NORBERT AND GLORIA YOUNG ON THE DEPARTED STAGE MARSHAL
'How would I begin now to refer to Uncle Sam in the past tense because the last time I saw him, he was his vibrant, witty and boisterous self?
'His death shocked me beyond words and it is really painful for me because it is unbelievable that he is no more.
In fact, I still find it difficult to believe that Sam Loco Efe is lying cold and still in a morgue now. I am saddened by his sudden demise. This was a man, who had, in the course of his dexterity on stage become known as the stage marshal. It is unimaginable that he is gone forever.'
With these words, veteran actor, Nobert Young expressed his sense of loss on the late actor who died recently. Nobert Young recalled that prior to his physical contact with the late Sam Loco as an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan, he was already a huge fan of the deceased Thespian after Sam Loco had made himself a household name, through the popular drama series, Hotel De Jordan in Benin City, he played the character, Chief Okatabribri.
Nobert Young said Sam Loco lured him into the theatre, asserting that he was convinced he would go into the arts after watching Sam Loco perform in Langbodo during the FESTAC 77 show. 'He was one of the people that lured me into reading theatre arts as well as coming into acting,' he said.
By the time Nobert got into the University of Ibadan as a fresh man, Sam Loco Efe had graduated from the Theatre Arts Department. But they immediately struck a friendship in spite of their age disparity.
After graduation, Nobert came to Lagos and met the late actor again. According to him, not only did they act on the same set together on countless occasions, they also lived close to each other. While Sam Loco lived in Kombo Hotel, Nobert Young lived somewhere around Ajegunle.
Recalling some of the fond memories they both shared, Norbert Young told Daily Sun that while he was working in an advertising agency, he and the late actor had a habit of visiting the National Theatre after the close of work where they would sit with other friends to relieve the stress of the day. They would share jokes, play and go home together.
'We shared a lot of memorable times. He was very witty. I drew from his wealth of wisdom. Uncle Sam was a very likable man. If you were not being advised on life generally, you were being tutored on the job or sharing jokes. There was no dull moment with him,' he said.
Nobert recalled that Sam Loco was never a good eater. 'We were always begging him to eat. I knew he loved fish a lot and his okra or ogbono soup. He loved draw soup and his little portion of eba.' Nobert, who travelled frequently with the late Sam Loco, acted in a number of plays with the deceased. He said it was during the production of Morountodun in 1990 that they introduced Liz Benson to the theatre.
Nobert said the endless eulogies from all corners of the country for Sam Loco amounted to nothing now that the man was dead. He suggested that people should save their breath since they failed to honour the man when he was alive. 'I don't know whether to classify it as a Nigerian thing. We never recognise our own,' he lamented.
Nobert remembered that Pa Orlando Martins, who acted in many Western films with the late American president, Ronald Reagan died and was buried unsung in Nigeria.
But when President Reagan heard that his friend had died, he had to send flowers and condolences to Orlando Martin's family through the American Embassy in Nigeria. It was only then that the Nigerian government decided to give the deceased a post-humous award. He said he wasn't surprised that great men and women in different spheres of life were not recognised in the country but are honoured outside our shores.
Nobert said before the emergence of the home video, Uncle Sam was a wonderful stage performer and a well-grounded actor. He was comical as well as tragic on stage. He was everything a versatile actor could be.
He couldn't really make out how Sam Loco later transformed into the famous comedian that he became later. 'It is unfortunate that most people now remember him as comical,' he said. 'No, he was a great stage performer. He could play a despotic ruler or even a court jester. But you know, what a lot of people got to know and associate him with later in his acting career, was his comical roles in home videos.'
He philosophises that thought the late Sam Loco Efe might have physically gone away from this world, his memories and works would live forever.'Uncle Sam is not dead. He still lives in my heart. I not only lost a friend but a mentor and a big uncle,' he said. Nobert wasn't the only one mourning the veteran actor. His wife, Gloria, also a seasoned actress, was also in a mourning mood.
Gloria, who got the news of the late Sam Loco's death at about 2 pm that fateful Sunday, said it was a huge shock. She initially thought it was a joke and had wanted to simply disregard the message, but on a second thought, she made frantic calls to confirm the veracity of the message. Reality hit her when a fellow actor, Segun Arinze, sent her a message, confirming that their big uncle had indeed passed on and that his remains had been deposited at Aladinma Hospital, Owerri. Arinze urged them to observe one week of mourning and prayers for the repose of the deceased's soul.
Gloria wasn't happy with the sudden death of some artistes in recent times, saying a great misfortune had befallen the Nigerian theatre industry. She wondered why death was lurking around an industry that had brought so much joy and laughter to people.
'Why are our artistes dying now when they should be reaping the fruits of their labours,' she wondered.
The mother of one, who had related more on professional level with Uncle Sam, also remembered him with fond memories. She particularly remembered the deceased as having taught her some professional ideas that have now become part of her and which have benefited her immensely.
While mourning the late actor, she expressed her disappointment that a great man like Sam Loco Efe, who had left his footprints on the sands of time, would depart this stage without a single trace of recognition from any quarter. According to her, no national award would have been too much to appreciate a man of Sam Loco's calibre.
Like her hubby, Gloria said she would miss Sam Loco's sense of humour. 'He was so witty and quick on his feet. He could just fall into any conversation and make sense. He didn't have to force himself into anything. In fact, with his death, the seat is empty. The stage is bereft,' she said.