According to the Jamaica Observer, Wailer died Tuesday, March 2nd in Kingston, Jamaica. No cause of death was given, but Wailer had been in and out of the hospital since suffering a stroke last year.
Wailer was born Neville Livingston on April 10th, 1947. As a child living in Jamaica’s St. Ann Parish, he befriended Bob Marley. The boys grew even closer when, following the death of Marley’s father in 1955, Marley’s mother moved in with Livingston’s father.
In 1963, Livingston and Marley, along with their friend Peter Tosh, moved to Kingston and formed a reggae group called The Wailing Wailers (later shortened to The Wailers). The trio saw almost immediate success, topping the Jamaican charts the following year with their debut single, “Simmer Down”.
Livingston, who eventually adopted the name Bunny Wailer, is credited for providing the harmonies on many of The Wailers’ songs, and can be heard on “Dreamland”, “Riding High”, “Brain Washing”, “Keep On Moving”, “Reincarnated Souls”, and “Hallelujah Time”, among other recordings..
However, as Marley became increasingly popular as the group’s frontman, Wailer saw his role in The Wailers diminish. After refusing to participate in a tour of freak clubs in the US, stating it went against his Rastafari principles, Wailer eventually left The Wailers in 1973.
Wailer later found success as a solo artist with the release of Blackheart Man in 1976. He also teamed with fellow reggae legends Sly and Robbie for Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers, in which he reimagined The Wailers music in the style of roots reggae and dancehall.
In the 1990s, Livingston thrice won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album. His first victory came in 1991 for Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley. He captured the award again in 1995 for Crucial! Roots Classics, and a third time in 1997 for Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley’s 50th Anniversary. He was also featured on Toots and the Maytals’ Grammy Award-winning album True Love in 2004.
In October 2017, Livingston was awarded the Order of Merit by the Jamaican government, the nation’s fourth-highest honour.