Cannabis users have always had a soft spot for Rastafarianism. It’s hard not to like a religion that considers smoking pot to be a sacrament that exalts the consciousness and a central activity of daily life, never mind all the great music that comes along with it.
But it’s still a bummer that adherence to rasta doctrine probably helped kill its most famous practitioner.
Reggae trailblazer Robert Nesta Marley is one of the most influential and recognizable musicians in history. His posthumous album Legend went 10 times platinum, and anyone reading this post can no doubt name at least one of his songs. Probably many more.
Bob Marley would’ve turned 72 today had he not died from an absurdly rare type of skin cancer in 1981 that began in one of his toes and then spread across his body, killing him at the age of only 36.
The disease might’ve been stopped by amputation when it was first detected four years earlier, but Marley decided against the potentially life-saving treatment for religious reasons.
“Rasta no abide amputation,” he reportedly told London doctors recommending the surgery in 1977. “De living God, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Ras Tafari, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah… will heal me wit’ de meditation of me ganja chalice.”
Instead, he went to see an orthopedic surgeon in Miami who performed a skin graft and told him the treatment had been successful. It wasn’t.
Although his widow Rita later claimed in her autobiography that his reluctance had less to do with religious misgivings than his image, it’s clear that he didn’t want to appear as less than a true believer.
Rastafarianism first began back in the 1930s from the notion the newly crowned emperor of Ethiopia – Haile Selassie I – was actually God incarnate. Which is really no sillier than, say, believing an invisible space wizard created the world in seven days and gets upset about people having gay sex. The Jamaican-born religion endures today despite evidence Selassie amassed a huge personal fortune he deposited in foreign banks while regular Ethiopians suffered tremendous economic hardships. Which is far from irie. Not to mention “the mighty god is a living man” having died in mysterious circumstances after a military coup in 1975.
Other major religions are guilty of far greater crimes than depriving the world of a few decades of output from a musical genius, but the life-or-death decisions Marley made due to his spiritual beliefs are perhaps worth keeping in mind the next time you hear his famous line “emancipate yourself from mental slavery.”