July 12, 2021
Together they have become icons of local comedy and theatre, it was therefore understandable that Oliver Samuels was at a loss for words when contacted by the Jamaica Observer for a comment on the passing of his friend and colleague Volier “Maffie” Johnson.
“I don’t know what to tell you. Mi nuh know wah fi seh. Is like mi lost,” Samuels responded in his inimitable style.
The two have built a friendship on and off the stage for close to half a century. While forgetting the name of the play in which they were first cast in the early 1970s, Samuels shared that from that initial meeting, a solid bond was formed which has lasted the test of time.
“What was the name of the play again?” Samuels questioned himself.
“I can’t even remember what it did name… but it was directed by Lloyd Reckord. We met then and we just clicked. We went through so many stages of our lives. Did work on television, film and stage… sometimes together, or our own thing. But we formed a friendship all those years that continued. I last spoke to him a week ago… little did I know it would be our last,” he said.
In 2017, the two actors shared the stage after 15 years in the comedy Frenemy, which completed a local run and toured to a number of Diaspora communities in North America and the United Kingdom.
Samuels fondly remembered this last stand on stage with his friend.
“We always worked well on stage as we had great chemistry. So even after all those years of not working together we still understood each other. On stage we could talk to each other by just using our eyes. That communication is vital between actors, especially in comedy. He was great on stage… and in life.”
Johnson reportedly began complaining of being unable to breathe on Friday evening and was rushed to the Kingston Public Hospital where he died. The actor suffered heart-related issues in the past, and it is widely suspected that he suffered a heart attack.
Members of the local theatre community have taken to social media since word of his passing became known to express their condolence. Actress and playwright Dahlia Harris posted a photograph of Johnson planting a kiss on her cheek and captioned it simply “Volz…”. While actor Sheldon Shepherd recalled the last time he spoke to Johnson.
“Just spoke to you at the garage [where] you were fixing your car. Wanted you to play the role of my landlord in my upcoming music video, you looked great. You asked me how Evi, a question you always asked whenever we would see each other. Remember you always call me ‘T’ an’ none of my names start with a T. Come to learn that’s what you call most of us young actors SMH. Thought it was my special nickname, Jah know. Glad I got to learn from you on stage and screen, love forever, rest well, walk good ancestor. Make dem angels belly buss wid laughter,” he posted on his Instagram account.
For Samuels, many saw Johnson’s comedic and cheerful side but one of the things that always stuck out for me was his dedication as a family man.
“Volier was a funny person. Always playing practical jokes. But he was also a absolutely dedicated husband and father…real family many. He was always close to his children,” Samuels noted.