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Pat Morita

Pat Morita
Pat Morita 1971 publicity photo.jpg
Morita in 1971
Noriyuki Morita

(1932-06-28)June 28, 1932[1]
DiedNovember 24, 2005(2005-11-24) (aged 73)
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1967–2005
  • Kathleen Yamachi
    (m. 1953; div. 1967)
  • Yukiye Kitahara
    (m. 1970; div. 1989)
  • (m. 1994)

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita (June 28, 1932 – November 24, 2005)[1] was a Japanese-American actor and comedian. He was known for his roles as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi on Happy Days (1975–1983), Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid film series, Mike Woo in The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, and The Emperor of China in Mulan and Mulan II. Morita was nominated for the 1985 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid,[2] which would be the first of a media franchise in which Morita was the central player for much of his later career. Morita also portrayed Ah Chew in Sanford and Son (1974–1976). Morita was the series lead actor in the television program Mr. T and Tina (1976) and in Ohara (1987–1988), a police-themed drama. The two shows made history for being among the few TV shows with an Asian American series lead.

Early life

Morita was born in Isleton, California, in 1932.[3] Morita's father Tamaru, born in 1897, immigrated to California from Kumamoto Prefecture on the Japanese island of Kyushu in 1915.[4] Tamaru's wife, Momoe, born in 1903, immigrated to California in 1913.[5] Noriyuki, as Pat was named, had a brother named Hideo (Harry) who was twelve years older.[6][7]

Morita developed spinal tuberculosis (Pott disease) at the age of two and spent the bulk of the next nine years in the Weimar Institute in Weimar, California and later at the Shriners Hospital in San Francisco. For long periods, he was wrapped in a full-body cast and was told that he would never walk.[8] During his time at a sanatorium near Sacramento, Morita befriended a visiting priest who would often joke that, if Morita ever converted to Catholicism, the priest would rename him to "Patrick Aloysius Ignatius Xavier Noriyuki Morita".[9] Released from the hospital at age 11 after undergoing extensive spinal surgery and learning how to walk, Morita was transported from the hospital directly to the Gila River camp in Arizona to join his interned family.[10] After about a year and a half, he was transferred to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center.[11]

After World War II ended, Morita moved back to the Bay Area and he graduated from Armijo High School in Fairfield, California in 1949. For a time after the war, the family operated Ariake Chop Suey, a restaurant in Sacramento, California,[12] jokingly described by Morita years later as "a Japanese family running a Chinese restaurant in a black neighborhood with a clientele of blacks, Filipinos and everybody else who didn’t fit in any of the other neighborhoods".[13] Morita would entertain customers with jokes and serve as master of ceremonies for group dinners.[14] After Morita's father was killed in 1956 in a hit-and-run accident while walking home from an all-night movie, Morita and his mother kept the restaurant going for another three or four years. Needing a regular job to support his wife and a newly born child, Morita became a data processor in the early 1960s with the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies, graduating to a graveyard shift job at Aerojet General. In due time, he was a department head at another aerospace firm, Lockheed, handling the liaison between the engineers and the programmers who were mapping out lunar eclipses for Polaris and Titan missile projects.[13]

However, Morita suffered from occupational burnout and decided to quit his job and try show business.[13] He began working as a stand-up comedian at small clubs in Sacramento and San Francisco, and took the stage name "Pat Morita", in part due to the presence of comedians including Pat Henry and Pat Cooper, and in part due to memories of the priest he had befriended as a boy.[9] Morita struggled for many years in comedy, until fellow performer — ventriloquist Hank Garcia — told him to try his luck in Los Angeles.[13] Sally Marr, Lenny Bruce's mother, acted as his agent and manager after he moved to Los Angeles, and booked him in the San Fernando Valley and at the Horn nightclub in Santa Monica. Morita sometimes worked as the opening act for singers Vic Damone and Connie Stevens and for his mentor,[15] the comedian Redd Foxx. Foxx later gave him a role on his sitcom Sanford and Son in the early 1970s.

Television and movie career

Early work

Morita's first movie roles were as a henchman in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and a similar role in The Shakiest Gun In The West (1968), starring Don Knotts. Later, a recurring role as South Korean Army Captain Sam Pak on the sitcom M*A*S*H (1973, 1974) helped advance the comedian's acting career.[16] He also was cast as Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka in the war film Midway (1976).

Morita (with Ron Howard, left) played Arnold Takahashi on the TV series Happy Days in the 1975–76 season.
The handprints of Pat Morita in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park

He had a recurring role on the show Happy Days as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi, owner of the diner Arnold's for the show's third season (1975–1976) and made guest appearances in 1977 and 1979 during the show's fourth and sixth season, respectively. After the season's end, he left the show to star as inventor Taro Takahashi in his own show, Mr. T and Tina, the first Asian-American sitcom on network TV. The sitcom was placed on Saturday nights by ABC and was quickly canceled after a month in the fall of 1976. Morita revived the character of Arnold on Blansky's Beauties in 1977 and eventually returned to Happy Days during the tenth season (1982–1983), and appeared in one episode during the final season. Morita had another notable recurring television role on Sanford and Son (1974–1976) as Ah Chew, a good-natured friend of Lamont Sanford.

