24 February 2013

Nigeria: Artistes' Deaths - One Death Too Many

A condolence message to Friends and Family of Susan "Goldie" Harvey from Darey and the entire cast and crew of the Love Like A Movie Project. ( Resource: R.I.P. Goldie )

Another day, another sad story; Nollywood aficionados were again thrown into mourning following news of the demise of veteran actor Justus Esiri.

Esiri is arguably one of Nigeria's most celebrated artistes, especially with his role as the "Village Headmaster" in the popular television drama series of the 70s.

Well loved and renowned, Esiri is described by President Goodluck as "an epitome of commitment, excellence and creativity".

He died on Feb. 18, after a battle with an undisclosed ailment, according to reports.

Miss Ibinabo Fiberesima, the President of the Actors' Guild of Nigeria (AGN) describes Esiri as a 'father,' who mentored her in the Nollywood industry.

More disturbing than his death, however, is a comment by the AGN Abuja chapter Chairman, Mr Agility Onwurah.

Onwurah describes Esiri's death as one death too many, adding that it was the latest of four deaths within a week in the entertainment industry.

Apart from Esiri, Abuja-based actor Collins Ifeanyi died on February 15; Lugard Onoyemu, Pioneer member of Lagos State chapter of AGN and entertainer Goldie Harvey, both died on February 14.

"This is a big blow to the Nigerian movie industry, it is getting too bad and I am short of words."

Ibi Andrew, National Vice President of the Guild, North Central Zone, says that Esiri's death is a great disaster and a bad signal in Nollywood.

"It is a bad omen; I am surprised at the sudden death of this great actor. The death of actors has been on the rise since we took over this administration."

According to Andrew, the industry is trying to contend with the barrage of bad news coming from the entertainment industry, called Nollywood by stakeholders.

He advised members of the industry to seek "the face of God and his divine intervention in the affairs of the industry".

Late last year, Nigerian actress and singer, Stella Damasus went on a tirade against the Nigerian entertainment industry.

She describes the attitude of her colleagues as nonchalant with regard to the welfare and untimely death on December 5, 2012 of another Nollywood great, Enebeli Elebuwa.

Elebuwa had been bedridden for two years due to a stroke caused by uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes mellitus, which also affected his brain.

The actor who made his début in Sanya Dosunmu's 1974 celluloid film, Dinner with the Devil, could not afford treatment and had to be sponsored to India by the Delta State Government.

Damasus describes the attitude of some of her colleagues as 'chameleonic' because of the way they used Elebuwa's ailment to further their careers.

"I'm very angry because the people in my industry are hypocrites. Elebuwa was ill for a long time in Lagos and many actors turned it into a fanfare.

"People would go and visit him and take pictures with him, post it on Twitter, on Facebook, on their blogs; they used it to make people feel that they are philanthropists but nobody lifted a finger to take care of him or help his family.

"Nobody cares about the elderly people in the industry. We know how to celebrate people when they die, but when they are alive, what do we do for them, especially the sick ones?"

She says that even though Elebuwa's illness was publicised by the media, many people who stood by and did nothing claimed to be shocked at his death.

The absence of Nollywood stars and members of the AGN at the airport to receive the body of Elebuwa, lends credence to Damasus' claims.

The year 2012 saw the end of several actors, notably Akin Ogungbe, Brown Atienwen, Pete Eneh, Yoruba comic Dento, James Iroha a.k.a. Gringory, Lekan Lekinson, David Ihezie, among others.

While these could be considered as veterans, it could be argued that with better care, they could have lived to contribute more to the industry.

Other noteworthy 2012 deaths are those of Bisi Komolafe and Pat Edeh, who, unlike the veterans, were below the age of 30.

Observers have noted that a recurring issue with such deaths is the mystery and misinformation that surrounds them.

What are people to believe? Celebrities are entitled to their privacy but at the same time their status as superstars requires a level of public responsibility.

A psychology professor at the University of Calgary, Susan Boon did a study on the attachment of fans to their celebrity idols.

She found that 60 per cent of participants questioned on the effect of celebrities on their lifestyles admitted that a celebrity had influenced their attitudes and personal values, including their work ethic and views on morality.

Boon says that "It's often hard to realise how much anyone influences us".

But teens are not the only ones influenced, according to Jennifer Gibson of BrainBlogger who published an analysis on some of the research on celebrity worship.

She notes, "Idolising or admiring someone for their accomplishments, and then pushing yourself to excel in the same way are positive elements.

"But, are we worshiping celebrities for the sake of being famous, or are we worshiping true heroes?

"If we confuse heroes and celebrities, we deprive ourselves of real role models."

According to Dr Justin Ihejieto of St. James Hospital, Olodi Apapa, the avalanche of deaths in the industry is multifaceted.

"It is not really a behavioural lifestyle problem, although that is a factor. Excessive alcohol intake, irregular eating pattern, weight gain, lack of exercise, lack of check-ups and so on may be responsible.

He says that the accumulation of this lifestyle could cause health hazards which can be managed if detected early.

He notes, however, that most celebrities are too busy going from 'here to there' in order to stay in business, but end up promoting their lifestyles and neglecting their health.

Gbemisola Idris, a single mother of two teens, says that beyond influence and fashion, celebrities have the power to do good.

"People are watching and following the examples they set through their life-styles.'

Other observers are equally worried and note that artistes should be their brother's keepers. They suggest the establishment of an endowment fund to take care of the veterans most of who are not as financially endowed as the young ones.

The society should also assist these veterans who have contributed immensely to making people happy, but sadly enough, are living in destitution and abject poverty.


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