Over the years, Kenya has produced a number of talented actors who have made it on the global stage. While a majority of us are synonymous with recent actors led by the Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o, there is a lot of Kenyan talent that went international decades before, among them, Joseph Olita.
Olita soared to the heights of the world’s entertainment industry, featuring in multiple movies and alongside some of the greatest actors in the world such as legendary American actor Denzel Washington.
The veteran actor won awards in the course of his career both locally and globally.
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However, his life after retirement is not what many would have thought. Despite enjoying global fame and the earnings that came with it, Olita died a poor man. Here is his story as narrated by WoK.
Background & Education
Joseph Ogola Olita was born on March 31, 1944, in Pap Oriang’, South East Alego, Siaya County, to Regina Oduma.
He attended Pap Oriang’ primary school and later proceeded to Barding Secondary School for his A Levels. Olita went to St Mary’s Yala for his O levels and was an active member of the drama club.
After completing his high school education, Olita bagged a job at USAID where acting opportunities came along. He first got the chance to act as Idi Amin in the 1976 film Victory at Entebbe but missed it.
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He would later get the opportunity to play Amin in the film Rise and Fall in 1981. He didn’t know much about Amin, so he had to learn about him from books, newspapers and video clips.
Rise and Fall of Idi Amin won five awards at the Las Vegas International Film Festival Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Olita won best actor at the awards but was snubbed for the Oscars despite his stellar performance in the movie. This is to date considered one of the worst snubs in the history of the academy awards.
“You see these wazungu are so selfish. They just wanted to make one of their own a star. Forest Whitaker’s performance and role in The Last King of Scotland is nowhere close to what I did and still able to do,” Olita told NTV Uganda.
In 1991, Olita reprised his role as Amin in the movie Mississipi Masala which featured Denzel Washington.
The legendary actor also featured in several other films including 1984 fantasy adventure flick, Sheena, where he played the role of a policeman, and German medical drama TV series, The Black Forest Clinic where he played the role of army general. The movie was produced between 1984 and 1988 with an original airing from October 2, 1985, to March 25, 1989, on West Germany’s 1985 ZDF television channel.
Olita’s appearance in the 2011 Kenyan romantic comedy, The Captain of Nakara was his final on TV.
Life after acting
Outside his acting career, Olita was an activist and humanitarian. He was the director of Galamoro Network, a private organization he founded in 1998 to raise awareness on HIV and AIDS.
In 2008, Olita founded Galamoro Tours, a travel/tours company that took advantage of the influx of foreigners into the country who wanted to visit President Barack Obama’s ancestral home in Alego, Siaya County, following his presidential win.
The legendary actor had also authored two books, one of which was on health, dubbed, Health is Wealth.
According to reports, Olita was spotted in the streets of Nairobi selling unlicensed copies of movies he had starred in, in July 2013. Further reports, indicate that he had also lived in Uganda for a while where he sold electronic appliances.
Life & Death
The award-winning actor was a born-again Christian. He married three wives and had eight sons and four daughters. He lost one of his wives to diabetes.
Olita died at his rural home in Pap Oriang’ on June 1, 2014. According to his brother, Mathews Ogola, the actor was suffering from arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure at the time of his death.
Despite the global fame, Olita died a poor man.