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November 28, 2005

Emmy-nominated TV/Film Actor Pat Morita Dies at 73

'Arnold' of Happy Days earned Oscar, Golden Globe
noms as 'Mr. Miyagi' in The Karate Kid

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, pictured here in the recording studio where he voiced the "Emperor of China" for Disney's hit animated theatrical Mulan in 1998.

Las Vegas, NV – Emmy-nominated actor Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, widely known as 'Arnold' of the Happy Days television series and nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe for his memorable portrayal of "Mr. Miyagi" in The Karate Kid, has died. Morita was 73.

His wife of 12 years, Evelyn, said that her husband died Nov. 24, 2005 of natural causes at his home in Las Vegas. In a statement, she said that the beloved actor "dedicated his entire life to acting and comedy."

Morita appeared in dozens of television shows and movies, long before and after his career-defining turn in 1984's Karate Kid and subsequent sequels etched his permanent home in pop culture as the wise, dry-witted "Mr. Kesuke Miyagi."

Born in June 1932 in Northern California, Morita spent much of his childhood hospitalized with spinal tuberculosis. When his recovery met with World World II, the then-teen was unfortunately sent to a Japanese-American internment camp upon leaving the hospital.

He began his career in comedy and acting after the war, first diving into the standup circuit. Morita was discovered by Redd Foxx, who later helped him land a guest role on Sanford and Son. The fledgling actor-comedian struggled for many years with bit television and film parts before landing his breakthrough role of "Matsuo 'Arnold' Takahashi" in syndication staple Happy Days.

Among Morita's countless television appearances were stints on such hit 1970s and eighties series such as M.A.S.H., The Odd Couple, Kung Fu, Laverne & Shirley, Magnum P.I., Lou Grant, his own brief series Mr. T & Tina, plus dozens of movies. Maintaining an active career through the nineties and beyond, the Isleton, California-born actor appeared in Baywatch, The Hughleys, Murder,She Wrote, Family Matters, Married…with Children and many theatrical releases  

He earned an Emmy nomination in 1986 in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special category, as well as a Golden Globe nom, for the role of 'Tommy Tanaka' in the telefilm Amos.  Plus, Hollywood honored Morita with his own star of on the Walk of Fame (at 6633 Hollywood Blvd.) in 1995.

An inspiration to all actors for his longevity and achievements in both television and film, Morita said he ultimately overcame the sometimes demeaning typecasting that continues to affect many Asian actors by honing his comedic skills during his 40 years in television and film. " I have a very lucky feather in my cap in that I was able to do comedy," he explained.

"A lot of Asians aren’t necessarily—from an acting standpoint—very strong in having a comedy background," Morita said. "That factor lent itself to my over the years being able to get steady work. I’ve been very fortunate that way."  J. Bolden

In Noriyuki "Pat" Morita's Own Words: Special From the Archive of American Television

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita

On October 12, 2000, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation's Archive of American Television filmed a three and a half hour interview with Noriyuki "Pat" Morita in Las Vegas. Below are excerpts from the transcript:

On his favorite episode of Happy Days:

"The last episode of the season, Arnold gets married.

The cast—Tom Bosley and Marion Ross, Ron Howard and Henry Winkler, all of them—I'll never forget how they had this wonderful way of boosting you. I'm in 70 or 80 percent of the episode suddenly—whereas I was always this little spot character throughout—and each one of them, in their way, would come up and say 'Okay Pat, just remember one thing: Don't worry about nothing. Just remember, you've got the best supporting cast in the world.' It was the truth. I had the best possible supporting cast in the world."

"That episode for me was maybe the first time that on a national program scale that I got to be the centerpiece of something."

On racism in the entertainment industry:

"Have I ever encountered racism in the industry?  I would have to say yes, but what's weird is, not so much towards me, specifically. I witnessed it happening to others, pigeonholing:"

"Mexicans can only play, or Latinos could only play certain kinds of roles, and Asians could play only certain kinds of roles. Black roles weren't even written for Black people.  They would have to do things that were out of the ordinary. And history in our industry will always—if it's honest with itself—will always have to talk about these elements."

"But quote-unquote "'Japs' ain't funny."  So how am I going to get work as a comedian if 'Japs' ain't funny?"  Well, I had to prove that we could be funny. I've got to be funny first. Give me a shot. You've got to take negatives and like the old saying, accentuate the positive. I think the best things in life begin from sometimes the worst things in life—but not without effort, not without hopes and dreams."

His advice to an aspiring actor:

"I've been asked what advice I would give to an aspiring actor several times in my life.  The best advice I have is:  Try not to do what I did; do it better.  Education is an enormous asset.  I don't mean just general education.  I mean learn about acting, actors, whet your appetite to know and absorb everything you can about the performing arts, and specifically about that which you want to get into." 

"At first, I think with all of us it's kind of a curiosity.  Then, it starts to evolve from there into a wonderment, to see if you can do it…and when you find out you can? You have to keep raising your stakes and your personal goals a little higher to where it becomes consuming and eventually a passion. These things all contribute towards building what we call a career."

On how he would like to be remembered:

"I guess I'd like to be remembered for having touched a lot of lives in happy ways, positive ways.  I'd like to be remembered as a guy who might have been a failure as a husband, but he was a hell of a daddy."

"If I make it to the Pearly Gates, I would like God to say, 'Where the heck you been man?  We've been waiting for you, let's party! You know how many guys, your friends, are up here waiting for you, man?'"

This interview may be screened in its entirety at the Archive of American Television studio. For more information, call the archive's office at the Television Academy in North Hollywood at (818) 509-2260.

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