Bob Marley's son alleges book twists his story

by Audra D.S. Burch

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

17 February 2010


MIAMI — A son of Bob Marley has written his memoir, an arresting narrative about life as the exiled child of a musical and social icon.

But the most curious chapter is not in the book: Ky-Mani Marley, a Grammy-nominated reggae artist raised in Miami, says the book that bears his name and words offers a twisted view of his family — and he’s even considering suing the publisher.

Publisher Farrah Gray says he may file his own lawsuit against the Marley estate and claims Ky-Mani was intimidated by relatives who, he says, objected to the book’s contents and threatened to cut Ky-Mani out of the late musical legend’s financial orbit.

“This is his story, these are his words,” Gray says.

This war of words and the pesky possibilities of a courtroom showdown stand in startling contrast to Bob Marley’s legacy of peace and goodwill.

“Dear Dad: Where’s the Family In Our Family, Today?” tells the story of an outcast son, born out of wedlock, who was abandoned financially by the Marley family after his father’s death. Forced to grow up in a poverty-subsumed corner of Miami, Ky-Mani still found a way to his own stardom.

Ky-Mani says he intended to share a story of redemption and healing and the bond of blood and a common name. Instead, he says the book has been distorted through unauthorized captions and changes to the cover and original title.

“I did not expect that Gray would be unprofessional and malicious in twisting my words or using things that were discussed in confidence to create controversy in an attempt to sell a book,” reads a statement from Ky-Mani, who was traveling in Jamaica when contacted by The Miami Herald.

A teaser on the bottom of the cover reads “The Story The Marley Family Apparently Doesn’t Want You To Know.” And before the title change, the working title was “Dear Dad: The Marley Son Who Persevered From the Streets To Prominence.”

Gray, an entrepreneur and best-selling author who released “Dear Dad” through his new publishing company, defends the memoir as truthful. And, in an unusual open letter in the book, he calls on the executors of the Marley estate to pay Ky-Mani his financial due and treat him as an equal among the 11 legitimate heirs.

Rita Marley, widow of Bob Marley, could not be reached for comment. Daughter Cedella Marley, CEO of Tuff Gong International, the studio and label that Bob Marley founded in 1965, declined two interview requests through a representative.

“I am an advocate for freedom of speech,” Gray said in a statement, “and being a newfound publisher, I feel it’s more important than ever to publish this book regardless of whether others are on a mission to squelch the event.”

Among the sordid claims detailed in the book: Rita disdained Ky-Mani, one of several children her husband fathered outside their marriage. And, she refused to help financially support Ky-Mani after Marley’s death when Ky-Mani was 5.

The Las Vegas-based Gray said he is now considering pursuing a claim of “tortious interference” — a civil action that could find the Marley estate liable for damages caused by its alleged threats to Marley’s son.

In an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper, Ky-Mani said he was “very hurt” and is considering taking legal action against Gray.

The backdrop to this dispute is Bob Marley’s iconic brand, built upon the Rastafarian’s enduring legacy of socially conscious songs and manifestos against war and poverty.

Marley’s popularity has grown generationally and globally since the singer died of cancer in 1981 in Miami without a will. He was 36. Since then, Marley has ranked on Forbes’ annual Top 13 Dead Celebrities list several times, most recently in 2007 with sales of $4 million.

Now, the estate has brought in a private equity firm to expand brand merchandising and protect the trademark, which may generate as much as $600 million a year in sales of unlicensed goods, according to a Fortune article. The firm, Toronto-based Hilco Consumer Capital, estimates the estate is poised to earn up to $1 billion by 2012 through licensing deals that could place Bob Marley’s image on products ranging from beverages to video games to a restaurant chain.

Last year, Gray and Ky-Mani met through a mutual friend.

“You hear the last name and look at his father’s iconic status throughout the world,” Gray recalls. ‘You just don’t expect to hear the things that happened to him and how he pulled himself up by his bootstraps. I told him, ‘you have a book in you.’”

“Dear Dad” was released to coincide with what would have been Marley’s 65th birthday on Feb. 6., and chronicles Ky-Mani’s journey from Falmouth, a port town on Jamaica’s north coast, to the struggling Miami neighborhood of Liberty City. He went onto a successful career as an entertainer and philanthropist.

The book focuses on Ky-Mani’s close relationship with his mother, Anita Belnavis, a Jamaican table-tennis champion player who had an affair with Marley; Ky-Mani’s impoverished childhood; his time as a small-time crack dealer; and the mother and son’s eventual move to Kendall, Fla., to escape the ugliness of the inner-city.

“I woke up during my teenage years and discovered myself floundering, hustling, and selling weed and crack to survive — or maybe just to rebel. By that time, it was all the same to me,” reads the prologue.

The book also details Ky-Mani’s complicated relationship with his half brothers and sisters, some of whom enjoyed lavish lifestyles. It recounts the grandness of the hilltop Marley home in Falmouth, with three stories, a pool, a gym, a rehearsal room.

“My eyes were opening, and I was watching my family, lookin’ at my brothers Ziggy and Stevie, my sister Cedella, and everybody else,” reads Chapter 7. “Honestly, I’m watching them and they’re living like kings and queens. Like royalty. And they should have been. Their father had been crowned a king. But I was also the seed of this man, and I’m in a situation that’s not so pretty ... ‘If my father is this person who made so many millions, why am I living like this?’”

When he turned 18, Ky-Mani accepted a settlement from the family estate, according to the book, and later embarked on his own musical career. Now 33, he has released four albums and starred in several films.

Ky-Mani says that during the final edit, he spoke with his sister Cedella and later advised Gray that changes needed to be made. He has not said what changes he requested.

Gray offers his version of the story: Two days before the book was to go to press, he received a frantic phone call and follow-up e-mails from the mother of Ky-Mani’s daughter asking that publication be delayed.

“It seems that some in the family were infuriated by the idea that the truths of his story would become public, preferring instead that it remain in the family lock box,” Gray’s statement reads.

According to Gray, “there was the threat of further familial exile and financial reprisal in the form of severing a monthly stipend doled out by the estate.”

By the time “Dear Dad” hit the marketplace, Ky-Mani was crying foul and the Internet was abuzz with chatter.

“Gray apparently thought that by turning something that was written from the heart into something seemingly malicious was going to benefit him in some way,” Ky-Mani’s statement reads. “I did not mean to hurt anyone ... The book was only to tell my story, as I know it ... What I was led to believe while growing up.”

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