No Will, No Cry: Bob Marley’s Financial Legacy
Bob Marley was a true legend. To many he was a messiah, one who carried the faith and word in his beliefs. He grew up in poverty, and used music as an escape from the daily life consisting of very little food, and many times no shoes on his feet. Eventually, his love for music would bring him to the top, and he would be crowned “King” or “Father” of the newly formed music genre “Reggae”. With such a strong faith in the religion of Rastafari, many of Bob’s songs were based on religious beliefs. Marley also had a political agenda within his music in which he would sing for peace and unity in “The Fatherland” that he and many of the Rastafarian community believed to be Africa. I’ve always loved Bob Marley’s music and the Marley documentary on Netflix made me want to look into what happened to Marley’s extensive family that was interviewed for the documentary.
In 1977, Marley was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer spread rapidly, and eventually overtook his whole body. Bob continued to tour with the band. Even the cancer that was overtaking his body could not convince Bob Marley to write a will. Marley’s Rastafarian faith prohibited a belief in death. Creating a last will and testament wasn’t an option. Marley’s concern for his wife and children drove him to ask his attorney about the consequences of dying without a will. He was told, “everything’s going to be all right.”
Their Love of Money
Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. After Bob died in May 1981, legal battles and family feuds began that would last for years. Under Jamaican law, Marley’s widow, Rita, was entitled to 10% of her husband’s $30 million estate and held a life estate in another 45%. Marley’s 11 children (4 by his wife and 8 by other women) were entitled to equal shares in the other 45% as well as a remainder interest in Rita’s life estate. Simple, right? Predictably, this was wasn’t what happened. From the start, personal relationships, lawyers, and accountants interfered with this process. The family was immediately concerned after learning the absence of a will meant they had no rights to Bob’s name and royalties. Eventually, Rita borrowed money and sued the estate. Millions of dollars later, she was rewarded with the decision that the family was entitled to Marley’s name and royalties.
As far as family relationships, Marley’s widow and his mother, Cedella Booker, went their separate ways. The two have later reconciled. Outside of the family, Marley’s long-term band mate, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, wanted royalties from his time with Bob as a Wailer. It seemed like there were so many people who wanted to claim a piece of Marley’s estate, but it could also be said that Bob was a big part of many people’s lives, and their claims later just showed his influence.
In 1986 the estate administrator and trust company sued Marley’s attorney and accountant. Mutual Security accused Marley’s advisors (and Rita) of moving estate assets and royalties into their own bank accounts through international corporations. Rita was accused of forging Marley’s signature on documents that may have transferred some of his interests to her before he died, excluding them from the estate.
His message is what he also left but they didn’t listen
In an interview, Bob once said when asked if he was rich, “What do you mean by rich? Possession rich? Nah I’m not rich, I’m rich with life.”
Despite his lack of interest in commercial success, after his death, Bob Marley clothing and accessories skyrocketed in sales all over the world. His songs are continually featured in films and commercials. Marley earns around $10 million a year even after being dead for over 30 years. His music catalog is worth about $100 million. Bob left behind a legacy of love, good vibes, and humanity and peace to all mankind. I cannot help but think if the people that were so close to him would have taken his advice and wouldn’t let money interfere with family and friends, they would have saved millions in legal fees and lawyers.
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