Bolaji Badejo was born in Lagos, Nigeria, on August 23rd, 1953, the second child to parents Victor and Elizabeth Badejo (née Bamidale). The family included, in order of birth: Akin, Bolaji, a sister Debo, Posi, Boyega, and Deji. Their mother, according to Boyega, was a “welfare administrator, one-time business owner, housewife and a hostess.”
Their father, born Erasmus Victor Badejo on 21st May 1921, was the son of farmer Gabriel Akingbade Badejo and Phebe Aderibigbe Badejo, a housewife. Victor was educated at the boys-only Government College in Ibadan, which had been founded by British expatriates and modeled in the vein of British boarding schools with the purpose of grooming Nigeria’s future leaders and trailblazers. For a time Colonial Nigeria had been ruled by the British as a series of adjuncts governed by telephone with local leaders serving as proxies (a system of governance called indirect rule) but later administrators argued that it was their imperial duty to introduce as quickly as possible the benefits of Western experience to the local population. Hence, schools like the Government College were founded.
Victor graduated from the University College, lbadan, in 1952, and thereafter joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Service as a Senior Broadcasting Officer. Radio broadcasting had been brought to Nigeria in 1933 by the British colonial administration, and at first was used primarily to blast BBC broadcasts through loudspeakers placed in designated public areas. When the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation was formed in April 1957 it was with a Briton as its head, but Nigerians quickly began to assume managerial positions and in October 1963, three years after his country’s independence from Britain, Victor Badejo became the first indigenous Director-General of the station.
As a consequence of his position the Badejo family lived comfortably, even affluently, in Africa. One guest at a party thrown for the benefit of the new Director-General was the Oba (“King”) of Lagos, Adeniji Adele. Other frequent visitors and drop-ins included several Britons of esteem. “Sir Hugh Greene, the Director General of the BBC, younger brother to the famous writer Graham Greene, visited Nigeria in the late sixties and actually stayed with us in the guest chalet,” explains Boyega. “My parents lived a much more glamorous life in Nigeria, so we were privileged as a family, and known as well.”
Victor’s eldest sons, Bolaji and older brother Akin, lived the untroubled lives typical of the children of a well known and prosperous father. “Bolaji had a hippy lifestyle,” says Boyega. “Carefree, cruising around in Dad’s sports car from the age of sixteen. Very hip.” But Victor gave his children more than material gifts, and entrenched in them deep wells of confidence. “My father was always charming and influential,” says Boyega. “We grew up like that. We all felt secure at any point in time to be individuals and believe in ourselves.”
In 1967 Nigeria was plunged into a bloody three-year civil war, during which time the political apparatus lunged from coup to counter-coup and alternated between various democratically-elected governments and military dictatorships. Meanwhile, the breadth of the country continuously lapsed into large-scale riots and massacres with Eastern Nigerians being targeted in particular. “I was a boy then,” explained Boyega, “but I remember my father was attending civil defence classes, so when we heard sirens we all gathered together in the storage room, and at another occasion because of the sensitive position of our dad as the head [of the NBC], we heard rumours that the federal soldiers were coming to occupy our compound, and we were evacuated to our relatives the whole day until very late that night.”
In 2008 Chinua Achebe, author of the classic Things Fall Apart, revealed that during the turmoil Victor Badejo had given him some life-saving advice when Achebe (whose cousin had been an Eastern Nigerian army officer killed in the chaos) became a target of the warring military factions. “I was then director of broadcasting,” Achebe told observer.gm, revealing that his staff “Called me and they said, ‘Soldiers are looking for you. They said they want to see which is stronger, your pen or their gun.’ So I picked up the phone and dialled Victor Badejo, who was the Director-General. I said, ‘Victor, what is this story?’ He said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m at home.’ He said, ‘Take Christie and your children and leave.'”
