Japanese American

Pat Morita

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Abundantly busy and much loved Asian-American actor who became an on-screen hero to millions of adults and kids alike as the wise and wonderful Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid (1984), the sparkling Noriyuki Morita was back again dishing out Eastern philosophy and martial arts lessons for The Karate Kid Part II (1986) and The Karate Kid Part III (1989), and even for The Next Karate Kid (1994). However, putting all that karate aside, the diminutive Morita actually first started out as a stand-up comedian known as the Hip Nip in nightclubs and bars, and made his first on-screen appearance in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). He quickly adapted to the screen and showed up in small parts in such comedy films as The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), alongside Don Knotts, and in Evil Roy Slade (1972) supporting John Astin. He also appeared in such popular series as Sanford and Son (1972) and M*A*S*H (1972).

Morita got his next break playing the often-perplexed restaurant owner Matsho “Arnold” Takahashi in 26 episodes of the hugely popular sitcom Happy Days (1974) between 1975 and 1976, and again between 1982 and 1983. Morita was quite in demand on the small screen and also scored the lead in his own police drama Ohara (1987), and guest-starred on other high-profile television series including Magnum, P.I. (1980), Murder, She Wrote (1984), Baywatch (1989) and The Hughleys (1998). Although most often used as a minor character actor, he remained consistently busy and occasionally lent his vocal talents to animated features such as Mulan (1998). However, his real strengths lay in portraying slightly oddball or unusual characters in offbeat films. He died at age 73 of natural causes at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 24, 2005.

Trivia (27)

  • Attended and graduated from Armijo High School in Fairfield, CA.
  • While performing as a stand-up comic, he was discovered by Redd Foxx. This led to several appearances as Ah Chew on Sanford and Son (1972).
  • Was often billed as the Hip Nip for his stand-up performances.
  • Was a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers football team.
  • Diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis as a child and was told that he would never walk. Spent nine years in hospitals.
  • Was the first American-born Asian nominated for an Academy Award. It was for his role of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid (1984).
  • Had two daughters with Yukiye Kitahara and one with Kathleen Yamachi.
  • Was the subject of a popular Internet myth, that he owned a Japanese-style restaurant called Miyagi’s on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, CA. However, according to Morita himself in an about.com interview, he had nothing to do with the restaurant.
  • Buried at Palm Green Valley Memorial Park in Clark County, 6701 North Jones, Las Vegas, NV.
  • Last movie ever filmed is Royal Kill (2009) (working title: Princess) also starring Eric Roberts and Lalaine.
  • During his funeral procession, his former co-star Ralph Macchio of The Karate Kid (1984) quoted, “Forever, my Sensei” towards the mourners.
  • One of eight actors of Asian descent nominated for an Academy Award in an acting category. The others are Miyoshi Umeki who won Best Supporting Actress nominated for Sayonara (1957), Sessue Hayakawa nominated for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Mako nominated for The Sand Pebbles (1966), Haing S. Ngor who won Best Supporting Actor for The Killing Fields (1984), Ken Watanabe nominated for The Last Samurai (2003) and Rinko Kikuchi nominated for Babel (2006).
  • While he portrayed Mr. Miyagi, a Japanese immigrant who spoke (broken) English with a cement-thick Japanese accent, in real life Morita was an American citizen from birth who spoke with an American accent.
  • The scene that sealed his nomination for best supporting actor in The Karate Kid (1984), in which Miyagi gets drunk and weeps over the death of his wife and child in the Manzanar Internment Camp, was nearly cut out of the film. The studio thought the scene was unnecessary and wanted it cut, but director John G. Avildsen argued that it was important to Miyagi’s character and finally the studio relented and allowed the scene to be kept in. Also, during the casting of the film, the studio wanted legendary Japanese actor Toshirô Mifune to play Miyagi, but Avildsen and producer Jerry Weintraub thought Mifune’s interpretation of the character was far too serious for what the film needed.
  • Was a closet alcoholic. Heavy drinking, which his doctors urged him to stop, was the primary cause of his death.
  • He and his family were placed in an internment camp during World War II. Was given the name “Pat” by his priest.
  • He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6633 Hollywood Blvd. on August 4, 1994.
  • Completed shooting scenes for two films before his death, but both were released years after the fact (Royal Kill (2009) in 2009, and Act Your Age (2011) in 2011).
  • One of only five actors to receive a Razzie nomination for portraying a character they were previously Oscar-nominated for.
  • Best remembered by the public for his role as the wise sensei Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid (1984) and its sequels.
  • As a child, Pat and his family were forced to relocate to an internment camp in Arizona. After about a year, they were transferred to a camp in Northern California. Most Japanese-Americans were interned in one of about a dozen such camps across the country during World War II. Much later, he and many other survivors of the camps were paid some compensation by the U.S. government and given a formal apology. The amount of compensation did not begin to make up for the confiscated property that was taken from them.
  • Even though Pat Morita’s character “Mr. Miyagi” was a karate master, he actually didn’t know any karate at all.
  • Due to delayed releases, Morita continued appearing in films for nine years after his death.
  • Was friends with Angie Dickinson, and Redd Foxx.
  • Appeared as “Mr. Wisdom Tooth” in a series of commercials for Colgate toothpaste, which he hailed as “the Wise Choice”.
  • Sometime around 1971, Redd Foxx gave Pat $3,500 when he needed help for a down payment to buy a house.

