Bunny Wailer, last surviving founding member of reggae group The Wailers, dead at 73

Bunny Wailer, a reggae luminary who was the last surviving founding member of the legendary group The Wailers, died on Tuesday in his native Jamaica. He was 73.

Wailer formed group in the 1960s with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh

Jamaican reggae singer, songwriter and original member of The Wailers, Bunny Wailer, seen here circa 1975, died Tuesday at 73. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Bunny Wailer, a reggae luminary who was the last surviving founding member of the legendary group The Wailers, died on Tuesday in his native Jamaica. He was 73.

Wailer, a baritone singer whose birth name was Neville Livingston, was also known as Jah B. He formed The Wailers in 1963 with late superstars Bob Marley and Peter Tosh when they lived in a slum in the capital of Kingston. They catapulted to international fame with the album, Catch a Fire and also helped popularize Rastafarian culture among better-off Jamaicans starting in the 1970s.

"Jah-B was a vanguard, always pushing the boundaries of expression, whether in song, in style or in spoken word," said Brian Paul Welsh, manager for the reggae musician known as Blvk H3ro. "There was and can only ever be one Neville Livingston."

Credited with popularizing reggae music, the Wailers toured the world and had several hit songs in the ska and rocksteady styles, including Simmer DownLonesome Feeling, and Thank You Lord.

Along with Tosh, Livingston eventually left the group to became a solo artist, while Marley began touring with new band members as Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Wailer performs at the One Love concert to celebrate Bob Marley's 60th birthday, in Kingston, Jamaica, on Feb. 6, 2005. (Collin Reid/The Associated Press)

Received Jamaica's highest honours

Wailer recorded 10 albums, winning Grammys for Best Reggae Album for Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley in 1991, Crucial! Roots Classic in 1995, and a tribute to Marley in 1997. As a solo artist, his hit songs included Cool Runnings and Bald Head Jesus.

He received several of Jamaica's highest honours, including the Order of Merit and the Order of Jamaica.

Wailer died at Andrews Memorial Hospital in the Jamaican parish of St. Andrew of complications from a stroke in July, manager Maxine Stowe told The Associated Press.

His death was mourned worldwide as people shared music, memories and pictures of the renowned artist.

"The passing of Bunny Wailer, the last of the original Wailers, brings to a close the most vibrant period of Jamaica's musical experience," wrote Jamaica politician Peter Phillips in a Facebook post. "Bunny was a good, conscious Jamaican brethren."

Jamaica's Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, also paid tribute to Wailer, calling him "a respected elder statesman of the Jamaican music scene," in a series of tweets.

"This is a great loss for Jamaica and for Reggae, undoubtedly Bunny Wailer will always be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica's culture," he wrote.

Singer, songwriter, farmer

While Wailer toured the world, he was more at home in Jamaica's mountains and he enjoyed farming while writing and recording songs on his label, Solomonic.

"I think I love the country actually a little bit more than the city," Wailer told The Associated Press in 1989. "It has more to do with life, health and strength. The city takes that away sometimes. The country is good for meditation. It has fresh food and fresh atmosphere — that keeps you going."

A year before, in 1988, he had chartered a jet and flew to Jamaica with food to help those affected by Hurricane Gilbert.

"Sometimes people pay less attention to those things (food), but they turn out to be the most important things. I am a farmer," he told the AP.

He was the third and last remaining founding Wailer. Marley died in 1981 of a brain tumour at 36 years old and Tosh was fatally shot in Jamaica in 1987 at 42 years old.


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Bunny was the last surviving member of the Wailers. He was, in fact, the last surviving founding member of the group.
    Mar 02, 2021 7:30 PM ET
  • An earlier version of this story erroneously identified Brian Paul Welsh as reggae musician Blvk H3ro. In fact, he is the manager of Blvk H3ro.
    Mar 04, 2021 10:35 AM ET

With files from Reuters