“I found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that Nigeria was disintegrating, that I had to leave my house, leave Lagos, leave my job. So I decided to sneak back into our Turnbull residence and return to work … Victor Badejo, the director general of Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, saw me on the premises, stopped me, and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And then he said, ‘Life has no duplicate’ and provided further clarification of the situation …At this point the killings had reached the peak figure of hundreds a week.”
~ Chinua Achebe, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, 2012.
Achebe noted that Badejo’s advice saved his life and that of his family. “He was quite anxious on my behalf and advised me to leave my Turnbull Road residence immediately,” he wrote. Indeed, Nigerian poet and scholar Ezenwa-Ohaeto’s biography of Achebe understatingly notes that “that advice from Victor Badejo, whose high rank placed him in a position where he could receive authentic information, made it clear to Achebe that the armed soldiers looking for him were not interested in inviting him to a picnic.”
In 1972, after working at the NBC for twenty years, Victor Badejo resigned from his position, packed up his family, and relocated to Ethiopia. His tenure as the first indigenous Director-General of Radio Nigeria left an indelible impression on his fellow West Africans. Diamonds are Forever: Ten Years of DAME (Diamond Awards for Media Excellence) asks us to recall “the very few multi-talented Nigerians who have made outstanding contributions to broadcasting, but who did not have to depend on broadcasting for a living as evident from their equally outstanding career outside of broadcasting.” The site then adds that, “Such achievers include: Archdeacon Victor Badejo”, a position he had received before his passing.
Bolaji, nineteen years old, spent his time in Ethiopia studying fine arts. “We are artists by nature from my mother’s side,” Boyega revealed, “my uncle was the Picasso of Nigeria, Omotayo Aiyegbusi … He attended St Martin’s school of art in the 50’s, and did some very crucial assignments for the BBC.” And then, after three years, Victor took the family on the move again, this time to England, “and there he was in charge of a church as the vicar for the next eight years.” Boyega further explains that “As a man that was mentored by the British, I think he wanted that experience of living with his family in Britain as a priest.” For the Badejo children uprooting and travelling was not particularly disruptive and instead left them “excited”, according to Boyega. “We were like an adventurous migrating family, very un-African.”
In England the young Bolaji decided to further pursue an education in graphic design, and it was whilst living around London that he met Yinka, who became his girlfriend and the mother to his two children, Bibi and Yinka. “They had mutual friends and were in a similar social class, middle upper elites,” explains Boyega. As Yinka herself explains, “I was introduced to Bolaji by a mutual friend in the summer of 1976 in London.” The budding artist made an immediate impression: “My first impression of Bolaji,” she says, “was of a very tall, dark, striking and handsome man, who had a captivating voice.” With Yinka by his side, Bolaji immersed himself in his studies and his new life in England. “He embraced and thoroughly enjoyed living in London.”
In early 1977 Bolaji was approached in a bar by casting director Peter Archer, who was scouting for someone suitably tall and thin to play the titular creature in a space-bound horror movie directed by Ridley Scott – Alien. The film’s associate producer Ivor Powell explained that “The person that put the suit on had to be impossibly tall. We wanted them to be incredibly long-limbed, especially from the waist to the knee.”
But the production had reached an impasse casting their Alien. They tried various female models, a family of contortionists and even Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew. Powell, in Dennis Lowe’s Alien Makers II documentary, recalls Archer (referred to as a “choreographer friend of mine”) telling him that “I was at a bar the other night, and it was a sort of students bar, lots of students there and I saw this guy and I don’t know what he was, whether he was Somalian… he was some African and he was impossibly tall and skinny, you want to see him?” Ivor agreed to see the tall student, “And so he sent him in and this quite timid kind of guy, never been in front of a camera before, he ended up being our Alien.”
“We started with a stunt man who was quite thin, but in the rubber suit he looked like the Michelin Man. So my casting director [Peter Archer] said, ‘I’ve seen a guy in a pub in Soho who is about seven feet tall, has a tiny head and a tiny skinny body.’ So he brought Bolaji Badejo to the office.”