Morita’s primary TV roles

HAPPY DAYS (1975-76; 1982-83) His real name was Matsuo Takahashi, but everyone knew him as Arnold (after the name of the malt shop he had purchased).

MR. T AND TINA (1976) No, this was not the first series starring the muscle-bound hero of “The A-Team.” Rather, Morita played Taro Takahashi (aka Mr. T), a Japanese inventor who was transferred by his company from Tokyo to Chicago. He had to deal with radically different American mores, as personified by his energetic housekeeper, Tina (Susan Blanchard).

BLANSKY’S BEAUTIES (1977) — In this short-lived “Happy Days” spinoff, Morita pretty much reprised his Arnold role, although this time he ran the coffee shop at a Las Vegas hotel, where Nancy Blansky (Nancy Walker) staged shows. (She had been introduced on a “Happy Days” episode as the cousin of Tom Bosley’s Howard Cunningham.)

OHARA (1987-88) — In this drama, Morita starred as Lt. Ohara, a Japanese-American member of the LAPD who preferred patience and persuasion, rather than using his gun, when dealing with bad guys.

BAYWATCH (2000-01) — In the final season of the syndicated version of the long-running beach drama (by then known as “Baywatch Hawaii”), Morita had a recurring role as Hideki Tanaka, a wealthy Japanese businessman and father of lifeguard Kekoa (Stacy Kamano).


Evelyn Guerrero (26 March 1994 – 24 November 2005) ( his death)
Yukiye Kitahara (28 December 1970 – 1989) ( divorced) ( 2 children)
Kathleen Yamachi (13 June 1953 – 1970) ( divorced) ( 1 child)


Personal Quotes

  • “Thanks to the Japanese and Geronimo, John Wayne became a millionaire.”
  • “You may have heard that back in the States there are some people who are smoking grass. I don’t know how you feel, but it’s sure easier than cutting the stuff.”
  • “I don’t know of any other creature on earth other than man that will sit in a corner and cry because of some painful experience in the past.”
  • “Hip Nip just sounds groovy. A drummer laid it on me.”
  • “I began in an era where four-letter words were not allowed.”
  • “I went from being an ailing child to a public enemy.”
  • “I never was able to do karate. That’s calling me a good actor. I act like I can do anything.”
  • “The idea of a Japanese comedian was not only a rarity, it was non-existent.”
  • “I’m awkward at these things. Just being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for [The Karate Kid (1984)] was a real surprise and I was a little uncomfortable.”
  • “I’m in semi-retirement, but what am I going to retire to? I don’t ride horses, I don’t golf anymore. I shoot a game of pool every now and then.”
  • “Only in America could you get away with the kind of comedy I did.”
  • “It’s been a career filled with very low valleys and some wonderful, high peaks.”
George Takei
Jack Soo