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The fatal secret a wife couldnt share.

Looking pale and drawn, reggae superstar Bob Marley walked on stage at a huge outdoor concert in his home town of Kingston, Jamaica, and held up his arm with its bloodstained bandage. Over 100,000 fans who had been waiting hours to see him gave a spontaneous roar of welcome. And in the wings a small 30-year-old woman gave a tight smile. Perhaps everything would be OK after all.

But in her heart she knew it wouldn't be. Hours earlier Marley and his wife Rita had both been wounded by a gunman who burst into their hotel soon after they arrived in the Jamaican capital for a post-election concert in June 1977.

Marley had an arm wound and Rita needed surgery to remove a bullet from her scalp. Now she was at the concert with a scarf wound around her bandages. Marley and his group, The Wailers, put on their usual dynamic show. At 35, Bob Marley, the man from the slums of Kingston, was the world's wealthiest and most charismatic reggae star. He had the world at his feet, or so it seemed. But Rita, who had married Bob Marley when she was 19, knew that in reality things were very different. She and Bob shared a fatal secret that no one else knew: her husband was dying of cancer.

The couple had met soon after Bob's first major hit, Simmer Down, in 1964 and Bob Marley and the Wailers were beginning to become international stars.

But they were still based in Jamaica and one morning were accosted on the way to the recording studio by a pretty teenager who said she was Rita Anderson, a member of an all-girl rock group called the Soulettes who were trying to get a recording contract. The Soulettes' audition was successful and the studio chose Bob Marley to coach the group. He was impatient and irritable, particularly with Rita and she got the impression that he thoroughly disliked her.

Then one day he left her a note. It was a love-letter and she angrily assumed Bob was making fun of her, but he wasn't. He told her that he thought she was his ideal girl but had been too shy to show his feelings... A few months later, on the eve of his first American tour, Bob Marley, just 21, asked Rita to marry him and she did. Next day Marley left for a three-month tour of America leaving his bride behind.

Now he was uncrowned king of reggae, with Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Keith Richard among his fans. Returning to Jamaica, Bob Marley found he had replaced Stevie Wonder as the Third World's greatest musical superstar.

With some of the fortune now pouring in, Bob bought a mansion for himself, Rita and their two children, in Kingston's fashionable Hope Road. But the success of the man who was the love-child of an English army officer and a shop-assistant was soon to be overshadowed by something more sinister.

In 1978 he had injured a toe playing football and the wound refused to heal. A specialist detected cancer cells and urged Marley to have the toe amputated but he refused.

Unchecked, the condition spread but Marley refused to acknowledge the seriousness of his condition. He was now losing weight, had no energy and although he managed to give convincing stage performances, Rita knew something was very wrong.

In September, 1980 after triumphing in sell-out shows in New York's Madison Square Garden he collapsed while jogging in the city's central park. He seemed to recover after a few hours but doctors forced him to see a neurologist. The diagnosis could hardly have been worse - the collapse had been due to a stroke and Bob Marley had a cancerous brain tumour and maybe only weeks to live.

Bob Marley told no one but his wife and swore her to secrecy. Despite his critical state he insisted on flying to Pittsburgh where he played before a packed audience of 3,000.

"It was a terrible secret not be able to share, but Bob didn't want anyone to know," Rita said. "He still believed he could beat the cancer and went on a diet of vegetables and fish.

"Incredibly for a while he seemed to improve, but further tests showed that the cancer had spread to his lungs and stomach."

As a last resort, Rita travelled with the now desperately sick superstar to Germany for treatment by a controversial cancer specialist but it was too late. Now Marley weighed less than six stone and could hardly lift his guitar.

He died in May 1981 on his way back to Jamaica. Bob Marley was just 36.

But his music didn't die. The following year Rita Marley went back to the studio and recorded an album of her husband's greatest hits plus some songs he had written but was too ill to record.

"I never pretended that my versions were anywhere near what Bob would have done," Rita said. "His music will live for ever. I have just done a little bit to help it along..."

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:5JAMA
Date:Oct 11, 2012
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