~ Ridley Scott, Cinefantastique Online, 2008.
Bolaji, at 6’10 and rod-thin, must have seemed like a godsend to the production. He had always been “a thin long boy,” according to Boyega, and eventually “grew taller than his peers and was still growing until the age of twenty three.” Bolaji himself told Cinefantastique magazine in 1979 that “As soon as I walked in, Ridley Scott knew he’d found the right person.” Sure enough Scott, who later commented that Bolaji “had a figure like a Giacometti sculpture,” offered him the part there and then. “I said, ‘Do you want to be in movies?’” Ridley reminisced with Cinefantastique, “and he said, ‘Sure’. And he became the Alien.” For Bolaji the entire process might have seemed not only completely random but, in the end, perplexingly straightforward. “It is not every day that one gets approached in a West End bar to become part of a cast of the film,” says Yinka. “He was surprised, but pleased.”
Boyega remembers that he and his family were informed of his brother’s film work only “when he decided to tell us,” but, Boyega also noted, this was not unexpected behaviour: “Nothing was a big issue for us,” he explained, “as you might imagine – father meeting the Pope, Queen, Sir Hugh Greene, Haile Sallasse.” Bolaji, it seemed, didn’t think of his movie work as something exemplary and special. “He was quiet like my dad,” said Boyega, (Alien VFX crewmember Jon Sorensen also warmly referred to Bolaji as “the quiet man.”)
Once he was hired a body cast of Bolaji was created, although the mould was manufactured rather inexpertly. HR Giger, who had yet to personally meet Bolaji, inspected the cast and noted in his diary that “Unfortunately, the man has knock knees and an impossible build profile.” Giger, unimpressed, started thinking of alternatives. “I suggested asking Veruschka, who is just as tall, whether she would play the Alien. They liked the idea.”
Giger was interrupted several days later whilst painting some plaster models of the Alien landscape. “At 2pm,” he noted, “I was called to R. Scott’s office to inspect the man, black, approx. 2.10 meters, who is supposed to play [the] Alien.” Bolaji made a very different impression on Giger in person. “His stature did not conform to the impression I had gotten from the bad plaster cast [which] seemed too fat and built somewhat strangely around the hips. This impression arose because it took so long to make the mould and he has to stand the whole time.” After seeing him in person, Giger decided that Bolaji was perfect for his creature. “I will have a new cast made from the chest down.” he wrote. “I think he’s our man.”
To prepare for the film Bolaji took tai chi classes, spoke with Scott regarding his performance, and vigorously rehearsed the Alien’s gliding movement and mantis-like posture on the Nostromo set. “Bolaji worked hard and immersed himself into the choreography lessons and performing in the film,” says Yinka. “Even though some days were long and gruelling and he had to make an early morning start, Bolaji never complained.” Despite rehearsing and filming for long days over the summer and autumn months, he did not allow himself to lapse in his studies. “Bolaji coped well with filming and studying,” says Yinka. “He was a hard working and dedicated student, who excelled in all he did.”
“The idea,” Bolaji told Cinefantastique magazine, “was that the creature was supposed to be graceful as well as vicious, requiring slow, deliberate movements. But there was some action I had to do pretty quick. I remember having to kick Yaphet Kotto, throw him against the wall, and rush up to him. Veronica Cartwright was really terrified. After I fling Yaphet Kotto back with my tail, I turn to go after her, there’s blood in my mouth, and she was incredible. It wasn’t acting. She was scared.”
“Believe me,” Cartwright said in 2013, “when he comes after me in that scene I didn’t have to do anything. I just looked at him and, the thing was, once he uncoiled he just stood there. And I just had to look at him, and you go, ‘oh shit’. And instinctively what he did was just amazing. He had this incredible presence. And you know people say, ‘how did you make yourself scared?’ I didn’t do anything; I just had to look at him.”
