In honour of the 70th birthday anniversary of the Nigerian film icon, Pete Edochie, we take a look at his landmark achievements, recognitions and why he is regarded as one of Africa’s greatest actors.
An actor’s actor, Pete Edochie shot into prominence in 1987 when he played the lead role of Okonkwo in an NTA adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s bestselling novel, Things Fall Apart. He has since featured in over 200 Nollywood movies and has won many national and international awards.
Edochie was born on March 7,1947 in Enugu State. His father worked in the Nigerian Railways. His parents soon moved to Kaduna where he spent a greater part of his childhood and teenage years.
He had his primary education at Saint Patrick’s and Saint James Primary School, Zaria in Kaduna State and later proceeded to Saint John’s Secondary School, Kaduna in 1960. He left the school in 1964 to join his father in the Railways.
He fled the northern Nigerian region in 1966 shortly before the civil war broke out in 1967.
As a young man, three professions fascinated him: journalism, broadcasting and acting. He would later reveal that he has managed to practice all three.
At 20, he began his career in radio broadcasting at the Eastern Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He joined the organisation same day as his wife, Josephine Edochie nee (Obiekwe), now a lawyer.
By 1980, he was formally trained at the British Broadcasting Corporation as a broadcaster, and then started off as a junior programmes assistant.
In 1987 he became the pioneer director of Anambra Broadcasting Service 3 FM Stereo. He retired as a broadcaster in 1988.
He quit the ABS because the government decided to politicise the affairs of the FM station. This resulted in the entire management being asked to move out, including him.
THINGS FALL APART
Prior to his retirement, he had featured in Things Fall Apart and had won an International Award. The BBC flew into Nigeria to interview him for his role in Things Fall Apart. He was 38 years of age when he took on the role.
The Zonal Director of NTA in Benin, G.C Ugwu (now late) recommended him to play the role. He was invited to the audition, which was held at the main auditorium of the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus. The moment he walked into the auditorium, the white woman who was invited to handle costuming and other things saw him and screamed, “if this man could act, that’s the man we want for the role,” he would later reveal.
According to Edochie, the crew said there was no point continuing with the audition; that the role was for him. It was the defining moment in his professional career.
Married with six children, two of his sons, Yul and Linc, are leading Nollywood actors. The veteran actor said to motivate each of his six children; he bought all of them cars upon graduating from the university. He said, “The minimum target for each of them was to graduate from higher institution; their reward upon graduation is a car. And where I come from, it is important to keep one’s word; I bought the car for each of them.”
The celebrated actor who has been married for over 45 years says he has never considered marrying another wife. He was quoted as saying, “I married early and have remained married ever since t hen. What am I looking for a second wife for? I married a woman who gave me six children, what could I possibly be looking for in another woman that I didn’t get from this woman? There is no reason for it.”
KIDNAP, DEATH RUMOUR
Edochie was kidnapped on the Afor-Nkpor road, near Onitsha, Anambra State in August 2009. The actor had just left his home in Enugu to attend an event in Onitsha when his car was ambushed.
He was freed the following day after an undisclosed ransom was paid. According to some reports, the kidnappers demanded N10 million as ransom. The actor, who started growing his famous beards when he was 23, was embroiled in a controversy in 2016 over an alleged love son he had in Kenya out of wedlock.
Reacting to the allegations, he said, “I have never been to Kenya before. Where did I meet his mother? I am not a wayward person. Somebody brought the story from the Internet and showed it to me.”
Edochie, who had never played a romantic role in a movie, broke the jinx by kissing popular Ghanaian actress, Juliet Ibrahim, who is his love interest in a yet-to-be-released Nollywood flick, Kenny’s Divas.
In June 2016, he was rumoured dead. The report claimed that the actor died in his sleep. His son, Yul once more debunked the report.
AWARDS / RECOGNITIONS
In 2014, he was honoured with the AMAA Industry Merit Award for his contribution towards the growth of the film sector in Africa. He was presented with a brand new Hyundai SUV car, which was received, on his behalf by his son, Yul. Some of his notable films include, Rituals, ‘Oracle,’ ‘Igodo,’ and ‘Evil Men’. A member of the Order of Niger, he became a pioneer inductee into the moviemakers’ Hall of Fame in 2000.
He also bagged the City People Entertainment Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.