"Karate Kid" actor Pat Morita dies age 73
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Pat Morita, the Japanese-American actor who gained fame as the wise Mr. Miyagi in the "Karate Kid" movies and on the television show "Happy Days," has died in Las Vegas at the age of 73.
The Las Vegas Palm Mortuary home said Morita died of natural causes on Thursday.
Morita, who was born in California and sent to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II, won a supporting actor nomination for his portrayal of the witty karate mentor of a young boy in 1984's "The Karate Kid."
Morita played the wise handyman, Mr. Miyagi. who befriended a new boy in town, played by Ralph Macchio, and helped him stand up to bullies by schooling him in Eastern philosophy and martial arts.
The film proved to be a box-office sensation and earned Morita the distinction of becoming the first Asian-American to be nominated for an acting Oscar. He lost that year to Haing S. Ngor of "The Killing Fields." (edit: Ngor's performance was INCREDIBLE especially as he had to relieve his experiences as a captive of the Khmer Rouge)
Morita appeared in the three "Karate Kid" sequels, the last of which, "The Next Karate Kid," gave double-Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank her big break in 1994.
The quick-witted Morita worked as a computer programmer but by the age of 30 had entered the world of entertainment full time as a stand-up comedian.
His first break came in the early 1960s when was introduced to Sally Marr, the mother of comic legend Lenny Bruce, who began managing his career and touring him around the country. Throughout that decade, he appeared in TV shows like "Laugh-In" and "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."
In a 1994 interview with Reuters to promote "The Next Karate Kid," Morita said he had lived a joyful life.
"I've learnt what it is funny and the first word of funny, is fun," he said.
After his years doing stand-up and guest appearances on TV, Morita gained wide fame and a recurring role playing restaurant owner Arnold on the hit 1970s show "Happy Days."
He briefly had his own TV detective series, called "Ohara," and appeared in many movies, including "Do or Die" and "Honeymoon in Las Vegas." Morita lent his voice to the Emperor character in the Disney animated movie "Mulan" in 1998.
He received a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame in 1994.
Morita is survived by his wife of 12 years, Evelyn, and three daughters from his previous marriage.