“He was amazing,” she continued. “He was Masai. His limbs, his arms, his hands, went below his kneecaps. I mean he was this long, gorgeous person. He had huge feet which they always stuffed white sneakers on him. But Tom [Skerritt] is the one who said, ‘This poor man cannot sit down, because of this tail,’ and they built a sort of swing for him, so he could sit down on his swing. But if Tom hadn’t spoke up the poor guy would’ve been wandering around, god only knows.”
Skerritt also spoke of Bolaji at the same convention, telling the crowd that: “Just to thrown in a little bit about the Alien, with whom I spent a lot of time. Great instinct, very bright guy… In any case, I came in after they broke for lunch one afternoon and these huge stage doors would open, and [Bolaji] came out with everything on except for the head. He’s seven feet, and he was talking to a five-foot wardrobe mistress, and they were really having a conversation. Obviously, they were talking about something very profound. He’s got this outfit on and talking to her as they’re moving along, and he’s wearing very bright blue Adidas tennis shoes. And his tail’s being carried by a very flamboyant wardrobe assistant who had a white scarf on. And the wind was blowing so -I wish I had a photo of this- this scarf is flying out behind this guy who’s holding the tail… It was… if I had that photograph you’d all be paying a lot of money for that.”
“He did put his foot down though when they wanted to put the maggots in the top of the head,” Cartwright chipped in. “You know there’s that shot… it looks like his brain is moving, they were maggots. They were red and yellow and blue maggots, and he said, ‘Nuh uh, I’m not doing that!’”
Ridley Scott also recalled on the 1999 DVD commentary that Yaphet Kotto’s energy and riotous demeanour often led to some braggadocious and surreal scenes on the set, one in particular concerning Bolaji. “Yaphet was always great as the troublemaker on board the ship,” Ridley said, “and the day that Yaphet had to die, he said, ‘I’m not going to die.’ He said, ‘This thing can’t kill me!’ So I had to have this long discussion, persuading him to die that day.” Jon Sorensen remembers that when “the day came for Parker to fight the Alien and Yaphet comes out with it: ‘No f****** Alien is going to beat me. No f****** Alien is going to hold me down!’ Well, Bolaji pinned Kotto to the ground, sitting on him. Could Yaphet shift him? No. Not with all his considerable strength could he get the Alien off. He was ABSOLUTELY furious. Bolaji, the quiet man, won the day.”
Starburst journalist Phil Edwards recalls another incident involving Bolaji and Yaphet that had been relayed to him by Dan O’Bannon. “I had gotten into the production office of Alien almost by accident,” he shares. “The UK distributor had offered me an interview with Dan O’Bannon for Starburst magazine for the recently released Dark Star. The Alien production was a closed set, but the entrée to Dan got me through the door, and stopped me getting thrown out. He shared an office with Ron Cobb. Dan and I hit it off and I spent several evenings at his hotel in Portobello Road, hearing about the events of the day’s shooting. Of several memorable episodes, one involved Bolaji. With the Alien costume being so difficult to work in, and with restricted viewing through the suit, it was extremely difficult for Bolaji to hit his marks with precision, especially as his movements needed to be quite precise. The Alien set was a tense atmosphere, with its several producers uptight about the money, the schedule and Ridley Scott, who had proved himself no push-over to producer demands.”
“During a particularly tough scene for Bolaji,” Phil continues, “where he consistently missed his marks thanks to the suit and the clock on the money running up, one of the producers started to get unpleasant with him. Yaphet Kotto was looking on and became increasingly incensed at Herr Producer’s expletive-laden tirade. Enough was enough. According to Dan, Kotto ‘physically intervened’ and let the producer have it… ‘Leave the brother alone!’… things went very quiet after that.”
“Bolaji was about seven feet tall and looked like he came from a different universe anyway, and they made up this Alien suit for him. Ridley was very careful not to have him standing around, drinking tea with us during breaks and because he was kept apart from us and we never chatted, when it came to seeing him as this creature during a scene, it was electrifying. It didn’t feel that we were acting scared at all.”
