10 Legendary Facts About Bob Marley

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

For a lot of people, Bob Marley is reggae music. More than any other artist, Marley embodied the political righteousness and defiant joy inherent to the genre. The dreadlocked troubadour rose from the slums of Kingston, Jamaica to become a global superstar in the 1970s and an eternal ambassador of Jamaican culture. Nearly 40 years after his death in 1981, Marley remains one of the most iconic musicians in the world. To honor what would’ve been his 75th birthday (on February 6, 2020), here are 10 things you might not know about the reggae godhead.

1. Bob Marley was biracial.

Given Marley’s anti-colonial lyrics and strong Rastafarianism faith, many people assume the singer was black. In fact, he was the child of an Afro-Jamaican mother, Cedella Booker, and a white father, Norval Marley. The details of Norval’s life are sketchy. According to the BBC, he listed his birthplace as Sussex, England, when he enlisted in the Army in 1916. Due to medical issues that included urinary incontinence, Norval spent World War I serving in the Labour Corps. He later worked in Nigeria before arriving in Jamaica, where he met Booker while employed as plantation supervisor. Norval was about 60 when he and 18-year-old Booker married. The couple separated soon after Bob’s birth, and Norval died of a heart attack when the future superstar was just 10 years old.

2. Bob Marley got his start as a ska musician.

No, not like Reel Big Fish. When Marley started singing in the early 1960s, Jamaica was grooving to ska, the island’s first indigenous form of popular music. (Ska later evolved into rocksteady, which in turn became reggae.) Marley made his debut with a series of ska recordings for producer Leslie Kong’s Beverly label, including “One Cup of Coffee” and “Jude Not.”

3. Bob Marley lived in America for a while.

In 1966, after he’d begun recording with The Wailers, but before he made a name for himself outside of Jamaica, Marley went to visit his mother in America. She’d immigrated to Wilmington, Delaware, where Bob stayed for about eight months. During that time, he worked as a lab assistant for DuPont and toiled on a Chrysler assembly line. According to some, he lived in Delaware on and off through 1977, and the city of Wilmington hosts an annual People’s Festival 4 Peace to honor its one-time resident.

4. A Texas hitmaker helped to introduce BOB Marley to the world.

Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

Johnny Nash, the Texas singer-songwriter behind the 1972 hit “I Can See Clearly Now,” played a major role in bringing Marley’s music to the masses. In 1965, Nash moved with his manager, Danny Sims, to Jamaica. In 1966 or ‘67, Nash heard Marley sing at a Rasta celebration and convinced Sims to sign the young Jamaican. Marley traveled to London in February 1972 to help record Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now album. Nash included three Marley originals on the LP, plus one song he wrote with Bob. When Nash left London to promote the album, Marley and The Wailers found themselves stranded in the U.K. During this time, they met Island Records head Chris Blackwell, who signed them to a career-making (and world-changing) deal.

5. Bob Marley wasn’t the first reggae hopeful on Island Records.

When Marley first showed up on Chris Blackwell’s radar, Island Records had recently parted ways with singer Jimmy Cliff, star of the 1972 reggae film The Harder They Come. Cliff wasn’t happy with his progress on Island, so he jumped ship for EMI. Blackwell was reportedly "devastated" by Cliff’s departure, but when he met Marley, he found another rebel-type character he could sell to white audiences.

“I was dealing with rock music, which was really rebel music, and I felt that would really be the way to break Jamaican music,” Blackwell said. “But you needed someone who could be that image. When Bob walked in, he really was that image.”

6. Bob Marley once opened for Bruce Springsteen—and stole the show.

In July 1973, Bob Marley and The Wailers played 14 shows at the famed New York City hipster hangout Max’s Kansas City. The headliner was a scrappy New Jersey guitar slinger named Bruce Springsteen. It sounds like an odd pairing, but Marley and the gang evidently had no trouble adjusting to their surroundings. Reviewing the show for Billboard, writer Sam Sutherland credited The Wailers with “neatly eclipsing” the future rock superstar.

7. Bob Marley survived an assassination attempt—then played a show two days later.

On December 3, 1976, seven gunmen stormed Marley’s home in Kingston and started shooting. Marley’s wife and manager were wounded, and the singer was shot in the chest and upper arm. The attack came two days before the Smile Jamaica Concert, which Marley had organized to ease political tensions in Jamaica. Marley wasn’t looking to endorse a candidate, but the ruling People’s National Party rescheduled the national election to capitalize on the event. As a result, Marley appeared to be supporting the PNP, and that likely led to the shooting. Nevertheless, an injured Marley took the stage on December 5—just two days after he was attacked—and played a now-legendary 90-minute set. Due to the risks associated with surgery, a bullet remained lodged in Marley’s arm until his death in 1981.

