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Bunny Wailer, Reggae Icon And Last Surviving Member Of ‘The Wailers’, Dies At 73

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Bunny Wailer, reggae legend who co-founded The Wailers music group with Bob Marley in the 1960s, has died on Tuesday in Kingston, Jamaica at 73.

His manager, Maxine Stowe, confirmed that Wailer died on Tuesday at Medical Associates Hospital in Kingston. No cause of death was given, but Wailer had been in and out of the hospital since suffering his second stroke, in 2020.

He was the last surviving original member of the Wailers after Marley died of cancer in 1981, and Peter Tosh was murdered in 1987.

Bunny Wailer, right, with Bob Marley and the Wailers in London, 1973. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Bunny Wailer, right, with Bob Marley and the Wailers in London, 1973. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Born Neville Livingston in 1947 in Kingston, he and Marley became friends as toddlers, and formed the Wailers in 1963, which settled into a core trio of the pair alongside Peter Tosh.

They released their debut album, The Wailing Wailers, in 1965 (which included their Jamaican chart-topper Simmer Down), before going on hiatus when Marley moved to Delaware in the US.

Wailer was convicted for marijuana possession in 1967, ​and served a 14 month sentence. They reconvened after Marley’s return and Wailer’s release, teaming with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry and his group the Upsetters, and began recording tracks in the new, slower reggae style that had emerged out of ska.

Wailer penned a number of the group’s songs, including what would become his signature song, Dreamland.

By the early 70s, the Wailers had added new members and signed to Island Records, which – aided by the popularity of other new reggae stars such as Jimmy Cliff – helped bring them to international audiences. They had a global breakthrough with fifth album Catch a Fire (1973) and its follow-up, Burnin’, which featured what would become one of Marley’s signature songs, I Shot the Sheriff.

The original trio split in 1974, when Wailer left alongside Tosh. He began a solo career, beginning with 1976’s acclaimed Blackheart Man, and maintained a steady release schedule for 40 years. He won the Grammy award for best reggae album three times, in 1991, 1995, and 1997.

In 2017, he was awarded Jamaica’s Order of Merit — the country’s fourth highest honor.

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