What Happened To Bob Marley's Wife?

A force of nature, Rita Marley was a true match for reggae legend Bob Marley. Known for surviving a complicated relationship with Bob — as well as a gunshot wound to the head during a failed attack on the couple — her life has been every bit as remarkable as her late husband's.

Rita met Bob at the age of just 19 while working as a nurse in Kingston, Jamaica. Ambitious and passionate about music, she asked Bob to help her launch a musical career of her own — and the famous singer obliged. After introducing her to producer Coxsone Dodd, he later helped to manage her singing group, the Soulettes. Rita's talent for music was obvious, and she helped Bob write two of his tracks, "Nice Time" and "Stir it Up." Before long, the pair fell in love, and they married in 1966. Although the couple had a messy relationship — Bob had many affairs and sired multiple children with other people during the marriage — Rita remained intensely devoted to her husband.

Following her husband's death, the energetic young woman didn't wither away as a widow, instead going on to become enormously wealthy and reaching new heights in her own singing career. In addition to her music, her commitment to philanthropy has changed many lives around the world.

Rita Marley's hit records

While Bob Marley was alive, Rita Marley formed part of the I-Threes, a three-woman reggae group that sometimes provided backing vocals for Bob. After his death, she went on to become a successful solo artist as well. Her best-known album, "Who Feels It Knows It," was released in 1981, the year Bob died. Although the album did pretty well, The Washington Post reported that Rita wound up canceling her U.S. tour, struggling to cope with her responsibilities during a very difficult time in her life. Following a massive legal battle over the Marley estate, Rita vanished for a time, but she began recording again in the late '80s.

She has since released many more albums, including an album of covers of Bob Marley's songs. Her most respected album, "We Must Carry On" was even nominated for a Grammy. The Rita Marley Foundation describes her musical output as a mix of jazz, blues, soul, R&B, and soca, and reaffirms her commitment to spreading positive messages through song — just like her late husband. Music, for Rita, has also remained a family business, and she has helped her children see success with Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers (four members are Bob's children).

Selling the Bob Marley Brand

According to Rolling Stone, following Bob Marley's death, Rita Marley was able to turn $250,000 from the singer's estate into a business worth over $20 million a year. Her success at selling Bob Marley merch and records was not without its controversies, however. Rita was awarded the Marley estate after Bob made no will, causing conflict with the other members of the Wailers who wanted their share.

Rita told the Evening Standard, "Bob asked his lawyer what would happen if he didn't make a will and she said: 'Your wife and children will be okay.' Which was good enough for him." As a result, she spent years fighting various lawsuits, even though she claims to have freely given away as much as $1 million to the Wailers. During the protracted legal battle, unreleased Bob Marley records were blocked, and revelations emerged that Rita had been made to sign a fake will. Finally, the estate passed into government hands before being handed back to the family in 1991.

Once Rita regained control of the estate, she and Bob's oldest daughter Cedella, created a multi-million dollar business that includes a Bob Marley museum. They also sell everything from typical music merchandise to Bob Marley brand cannabis and mushrooms.

The Rita Marley Foundation

Since earning her enormous wealth, Rita Marley has not sat idle. Her greatest legacy of all has been her commitment to philanthropy across the globe. Much of her charity work has been carried out in Ghana, and she was even awarded honorary Ghanaian citizenship in recognition of her efforts.

Rita's work has included everything from supporting Methodist schools in the country to providing food and supplies to impoverished communities. Although she already had six biological children, she also adopted 35 Ethiopian children as part of her charitable mission. She has received countless awards — both in Jamaica and abroad — in recognition of her projects.

In 2000, Rita created the Rita Marley Foundation with a mission to "alleviate poverty and champion female empowerment in Jamaica and Ghana." In 2023, the Foundation launched $4,000,000 worth of scholarships for women seeking university education. According to Billboard, the scheme was announced as part of Marley's 75th birthday celebrations, which included a livestream party and tribute concert.