8. Bob Marley never really had a hit in America.

You’d think someone as popular and influential as Bob Marley would’ve scored at least a couple Top 40 pop hits. Alas, the closest Marley ever came was the 1976 single “Roots, Rock, Reggae,” which peaked at #51 on the Billboard Hot 100. Not that Marley was incapable of writing hits: The aforementioned Johnny Nash reached #12 with the Marley-penned “Stir It Up,” and British rocker Eric Clapton famously took “I Shot the Sheriff” all the way to #1 in 1974. It should be noted that Marley’s posthumous 1984 collection Legend is the best-selling reggae album of all time, with more than 15 million copies sold in the U.S. alone.

9. Bob Marley had a lot of kids.

Damian, Ziggy, Stephen, Kymani and Julian Marley, sons of Bob Marley, perform onstage at the "Roots, Rock, Reggae Tour 2004" in Vienna, Virginia.Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Bob Marley had many virtues, but fidelity was not one of them. He regularly cheated on his wife Rita during their marriage, which spanned from 1966 to Bob’s death in 1981 and produced three children: Cedella, David a.k.a. Ziggy, and Stephen. Bob also adopted two kids that Rita had with other men (Sharon and Stephanie). Officially, Marley is said to have fathered six more children outside of his marriage to Rita (Robert, Rohan, Karen, Julian, Ky-Mani, and Damian), all with different women. But many sources say he had at least two other kids, Imani and Madeka, who haven’t been acknowledged on Marley’s website.

10. Marley’s untimely death has sparked conspiracy theories.

Bob Marley died on May 11, 1981, of lung and brain cancer. The disease had spread from a malignant melanoma in his toe first detected in 1977. Doctors advised Marley to have the toe amputated, but apparently due to his Rastafarian beliefs, he refused. It’s a sad yet medically plausible story that not everyone accepts.

According to conspiracy theorists, the CIA injected Marley’s toe with cancer by giving him a booby-trapped shoe. This dubious story picked up steam in November 2017, when the website Your News Wire published an article about a 79-year-old CIA agent named Bill Oxley who supposedly confessed to killing Marley. Snopes did some digging, and it turns out there’s nothing to corroborate the story—or even the existence of Oxley. But the theory lives on, and in 2018, rappers Busta Rhymes and T.I. posted about the debunked story on Instagram.

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14 Facts About The Rocky Horror Picture Show for Its 45th Anniversary

Tim Curry, Nell Campbell, and Patricia Quinn in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).
Tim Curry, Nell Campbell, and Patricia Quinn in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Many movies can claim the title “cult classic,” but few have ever embodied that term quite like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. First written as a small stage production by an out-of-work actor who wanted to pay homage to the B movies he loved, the film version flopped at the box office when it premiered in 1975. Then, as midnight showings continued, its following grew, and grew, and grew.

People don’t just watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show, they live it—complete with costumes, props, and very vulgar audience participation. Since its release in 1975, it has remained the quintessential cult classic. So, to celebrate more than four decades of Absolute Pleasure, here are some facts about the film.

1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show began as a way to keep an unemployed actor busy.

What would eventually become The Rocky Horror Show, and later The Rocky Horror Picture Show, began as a way for Richard O’Brien “to spend winter evenings” when he wasn’t working as an actor. O’Brien poured his love of science fiction and horror films into the initial Rocky Horror songs, and eventually he showed the material to director Jim Sharman while they were working on a play together. Sharman took a liking to it, and convinced London’s Royal Court theater to give him a few weeks in the venue’s tiny Upstairs theater to stage a production. It played for only a few dozen people a night, but eventually grew a following. Not bad for something that started as the equivalent “doing the crossword puzzle” for O’Brien.

2. Richard O’brien originally wanted to play the role of Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Meat Loaf in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

As the production took shape, O’Brien knew he wanted to co-star as the motorcycle-riding Eddie, a role that ultimately went to Meat Loaf. Sharman, though, saw O’Brien in the role of the mysterious handyman, Riff Raff, and O’Brien respected and trusted his director enough that he agreed.

3. Columbia and Magenta were originally one character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

As the stage play began casting, Sharman was hoping his friend, pop star Marianne Faithfull, would play Frank N. Furter’s female counterpart, but Little Nell had already been cast in the production. So Sharman and O’Brien reworked the role into two parts: Magenta and Columbia. When the time came to cast Magenta, Faithfull was already off on a tour of India, so Patricia Quinn was cast. Quinn took the role, despite having almost no lines, just so she could sing the lead song: “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” which she called “the best song I’ve ever heard.”

