By BENJAMIN NJOKU & ANOZIE EGOLE
Legendary actor, Justus Esiri, died suddenly Tuesday night, throwing the entertainment industry into mourning. He was 71 years. His death was preceded by the death of Lugard Onoyemu and songstress Goldie Harvey.
Esiri, 71, reportedly died of complications resulting from diabetes at an undisclosed hospital in Lagos.
The president of Actors Guild of Nigeria, AGN, Miss Ibinabo Fiberesima confirmed the death of Esiri in a statement she made available to Vanguard.
Ibinabo said: “We regret to announce the passing away of our member and veteran actor, Justus Esiri who died last night (Tuesday). He was said to have died of complications resulting from diabetes at a hospital in Lagos.”
“Declared as one of the strong men of the African film industry, Justus Esiri is widely known for his role in the now rested popular TV series, The Village Headmaster. We commiserate with the family and pray that God gives us the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.”
Also, announcing Esiri’s death online, one of his sons, popular pop singer, Sidney ‘Dr SID’ Esiri put up a photo of the veteran actor on his Twitter avatar and updated his bio as ‘RIP Dad.‘
Meanwhile, reacting to his death, former president of AGN, Mr. Ejike Aseigbu described Justus Esiri as “one of the best actors this country has ever produced .”
He said: “I’m pained because we have lost a legend. Last week, we lost the pioneer Secretary of Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) Lagos chapter, Lugard Onoyemu, who slumped and died during a football training at the National Stadium, Surulere. However, I found Justus Esiri quite inspiring, he was a loving man.”
On his own, Segun Arinze said “It is so bad. Uncle Justus Esiri was a figure and a great motivator to us. He left a legacy that needs to be sustained. Justus Esiri contributed his quota to the growth of the industry. It is a very bad news, we will miss him.”
Monalisa Chinda, who expressed shock when she heard of Esiri’s death said, “I don’t really know what to say at the moment. I am totally devastated.”
In a career that spanned decades, late Esiri, shot to lime light in the early 80’s through the popular TV series, Village Headmaster which aired on the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA. He also featured in many interesting Nollywood movies.
Two years ago, the late Esiri was one of the actors who ran to the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, Pastor Enoch Adeboye for a special prayer session against consistent deaths and sicknesses in the industry. The event was held at the church’s headquarters in Ebute-Metta, Lagos.
Born on 20 November 1942 in Oria-Abraka, Delta State, Esiri attended Urhobo College, Effurun, Warri in Delta State. He travelled to Germany to study engineering at the Maximillan University, Munich, Germany, 1964, where he developed an interest in theatre.
Esiri started his acting career in Germany. He was the only Nigerian male that performed on stage between 1968 and 1969. He also worked for Voice of Nigeria VON, German Service, as a translator.
The veteran actor won several laurels including THEMA Awards, NTA Honours Awards and AMAA awards. He was also the star actor in acclaimed productions such as “Wasted Years”, “Forever,” “The Prize”, “Six Demons”, “Corridors of Power”, “Last Knight”, “The Tyrant”, ‘The Investigation”, “The Ghost.” He was also reputed to have performed on more TV Network drama programmes than any Nigerian actor.
Assassin’s Practice, one of the most recent movies where he featured, was produced last year.
Late Esiri was last seen at a social function few weeks ago when a delegation of the Federal Government led by Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, met some major stakeholders in the Movie industry in Lagos, to inform them of the forthcoming centenary celebration and to seek the support of the Nollywood industry.
At the close-door parley, Esiri bubbled with life. He sat next to the Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, and did not show any sign of failing health.
Esiri’s death came two months after another veteran actor, Enebeli Elebuwa, a.k.a Andrew died in an Indian hospital and 18 months after legendary actor, Sam Loko Efe also took his bow.
In one of his last interviews, Esiri had lamented his deteriorating health condition, saying “I had to be rushed abroad. But since I came back, I’ve not been fine-it’s either one sickness or the other. But thank God things will get better.”
He was married to Omiete and had six children, one of them being Dentist-turned pop artiste, Dr SID.