11/03/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
STANDING IN THE RED-GREEN-and-gold-themed office of his Los Angeles home, Roger Steffens gestures toward one of his countless Bob Marley posters. "Press on Bob's arm," he suggests with a grin. A slight push opens a secret door to three rooms containing Steffens's pride, joy and admitted obsession—the world's largest collection of Marley memorabilia. That's 9,000 records, 11,000 cassettes, 10,000 posters and flyers, innumerable hats, flags, bumper stickers, beads, postage stamps and trading cards. More than 1,000 T-shirts cram the crawl space under the garage. Says Steffens, without fear of argument: "There's nothing like this anywhere." Musician Bunny Wailer, Marley's friend and former band member, agrees. "This is like a reggae bible being put together," he says.
A deejay, writer and lecturer, Steffens, 55, has spent half his life as an apostle of the reggae legend, whom he met twice before Marley's 1981 death from cancer. (Marley issued Steffens his Rastafarian nickname, Ras RoJah.) The Brooklyn-born son of a typewriter salesman and a homemaker, Steffens heard Marley's first international album in 1973. "I didn't take it off the turntable for three weeks," he says. "This was music that meant something." A frequent voice-over actor who also had bit parts in Forrest Gump and The American President, Steffens went on to host an L.A. radio show and speak worldwide about Marley.
His archives are a magnet for fans, hundreds of whom have visited the home he shares with wife Mary, 53, a librarian, and children Kate, 18, and Devon Marley, 14. Steffens has turned down bids for the collection—including one from Marley's widow, Rita, and another from Japan for $1 million—though he may lend it out next year for a floating exhibition on the Queen Mary. For now, he plans to continue touring with his hit Marley lectures, which Marley's mother, Cedella Booker, has attended five times. "Every time I go," she says, "he always has new things to show me."