4. Little Nell was cast in The Rocky Horror Picture Show for her tap dancing skills alone.

“Little Nell” Campbell had a rather interesting audition for the role of Columbia. At the time the stage production was getting underway, she was working as a soda jerk in London. Jim Sharman heard that she would perform tap dances while serving ice cream, and took some collaborators to see her. She danced for them, and won the role.

5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Dr. Frank N. Furter originally had a German accent.

Tim Curry, Richard O'Brien, and Patricia Quinn in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Taking a cue from the character’s name, Tim Curry began the stage production of The Rocky Horror Show by playing Frank N. Furter as German. Then, one day, he heard a woman on a bus speaking with a particularly posh accent and decided, “Yes, he should sound like the Queen.”

6. “Science Fiction/Double Feature” had a different singer for the film.

As previously mentioned, Patricia Quinn took the Magenta role just so she could sing “Science Fiction/Double Feature” on the stage, but when it came time to film The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it was decided that O’Brien should sing the song instead. Quinn wasn’t happy, but she did get a small consolation: The iconic lips that sing the song in the opening credits are hers.

7. The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s director agreed to a smaller budget in order to keep the original cast.

According to Sharman, 20th Century Fox offered him “a reasonable budget” if he would cast “currently fashionable rock stars” in the lead roles for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sharman lobbied instead to keep the original stage cast (with some exceptions, like the addition of Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon), and instead got a “modest budget” and a very tight shooting schedule. Sharman now calls the decision “crucial” to the film’s cult success.

8. Much of The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s look was inspired by an actual rotting mansion.

While preparing to shoot the film, set designer Brian Thomson kept hearing about “the old house” near Bray Studios outside of London. When he finally got to see the house, a 19th-century mansion called Oakley Court, he realized it was exactly what they needed for the film, in part because its owners had essentially left it to rot (they wanted to demolish it, but it was designated as a historic site).

“The minute we saw it, we realized that this gave us the basis for the whole look of the movie,” Thomson said.

Because of its proximity to Bray Studios, the house has also appeared in a number of other films, including several from the legendary Hammer Studios line of horror movies. It has since been restored, and is now a hotel.

9. A large portion of The Rocky Horror Picture Showwas supposed to be in black and white.

While conceiving of the film’s overall look, Sharman, Thomson, and company originally decided that the film’s opening act should be shot entirely in black and white, and that the first color in the movie should be Frank N. Furter’s red lips when he appeared on the elevator. The idea was that Brad and Janet were living in a bland world, and when they met Furter they would be shown something much more colorful. Ultimately, the studio rejected the idea.

10. The reveal of Eddie’s body genuinely shocked the cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

For the iconic dinner party scene, in which Furter reveals that his guests have been dining on Eddie, Sharman elected to tell only Tim Curry—who had to pull away the tablecloth to reveal Eddie’s corpse—what the surprise of the scene was. He wanted the rest of the cast to be genuinely shocked.

11. A cardboard model was used to make the house fly in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

For the climactic scene in which Riff Raff and Magenta launch Furter’s house back to Transylvania, Thomson originally began constructing an elaborate model of the house. In the end, though, there wasn’t enough time or money to produce a full-scale model for the moment, so a cardboard cutout of the house was used. As Thomson later pointed out, you can still actually see the real house in the background of the shot.

12. The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s famous audience participation was inspired, in part, by boredom.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a flop when it was originally released in 1975, but as midnight showings continued it developed a rabid cult following with a penchant for shouting at the screen as the film played. Brian Thomson first witnessed this phenomenon at New York’s Waverly Theater in 1977, and when he asked what was going on, this was the reply:

“We thought it was pretty boring, and we thought if we yelled back [it would be more fun].”

13. Tim Curry was once kicked out of a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for being an “impostor.”

As the film’s cult following grew, Tim Curry was living in New York, just down the street from the Waverly Theater, so he often witnessed fans going to midnight showings in costume. Intrigued, he called the theater, told them who he was, and asked if he could attend. The theater initially didn’t believe him, until he actually showed up one night. “Finally I showed up, and they sort of believed me and took me in,” Curry later told NPR.

While fans were delighted by Curry’s presence, the theater staff still wasn’t convinced, and an usher grabbed him, called him an “impostor,” and threw him out. Curry then took out his passport to prove he was the real deal, but declined to go back into the theater after the staff apologized.

14. Princess Diana was a major The Rocky Horror Picture Show fan.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Rocky Horror Picture Show has many famous fans (Meat Loaf and Tim Curry actually met Elvis Presley at a Los Angeles performance of the stage production), but perhaps none more impressive than Diana, Princess of Wales. Once, while doing a theater performance in Austria, Curry was informed that the Princess wanted to meet him. When they met, she told him that the film “quite completed my education,” apparently flashing a “wicked smile” as she did so.

Additional Source:
The Rocky Horror Double Feature Video Show

This story has been updated for 2020.