The news of the death of Nollywood's veteran actor and broadcaster, Justus Esiri, filtered in the late hours of Tuesday and was initially dismissed as just another death hoax. However, after it was given credence by popular Nigerian Hip Hop artiste, Dr. Sid on Twitter, it became apparent that the Nigerian entertainment scene albeit, Nollywood, had just lost one of it best.
With the loss of four actors in the last one year, including Pete Eneh who died of untreated leg infection on November 15, 2012 at a private hospital in Enugu; Enebeli Elebuwa, who died of stroke on December 4, 2012 at a private hospital in New Delhi, India; and two fast-rising actors who died tragically this week, Esiri's death no doubt leaves an indelible mark in the hearts of his teeming fans.
A Member of the Order of Niger, he is most famous for his role as the Village Headmaster in the now rested NTA drama series of the same title. He succeeded veteran broadcasters Femi Robinson and Ted Mukoro, who were the second and first Village Headmasters of the Oja Village School, respectively.
Speaking about his role in Village Headmaster in an interview, he said, "Before I featured in that programme, I never liked Village Headmaster because of the pidgin English. I was already in Lagos. One day I was at home when someone came to tell me that I should come for an audition for Village Headmaster because according to him, they had tried a lot of people and decided I should come,"
He added, " At the National Theatre on that day, everyone was seated and they said they were going on location by the weekend. I had never seen the script before then, so I took it home and read it through. The location was in Badagry. On that day, everyone including Late Elsie Olusola, Kabiyesi Funsho Adeolu, Joe Layode, Ibidun Allison, Kabiyesi Wole Amele, everybody sat down watching because I had not worked with them before. To my surprise, by the time I finished that sequence, they were all clapping."
During his life time, the late actor starred in a number of soap operas, consistently playing the role of a father and as a 'don' in countless Nollywood films.
Proud of his roots as an Urhobo man, Esiri was born in November 1942 in Oria, Abraka, Delta State. He studied at Catholic Secondary School in Warri in 1948 before proceeding to Maximillan University in Munich, German in 1964.
He also attended Prof. Weners Institute of Engineering, West Berlin, 1967 and the Ahrens School of Performing Arts in 1968.
He made a detour into motion picture production in the same year as a staff of the Schiller Theatre, Berlin, Germany, where he stayed till 1976. It is worthy of note that he choreographed the Modern Dress exhibition during the 1977 FESTAC held in Lagos.
At some point, he worked as News translator and Newscaster with the Voice of Nigeria (German Service).
His turning point came while he was performing on stage in Germany. A delegation from Nigeria invited him to perform in back home in a government sponsored program. Upon his arrival to his home land, Nigeria, he never went back to Europe.
Esiri, who spoke German fluently and dumped his engineering degree for acting, would have been 71 this year. He was a recipient of THEMA Awards, NTA Honours Awards and AMAA Awards, amongst many others. As a widely travelled thespian, he was won accolades home and abroad for his talent, hard-work and consistency.
A lover of fine things, he was an avid golfer and together with his Kalabari wife. Omiete, raised six children, including Marvin Records artiste, Dr. Sid, who just like his late father, dumped his dental surgery degree to pursue a career in music.
"I just called him and told him both the negative and positive aspects of the entertainment industry and he has to be focused. I scolded but gave him my blessing and he picked up, "Esiri once said of his son's career choice.
A brilliant orator, one of his famous quotes on his art and Nollywood goes thus,
"One thing I am happy with is that people appreciate what I have done. We are at a stage where we should make technology part and parcel of what we produce. The real issue is that some of the problems we have are either technology driven or human-based. First, we must have good people trained to handle the best of equipment that the white man churns out every year. If you use some equipment today, the following year, new ones would come out. So, we must train our people properly, meaning that we must get the right training institutes and not just the ones that want to make money."
Although details of his death remains sketchy, sources say he had been secretly nursing an age-related ailment for a while.