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An Obituary Of Bruno Iwuoha, The Late Bloomer Who Made His Mark On Nollywood

  “Bruno Iwuoha’s life and career show that there is no wrong time to chase your passion.”

In the early 2000s, Nigerians had slowly begun to switch from VHS to CD players, and the video clubs had been replaced with CD rentals. At the time, many Nigerian movies came with sequels, mainly for marketing and distribution purposes. My parents rented Nigerian movies every week, and I couldn’t object; I had no power over the remote control.

In 2003, I stumbled on a movie called World Apart. The movie starred Kenneth Okonkwo, Ini Edo, and Liz Benson. The plot, based on a love story between a prince and a peasant girl, was cliche in many ways, but one performance stood out. He was already 50 years old at the time, and his hair was grey, but he did a pretty good interpretation of his role as the peasant girl’s father. I would later find out that the role was played by a man named Bruno Iwuoha, a business-man-turned actor, who would go on to give commanding performances for nearly two decades.

Early Life

Bruno Iwuoha was born at Ehime Mbano in what would later be Imo State on October 6, 1952, eight years before Nigeria gained independence. At a young age, he had expressed his desire to become a Catholic priest, and attended the St. Peter Claver Minor Seminary, Okpala in Owerri, but his father objected to him living a celibate life, so he had to withdraw from the seminary.

Becoming An Actor “By Accident”

Iwuoha was a principal registered contractor with the National Fertiliser Company of Nigeria (NAFCON). At the time, his primary workstation was at Onne, Rivers State, though he lived at Aba in Abia State. He made his acting debut in 1998, appearing in the movie Lost Kingdom, a traditional Igbo film that starred Kanayo O. Kanayo, Pete Edochie, and the late actor Enebeli Elebuwa.

In a 2013 interview with People Monthly, Iwuoha revealed that he didn’t expect to make a foray into acting in that manner.

“I was called to come and showcase in one of the movies that were shot and directed at Aba by (the late) Ndubuisi Okoh”, said Iwuoha. They were looking for somebody who could act as an old man, someone with natural grey hair and not artificial, so someone gave them information about me and incidentally, one Mr. Christopher happened to know where I lived at Aba, so he brought the script and a letter of invitation stating that I was needed at Wilcox Memorial School at Aba, and that’s how I found myself in the industry”.

Iwuoha would go on to feature in over 500 movies, most of which were low-budget films that went straight to video, or later appeared on Africa Magic Epic. He usually played the role of a father figure, a clergyman, or a village chieftain. Some of his movies include Two Bad Boys (starring Osita Iheme and Chinedu Ikedezie), No Nonsense (starring Patience Ozorkwor, Muna Obiekwe, and Charles Okafor), Keeping Close (starring Chiege Alisigwe and Jennifer Nduka), Faces Of Love (starring the late Peter Bunor and a young Williams Uchemba) and Magic Cap (starring Osita Iheme and the late Sam Loco Efe), among others.

In 2005, Iwuoha appeared in Sins Of The Flesh, a movie directed by Tchidi Chikere, which also starred Chioma Chukwuka, Francis Duru, and Rita Edochie. The movie earned him an award for Best Supporting Actor at the 2007 edition of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAAs). In 2013, he launched the ST Bruno Support Foundation, an initiative which he set up with the aim of supporting unemployed youths and providing facilities geared towards capacity building.

 Iwuoha was not shy to comment on what he termed the “neglect of Nollywood actors” by the Actors’ Guild of Nigeria (AGN). In a 2012 interview with Modern Ghana, he suggested that a fund be launched to cater to ailing movie practitioners.

“It really pains me that many of us are losing our lives in active duty”, he noted. “My colleagues are wallowing in penury and no care or question is asked about their families’ welfare”.

In 2020, he appeared in Silent Prejudice, a 13-episode TV series directed by Chris Oge Kalu, which starred Clem Ohamaeze, Amaechi Muonagor, Monalisa Chinda, and Larry Koldsweat. The series, which aired on AIT, also featured appearances from two Nigerian politicians, Femi Fani-Kayode and Dino Melaye.

Failing Health And Death

In 2015, Iwuoha was involved in a violent robbery attack, which landed him in hospital. It was while he was receiving medical care that doctors disclosed to him that was suffering from diabetes. In an interview with Human Rights 101.1 FM in Abuja, he said his ailment needed urgent medical attention.

“I’ve gone to so many places”, he said at the time. “Finally, the thing (diabetes) claimed one of my eyes. As I look at you, I’m using only one eye. They call that glaucoma…and gradually, it’s affecting the other eye.”

After Iwuoha had talked about how he could no longer read scripts due to glaucoma, creative entrepreneur Morgan Oguejiofor reached out to him, sponsored his trip to the United States, and paid his medical bills.

In January 2021, AGN launched an appeal fund aimed at providing medical attention to ailing Nollywood actors. Iwuoha was listed as one of the beneficiaries of the fund.

On Saturday, April 10, 2021, Bruno Iwuoha died at the age of 68, after a prolonged battle with diabetes. He joins the list of Nollywood actors who have succumbed to terminal illnesses in the twilight of their careers: Peter Bunor struggled with ill health after suffering a stroke before dying in 2015, Muna Obiekwe died from a kidney disease in 2015, and Enebeli Elebuwa died shortly after suffering a stroke in 2012. In 2015, Nollywood actor Ernest Asuzu suffered a stroke, which left him bedridden until his death in  January 2021.

Final Respects

Across the country, colleagues and Nollywood enthusiasts expressed their sadness at the demise of Bruno Iwuoha.

“Just seeing that Bruno Iwuoha died. May his soul rest in peace”, Kemi Lala Akindoju stated in a tweet.

The Africa Movie Academy (AMA) also sent out a condolence message to Iwuoha’s family.

“African Cinema has lost a veteran…condolences go out to family, friends, fans, and loved ones. He will be greatly missed”, AMA wrote on its official Twitter account.

Kenneth Okonkwo, who co-starred with Iwuoha in World Apart, also paid tributes.

“He demonstrated a great sense of gentility, humility and respect in his relationship with colleagues. May his gentle soul rest in peace”, Okonkwo said in a heartfelt Instagram post.

Nigerian filmmaker, Benneth Nwankwo, director of short films like This Is My Story and Hustler, shared his thoughts on Iwuoha in a phone interview with Netng.

“Iwuoha is a legend”, said Nwankwo. “I do not think, sadly, he received the credits he deserved, even in death. We have lost yet another fantastic actor. We are definitely going to miss him because he represented a bundle of talent. In my childhood days, he often played the role of a priest in movies, and I even thought he was a Catholic priest off-screen. He was one of the amenable personalities in this industry; many film directors who worked with him will also tell you that.”

For someone who joined Nollywood in his late forties, Bruno Iwuoha clearly made an impression on everyone he worked with. His life and career show that there is no wrong time to chase your passion, and his death highlights the need for an increased sense of community in Nollywood: who knows if he would still be alive if the Actors’ Guild had rallied around for him much earlier. He owned the roles he played on screen, even at the risk of being typecast. He will be missed.

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