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Reggae great Bunny Wailer dead at 73

No cause of death was given but the culture ministry said Wailer - his real name was Neville Livingstone - had been hospitalised since December.

A screengrab of Bunny Wailer doing an interview. Picture: BBC Radio 1Xtra/YouTube

KINGSTON - Reggae legend Bunny Wailer, who co-founded The Wailers with Bob Marley in the 1960s, died Tuesday in Kingston at the age of 73, the Jamaican government said.

No cause of death was given but the culture ministry said Wailer - his real name was Neville Livingstone - had been hospitalised since December.

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

Wailer, who was a childhood friend of Marley, won three Grammys over the course of his career and in 2017 he was awarded Jamaica's Order of Merit - the country's fourth highest honour.

"We remain grateful for the role that Bunny Wailer played in the development and popularity of Reggae music across the world," Culture Minister Olivia Grange said in a statement.

"We remember with great pride how Bunny, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, took Reggae music to the four corners of the earth," she added.

Marley and Tosh acted as The Wailers’ primary singers and songwriters but Livingstone played a key role in providing harmonies to the trio's songs, according to Rolling Stone magazine.

"The Wailers are responsible for the Wailers sound. Bob, Peter, and myself: We are totally responsible for the Wailers sound, and what the Wailers brought to the world, and left as a legacy," Wailer told Afropop in 2016.

The band's debut album on a major label, Catch a Fire, released in 1973, helped propel the group to international fame.

At one point that record was ranked 126th on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums list.

The band's biggest hits include Simmer Down and One Love.

After leaving the band in 1974, Wailer went on to enjoy a prolific solo career as a writer, producer and singer of what is perhaps Jamaica's best known export.

He drew much praise for his album Blackheart Man, which included the song Burning Down Sentence, which drew on Wailer's experience doing a one-year prison sentence for marijuana possession.

"The tracks that were done in Blackheart Man were very symbolic and significant to this whole development of reggae music," Wailer told Reggaeville in 2017.

"I really consider Blackheart Man to be one of those albums that the universal reggae world should be focused on," Wailer said.

Wailer won the Grammy for best Reggae album three times in the 1990s.

Tributes to Wailer poured in Tuesday.

"In my view, Bunny Wailer was a more potent musician than even Bob Marley," said Karyl Walker, a veteran Jamaican entertainment journalist. "He played instruments, more than one, and he wrote very good songs."

Walker noted that the wildly popular line dance song Electric Boogie from 1983 was written by Wailer.

"Now all the Wailers are dead and it is incumbent on the younger Jamaican entertainers to raise the bar and carry on this rich legacy," Walker told AFP.

"We have lost an icon," added Herbie Harris, a keyboard player and vocalist who now leads The ATF band.

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