[RIP] Oscar-Nominated Actor Pat Morita Dies
- Oscar-Nominated Actor Pat Morita Dies
By TIM MOLLOY, Associated Press Writer
Fri Nov 25, 5:41 PM ET
LOS ANGELES - Actor Pat Morita, best known for helping teach a
boy martial-arts mastery through household chores as the wise Mr.
Miyagi in "The Karate Kid," has died. He was 73.
There were conflicting reports about the cause of death. His
daughter Aly Morita said he died Thursday of heart failure at a Las
Vegas hospital; longtime manager Arnold Soloway said the actor died
of kidney failure at a hospital while awaiting a transplant.
His wife of 12 years, Evelyn, said in a statement that her husband,
who first rose to fame with a role on "Happy Days," had "dedicated
his entire life to acting and comedy."
His role in the 1984 film defined his career. As Kesuke Miyagi, the
mentor to Ralph Macchio's "Daniel-san," he taught karate while
trying to catch flies with chopsticks and offering such advice
as "wax on, wax off" to help Daniel improve his karate hand
movements while doing his chores.
A generation of young fans mimicked Morita's famous "crane kick"
technique from the finale of the movie, which surprised many by
grossing $91 million and establishing a popular franchise.
"It was both my honor and privilege to have worked with him and
create a bit of cinema magic together," Macchio said in a
statement. "My life is all the richer for having known him. I will
miss his genuine friendship."
"Forever my Sensei," Macchio added, referring to Morita's role
in "The Karate Kid."
The role earned Morita an Academy Award nomination for best
supporting actor, but he lost to Haing S. Ngor, who appeared in "The
Morita said in a 1986 interview with The Associated Press he was
billed as Noriyuki (Pat) Morita in the film because producer Jerry
Weintraub wanted him to sound more ethnic. He said he used the
billing because it was "the only name my parents gave me."
For years, Morita played small and sometimes demeaning roles in such
films as "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and TV series such as "The Odd
Couple" and "Green Acres." His first breakthrough came with "Happy
Days," and he followed with his own brief series, "Mr. T and Tina."
"The Karate Kid" led to three sequels, the last of which,
1994's "The Next Karate Kid," paired him with a young Hilary
Morita was prolific outside of the "Karate Kid" series as well,
appearing in "Honeymoon in Vegas," "Spy Hard," "Even Cowgirls Get
the Blues" and "The Center of the World." He also provided the voice
for a character in the Disney movie "Mulan" in 1998.
Born in northern California on June 28, 1932, the son of migrant
fruit pickers, Morita spent most of his early years in the hospital
with spinal tuberculosis. He later recovered only to be sent to a
Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona during World War II.
"One day I was an invalid," he recalled in a 1989 AP interview. "The
next day I was public enemy No. 1 being escorted to an internment
camp by an FBI agent wearing a piece."
After the war, Morita's family tried to repair their finances by
operating a Sacramento restaurant. It was there that Morita first
tried his comedy on patrons.
Because prospects for a Japanese-American standup comic seemed poor,
Morita found steady work in computers at Aerojet General. But at age
30 he entered show business full time.
"Only in America could you get away with the kind of comedy I did,"
he said. "If I tried it in Japan before the war, it would have been
considered blasphemy, and I would have ended in leg irons."
Morita was to be buried at Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery.
He is survived by his wife and three daughters from a previous
Goodbye, Mr. Miyagi By Joal Ryan
1 hour, 44 minutes ago
Pat Morita owed his fame to kids, he once said. "You know why?
I'm the same height." A generation raised on Mr. Miyagi might beg to
Morita, who played the iconic martial-arts guru in four Karate Kid
movies, and earned an Academy Award nomination for his uncommonly
profound car-waxing tips, died Thursday in a Las Vegas hospital. He
The cause of death was unclear. A daughter told the Associated Press
that Morita succumbed to heart failure; his manager told the wire
service that the star passed away while awaiting a kidney
Ralph Macchio, who played Mr. Miyagi's most prolific pupil,
Daniel LaRusso, called Morita's death a "sad day" for him and his
"Pat Morita was a truly generous actor, a gifted comic, and an even
greater friend," Macchio said in a statement Friday. "It was both my
honor and privilege to have worked with him and create a bit of
cinema magic together."
Morita tutored Macchio in three Karate Kid films: The original 1984
adventure where teen outcast "Daniel-san" learns to stand up to
bullies by performing menial tasks, including a little "wax on, wax
off" car work, for Mr. Miyagi; 1986's The Karate Kid, Part II; and
1989's The Karate Kid, Part III, released when the "kid" was 27.
Morita scored his Oscar nod as Best Supporting Actor for the first
Morita did one final Karate Kid movie in 1994, The Next Karate Kid,
with future Oscar-winner Hilary Swank as his new charge.
If Morita was Mr. Miyagi to children of the 1980s, then he was the
Arnold of Arnold's to children of the 1970s. The actor played the
unintelligible owner of the Happy Days gang's hangout in two stints,
1975-76 and 1982-83.
To children of the 1990s, Morita was the voice of the emperor in
"My fame is largely due to young people, they're the first ones to
discover me," Morita observed to the Ottawa Sun in 1999, before
making the crack about his height, or lack thereof. (He stood about
5 foot, 3 inches.)
Morita's show business career began in the 1960s in the decidedly un-
kid-friendly world of comedy clubs. At the time, Morita, the
California-born son of Japanese immigrants, billed himself as
the "Hip Nip." ("'Hip Nip' just sounds groovy," Morita told Stars &
Stripes in 1967. "A drummer laid it on me.")
A refugee from a computer office job, Morita was 30 when he started
doing standup. Within five years, he'd appeared on Johnny Carson's
Tonight Show and leading variety shows of the day (Laugh-In,
In the 1970s, Morita was a prime-time fixture. He guested on several
episodes of Sanford and Son, costarred on Happy Days, and became Mr.
T before the mohawk-sporting Mr. T became a household initial. (The
latter was owed to Morita's starring role in the short-lived 1976
sitcom, Mr. T and Tina.)
The Karate Kid Oscar nomination didn't make Morita an A-list movie
star, but it did bring him meatier TV work. He earned an Emmy
nomination for the 1985 TV-movie Amos, about elder abuse, and
headlined the 1987-88 police drama series Ohara.
To look at Morita's lengthy credit list on IMDb.com is to surmise
that Morita didn't like to go too long between gigs, even if latter-
day gigs included 2004's The Karate Dog, a non-Mr. Miyagi tale about
a dog that, well, does karate, and Miss Cast Away, a 2005 spoof
comedy featuring a cameo by Michael Jackson.
Morita was born Noriyuki Morita on June 28, 1932. (Some sources say
1930.) His early years were spent apart--up until the age of 11, he
lived in a hospital due to spinal tuberculosis; then when his health
was restored, in the midst of World War II, he was dispatched to an
internment camp for U.S. citizens and residents of Japanese descent.
As Morita said in Stars & Stripes: "I had to find things to laugh
In the end, Morita persevered--and taught others to do the same, in
reel life and in real life.
"My life is all the richer for having known him," Macchio said. "I
will miss his genuine friendship."
"Forever my Sensei..."