Karate Kid Actor Pat Morita Dies
The Oscar-nominated actor passed away on Thursday at his home in Las Vegas of natural causes, said his wife of 12 years, Evelyn, the Associated Press reports. She said in a statement that her husband, who first rose to fame with a role on the sitcom Happy Days, "dedicated his entire life to acting and comedy."
The 1984 Karate Kid role was a career-defining part for Morita and it spawned three sequels, the last of which, 1994's The Next Karate Kid, starred Hilary Swank.
In the original, as Kesuke Miyagi, the mentor to Ralph Macchio's "Daniel-san," Morita taught karate while trying to catch flies with chopsticks and offering such advice as "wax on, wax off." He got a best supporting actor Oscar nod for the role, but lost to Haing S. Ngor, who appeared in The Killing Fields.
Although Morita is best-known for that part, he was a prolific actor, appearing in Honeymoon in Vegas, Spy Hard, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, The Center of the World and nearly 100 other roles.
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, according to the AP. 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.
After the war, Morita's family opened a restaurant, where Morita tried his comedy on patrons. It was slow going, but at age 30 he entered show business full time.
Morita is to be buried at Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery. He is survived by his wife and three daughters from a previous marriage.