generally known to afflict people of African descent the way they do fairer-skinned people, according to USA Today. What’s more, Marley’s cancer started in his toe, a region of the body that isn’t often exposed to direct sunlight (which is a causative factor in skin cancer).
Why the conspiracy theory isn't true
The conspiracy theory that Bob Marley was killed by the CIA breaks down when you examine two key points. First, this CIA agent named William Oxley or Bill Oxley never existed. Conspiracy-debunking website Snopes investigated and found no record of a CIA agent with either of those names having ever worked for the agency, or indeed, having ever existed. What’s more, the claim appeared on the website Your News Wire, which purportedly publishes its share of unverified claims.
Second, Marley could possibly have survived the cancer that killed him. As The Nassau Tribune reported, Marley had brushed off what he thought was an injury to his toe (it was actually a melanoma under his toenail) for years before bringing it to the attention of a doctor. Once diagnosed, the doctor suggested an amputation, which could possibly have saved his life. However, he refused, citing his religious beliefs and the effect the recovery would have on his performing career. So, for the theory to be true, the mystery CIA agent would have to have infected Marley with a cancer he likely already had, and then known that he would refuse treatment that could save him.
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