~ Sigourney Weaver, The Daily Mail, 2010.
In his diary HR Giger wrote that Bolaji once “greeted [Mia and myself] with a fine surprise”, though he did not elaborate on Bolaji’s gift. At other times he joined Giger “for lunch at the King’s Head” where he unfortunately “complained about the treatment by the [Twentieth] Cent Fox people” who were routinely frustrating the production and, as Phil Edwards relates, even denigrating the performers. But despite his complaints Bolaji spent the next week shooting scenes for the film and making an impression. “Bolaji is still in action,” Giger wrote. “The scenes are awfully brutal and have a strong impact.” When Ridley decided that the Alien would smuggle itself aboard the Narcissus Giger empathised with Bolaji, who had been unable to fit inside the vents for Dallas’ death scene but would now be required to be sequestered within the shuttle walls for a day and a half. “Poor Bolaji,” he wrote, “[he will] not be happy about this beautiful, but for him very uncomfortable, scene.”
Then, on Friday, October 6th 1978, Bolaji filmed his last scene for the film – the Alien slithers from its hole and drops to the ground before rising, slowly, in a shroud of smoke. “Bursting out of that compartment wasn’t easy,” he told Cinefantastique. “I must’ve ripped the suit two or three times coming out, and each time I’d climb down, the tail would rip off!” Since the Alien being blown through the hatch would require an actor to be dropped and suspended by wires from a considerable height, the creature was portrayed in its final scenes by stuntman Roy Scammell.
During the film’s publicity phase Bolaji spoke to various publications including Cinefantastique and Starburst. Leone Edwards, who was at the time the wife of Starburst writer Phil Edwards, remembers that “[Bolaji] came to our London flat, and as I followed him up the stairs I thought I’d never see where he finished, he was so tall.” Phil, recalling the episode with Bolaji, Yaphet and a producer that he had heard about only weeks earlier, deigned not to ask him about it. “When Bolaji came to visit our London flat for an interview for Starburst, I thought about asking him about the incident, but decided against it. It just didn’t seem right.”
“The echo of an impression I am now left with regarding Bolaji,” says Leone, “was that he seemed quiet, a little conservative and reserved -polite and well spoken of course- and dare I say, trusting. What other potential star would turn up at a slightly questionable upstairs, furnished West Kensington flat (with a shared bathroom and toilet!) for an interview? He could have been walking to his doom for all he knew. What celebrity would do that now? Maybe they were more relaxed and innocent times. I also feel that perhaps he was a little shellshocked – suddenly changing direction and helping to create what was to become one of the most iconic cinematic images of the 20th century.” Leone also remembers that, “I once said to an acquaintance sometime during the 1980’s – ‘The Alien came to my house once.’ He replied, ‘What were you on?'”
Months after its release in the United States, Alien premiered in London’s Leicester Square Odeon on September 6th, 1979. Boyega says that he “cannot recollect the family watching the film together” since all of the various family members “all had our [own] accommodations because of the locations of our colleges, etc., but some of us went with him to the premier and ended up in the club Monkberry’s in Jerymyn Street, West End, where membership was for stars including Rod Stewart, Bob Marley, so he became a member and we started going there with him and with many other close friends of his.” Of his work in the film Yinka explains that “Bolaji was proud of his performance and so were his family, friends and I. We did see the film together and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a night to remember.” All in all it was, Boyega says, “Very cool times.”
Bolaji later “took a course in photography”, his mood remained “always relaxed and entertaining”, and, despite appearing enthusiastic about playing the Alien again in a hypothetical sequel, he ultimately favoured practicality over fantasies of a film career and decided to return to Nigeria in 1980. “Bolaji had relocated back to Nigeria to join our uncle, the well known sculptor, artist, designer and publisher Omotayo Aiyegbusi,” Boyega says, “but he started doing his own thing after two years, and by 1983 he had his own art gallery.” Yinka explains that she and Bolaji moved after he had completed his studies as a graphic designer, and that Bolaji immediately set out “to work with his uncle who had a successful graphic design company.” Bolaji, according to Yinka, “was a humble man, who was glad to have played his part in the success of the film,” and his ultimate goal, she says, was “to make a difference in the graphic designing field with his skills, as he was a gifted designer, full of original ideas.” As Bolaji himself summarised to Cinefantastique magazine, “The fact that I played the part of the Alien, for me, that’s good enough.”
