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Bunny Wailer, founding member of The Wailers dies, aged 73

Bunny Wailer
(Image credit: Michael Bunel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Bunny Wailer, founding member of The Wailers, and the last surviving original member of the band has passed away aged 73. While no cause of death has been announced, Wailer had spent significant time in hospital since suffering a stroke in July 2020.

Bunny (real name Neville Livingston) was a childhood friend of Bob Marley, having met as toddlers. Together with guitarist Peter Tosh, the trio would go on to form the core of The Wailers, bringing their brand of reggae to a global audience.

The news of his death was confirmed by his manager, Maxine Stowe to the Jamaica Observer, and Jamaican Prime Minister, Andrew Holness paid tribute, calling Bunny’s death “a great loss for Jamaican music”.

Wailer met Bob Marley as a toddler, and started The Wailers as a vocal ska group in 1963. After scoring a Jamaican hit with Simmer Down, and the release of their debut album The Wailing Wailers in 1965, the band had an enforced hiatus due to Bob Marley’s relocation to the US, and Wailer’s conviction and subsequent 14-month jail sentence for cannabis possession in 1967.     

When the band reunited, their sound - aided by Lee “Scratch” Perry -  moved away from the more upbeat ska style, settling on the slower, emerging reggae grooves. Fifth album, Catch a Fire (the band’s first for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records) made Bob Marley and The Wailers household names, while follow-up Burnin’ capitalised on its success with Get Up, Stand Up and I Shot The Sheriff, which would also provide Eric Clapton with his first No.1 single a year later.

Burnin’ was the final album to feature the classic Marley/Tosh/Wailer line-up with Tosh and Wailer leaving the band in 1974 due to their refusal to play a’ US tour of ‘freak clubs’, believing it to go-against their Rastafarian beliefs. Wailer embarked on a solo career with debut album Blackheart Man, containing one of his best-known solo songs, Dreamland.

He continued to release albums up to 2018’s Dub Fi Dub, as Bunny Wailer and Wailing Souls, while he regularly revisited his time with The Wailers as well as paying tribute to Bob Marley. 

Bunny Wailer’s contribution to reggae was recognised by being awarded with Grammys for Best Reggae Album on three occasions: 1991 (Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley) 1995's Crucial! Roots Classics, and the 1997's all-star Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley's 50th Anniversary.