Bob Marley, 36, reggae music's best-known and most talented spokesman, died of lung cancer and a brain tumor yesterday morning in a Miami hospital after seven months of intensive chemotherapy in the United States and West Germany.

Spokeswoman Karen Buchsbaum of Cedars of Lebanon Hospital confirmed the death and said that Marley, who had previously received treatment from cancer specialists there, flew back to Miami from West Germany last Thursday. Rumors of Marley's illness had been circulating for several months, but denied repeatedly by his recording label, Island Records. s

"Marley was the greatest artist I have ever worked with," said Don Taylor, his former manager, who was at the singer's bedside when he died. "I believed in him as a man, as a peformer. You don't get prepared for a thing like this. There's no way to prepare for it."

"It's like the death of a statesman, more than that of an entertainer," said Rolling Stone magazine's Fred Schruers, who accompanied Marley on last summer's tour of Spain and France. "We've been prepared for this death, but it still hurts a lot.

"The shame of it is that he was in his prime. In Europe, he was loved and understood, which I think meant more to him than being an international commercial success. He was the most deeply spiritual man I ever met, yet he was never sanctimonious."

Marley's wife, Rita, has arranged for the body to be displayed at his Miami home for two days, then returned to Jamaica for funeral services. "Rita will be calling the shots now," said Taylor. "He was very coherent when he died, very much there. He just slipped away.

"I guess the only way to describe him that people might understand is that he was the Elvis Presley of reggae."

Bob Marley and the Wailers, originally including Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingstone, both now stars themselves, recorded their first single, "One Cup of Coffee," in 1962. They have released a dozen albums since Chris Blackwell signed them in 1970 to his Island Records, Jamaica's seminal prestigious recording company. Marley toured extensively in the U.S., Europe and Africa, but despite his strong cult following, he was never able to produce a commercial hit in the United States. Instead, his best-known song was "I Shot the Sheriff," a hit for Eric Clapton.