During the 1980’s their children, Bibi and Yinka, would be born, and Bolaji continued to curate his gallery. “Bolaji was jovial, full of life and pleasant,” remembers Yinka. “He was easy to get on with. He set high goals for himself and worked hard to achieve them.” Victor Badejo also relocated to Nigeria and was installed as Archdeacon of St. Lukes Church Uro, Ikere-Ekiti on December 1, 1984.
In 1983 the youngest Badejo sibling, Deji, passed away due to sickle cell anaemia and as the decade wore on Bolaji, who had been diagnosed with the disease as a child, began to succumb to its effects. A 1994 report, Mortality in Sickle Cell Disease – Life Expectancy and Risk Factors for Early Death, analysed patients living in the United States and found that “In contrast to the widely held assumption that patients with sickle cell anaemia rarely survive to adulthood, the median age at death among such patients was 42 years for males and 48 years for females.”
Yinka relates that Bolaji had “never let having sickle cell anaemia affect his life. He coped with it as best he could.” Several months after his thirty-ninth birthday, Bolaji fell ill and was taken to St. Stephen Hospital in Ebute Metta, Lagos, where he died on the 22nd December, 1992.
“Of course he was the Alien because of his physical attributes,” says Boyega, “but he was not an actor. My late brother was very, very strong mentally, charming, funny, and easy to be with and get on with others … Bolaji did not have enemies; he was humble, generous and entertaining. He was not just my brother, he was my friend … We cultivated friendship as I grew older, which I did not have with my other siblings except the last born, Deji, who was the first member of the family to pass on. He also was a victim of sickle cell anaemia. We are only two brothers left and one sister, but I do communicate with Posi, my elder brother, about our father. Two weeks ago, he had found a picture of our dad with the Saudana of Sokoto…”
“As my father passed away so early in my life I only have fleeting memories of him,” says Bibi Badejo. “I know he was very creative and worked as a graphic designer in his gallery. I remember him playing with me and lifting me up so high. I remember he drove a green VW Gold which had a golf ball shaped gear stick and the smell of his tobacco. I will never forget he was 6 foot 10 and that’s where my brother and I get our tall frames from. The rest comes from stories from my mother and crinkled photos my brother and I have kept close to our hearts over the years.”
“What I have come to learn as I have gotten older is the impact he had on other people and how they remember him despite meeting him decades ago. A perfect example is when I met a fellow lawyer on a case I was working on. We had never met before but she told me she had only ever met someone with the Badejo surname once before. She then described a very tall lean man from Nigeria who would sometimes help her around the house (including painting her ceiling!) It didn’t take long before it dawned on me that she had met my father when she was studying law in the late seventies and they had become friends. They had since lost touch but she never forgot him.”
“There was another time when I had used one of my father’s iconic photos as a profile picture on a social media website. My friend’s mother, again who I had never met, immediately recognised him as the ‘cool guy she met once at a party who said he was going to play the Alien.’ I am not sure if she believed him at the time but of course we all know it’s true.”
Bibi closes: “It’s a huge shame not to be able to speak to him about Alien and a great many other things as I have grown up and am now an adult. That said, it is incredible to discover the legacy he has left and also the fact that even now people are willing to find out about him, give him respect and also give me the gift of allowing me to learn more about him.”
Special thanks to Bibi and Boyega Badejo and Yinka Richardson for their time, memories, and photographs. Additonal thanks and salutations to Leone Edwards and Phil Edwards.