Japanese-American actor Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, the comedian and actor who received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the sage martial arts instructor, Mr. Miyagi (at left, with Ralph Macchio), in the popular Karate Kid film series, has died at the age of 73 of kidney failure.
If you watch reruns of the ABC television hit "Happy Days," you will recognize him as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi of the eponymous Arnold's where characters played by Ron Howard and Henry Winkler (both related to "Arrested Development") hung out. He also provided the voice of the Chinese emperor in Mulan.
As this obituary in the Los Angeles Times points out, Morita had been a stand-up comic for years (at one time called "the Hip Nip"). He was the son of migrant fruit pickers and the native-born American was interned at the Gila River, Arizona, internment camp for people of Japanese descent during World War II.
The L.A. Times article goes into some interesting detail about his life, including the fact that he knew little about martial arts before he took up the signature Mr. Miyagi role in 1984. It also talks about a time he was inadvertently booked for a gathering of Pearl Harbor survivors on the 25th anniversary of the attack. Turning on as much "angelic, cherubic charm" as he could find, he went out and said, "Before I begin, I just want to say I'm sorry about messing up your harbor." After silence, a wave of laughter swept over the crowd.
He once said of his humor: "Only in America could you get away with the kind of comedy I did. If I tried it in Japan before the war, it would have been considered blasphemy, and I would have ended in leg irons."
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