What’s the Story Behind the Guy Who Played the “Alien” Xenomorph?

Bolaji Badejo brought the xenomorph of Alien (1979) to life, one of the most recognizable and memorable creatures in cinematic history. The job would be Badejo’s only film role, and the internet is filled with different accounts of his life.

Badejo was born in Nigeria in 1953. His father was the director of an early Nigerian radio station, a position that gave his family considerable status at the time. Badejo spent his formative years traveling with his parents to various countries, eventually ending up as a graphic arts student in London. It was in a London pub where he accidentally met Peter Archer, the casting agent for Alien. Badejo, around 7 feet tall (some sources cite 6’10”, others 7’2”) and extremely lanky, instantly struck Archer as someone who could play the Alien creature in the film. Badejo’s arms and legs were so long and thin they seemed nearly inhuman, and his overall physique would give less of a “man in a suit” look to the creature.

During production, it is reported that only Badejo, Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger were ever allowed to view his rushes. Badejo was kept separate from the cast most of the time so that when he showed up in scenes, he was authentically scary. Sigourney Weaver once said of him in an interview,

“‘Bolaji was about seven feet tall,’ says Sigourney, ‘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.’

Badejo donned an extremely warm latex suit that could only be worn about 15 minutes at a time. KY jelly was pumped through the headpiece to give the effect of oral slime. The banana-shaped helmet made it nearly impossible to see. Yet Badejo was very dedicated to the role, constantly practicing his movement, studying mime, studying tai chi, hoping to perfect the creature’s mannerisms.

After the film’s release, he effectively disappeared from the public. For many years, his fate was mostly unknown. In reality, he returned to Nigeria in 1980, not long after Alien hit theaters. He spent time working with his uncle, a sculptor, and focusing on his own artistic endeavors. He eventually opened an art gallery and had a few children.

Many internet sources claim he committed suicide a few years after the film was made, likely a consequence of his Hollywood disappearance. Other sources say he exiled himself because he was treated poorly on the set of Alien, but there’s no real evidence to support that. The cast and crew have all expressed fond memories of him.

The reality is that as a child, Badejo was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia. On December 22, 1992, at the age of 39, the disease caught up with him and he passed away in St. Stephen Hospital in Ebute Metta, Lagos. His Alien creature ended up being his only film credit, and one in which he’s largely unrecognizable.