The Karate Kid

Morita gained particular fame playing wise karate teacher Mr. Miyagi, who taught young "Daniel-san" (Ralph Macchio) the art of Goju-ryu karate in The Karate Kid (1984).[17] He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a corresponding Golden Globe Award, reprising his role in three sequels: The Karate Kid Part II (1986), The Karate Kid Part III (1989) and The Next Karate Kid (1994), the last of which starred Hilary Swank instead of Macchio. Though he was never a student of karate, he learned all that was required for the films. Although he had been using the name Pat for years, producer Jerry Weintraub suggested that he be billed with his given name to sound "more ethnic."[18] Morita put this advice into practice and was recognized as Noriyuki "Pat" Morita at the 57th Academy Awards ceremony.[19] Weintraub initially did not want to cast Morita for the part of Mr. Miyagi, wanting a dramatic actor for the part and labeling Morita a comedic actor. Morita eventually tested five times before Weintraub himself offered him the role.[20]

Post-Karate Kid

Morita in 2002

Morita went on to play Tommy Tanaka in the Kirk Douglas-starring television movie Amos, receiving his first Primetime Emmy Award nomination and second Golden Globe Award nomination for the role. He then starred in the ABC detective show Ohara (1987–1988); it was cancelled after two seasons due to poor ratings. He then wrote and starred in the World War II romance film Captive Hearts (1987). Morita hosted the educational home video series Britannica's Tales Around the World (1990–1991). Later in his career Morita starred on the Nickelodeon television series The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo (1996–1998), and had a recurring role on the sitcom The Hughleys (2000). He also made a guest appearance on a 1996 episode of Married... with Children. He went on to star in the short film Talk To Taka as a sushi chef who doles out advice to anyone who will hear him. Morita voiced the Emperor of China in Disney's 36th animated feature Mulan (1998) and reprised the role in Mulan II (2004), a direct-to-video sequel and Kingdom Hearts II.[21]

Morita had a cameo appearance in the 2001 Alien Ant Farm music video "Movies". Morita's appearance in the video spoofed his role in The Karate Kid. In 2002, he made a guest appearance on an episode of Spy TV. In 2003, he had a cameo on an episode of Yes, Dear, as an unnamed karate teacher, potentially being Miyagi. He would also reprise his role (to an extent) in the stop-motion animated series Robot Chicken in 2005.

One of Morita's last television roles was as Master Udon on the 2006 SpongeBob SquarePants Season 4 episode, "Karate Island". The episode was dedicated to him, airing about 6 months after his death. One of his last film roles was in the independent feature film Only the Brave (2006), about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, where he plays the father of lead actor (and director) Lane Nishikawa. The film included two other Karate Kid stars, Yuji Okumoto and Tamlyn Tomita.[22]

About this time he also starred in a Michael Sajbel movie called Remove All Obstacles (2010) as a cold storage guru. This was a 9-minute industrial short advertising doors used for cold storage warehouses.[23] Pat also took a small role in the independent film Act Your Age, filmed in central Illinois and released in April 2011. His last movie was Royal Kill (2009), starring Eric Roberts, Gail Kim, and Lalaine, directed by Babar Ahmed.


Morita died of kidney failure after a urinary tract and gallbladder infection on November 24, 2005, at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the age of 73. Throughout his life, Morita had battled alcoholism.[24] He is survived by Evelyn, his wife of 11 years, and three daughters from his previous marriage.[16][25]

Morita was cremated at Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery in Las Vegas, Nevada.[26]

Dedicated TV episodes

  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Season 4 episode "Karate Island" (original air date May 12, 2006), for which he voiced Master Udon, was dedicated in his memory at the end of the episode before the end credits.
  • The fifth episode of the series Cobra Kai was also dedicated to his memory.[27]


Year Title Role Notes
1964 Jidôsha dorobô
1967 Thoroughly Modern Millie Asian #2
1968 The Shakiest Gun in the West Wong
1971 Green Acres Charlie Lee Season 6
1972 Evil Roy Slade Turhan
1972 Columbo Houseboy Episode: "Etude in Black"
1972 Every Little Crook and Nanny Nonaka
1972 Where Does It Hurt? Nishimoto
1972 Cancel My Reservation Yamamoto
1972 The Odd Couple Mr. Wing Episode: "Partner's Investment"
1973–1974 M*A*S*H Captain Sam Pak
1974 Cannon Chuck Yamagata Episode: "The Avenger"
1974 Punch and Jody Takahasi
1974–1976 Sanford and Son Ah Chew
1975 I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? Heshy Yamamoto
1975 Kung Fu Chan Season Three Episode 58 Ambush
1975–1983 Happy Days Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi
1976 Welcome Back, Kotter Mr. Takahashi
1976 Farewell to Manzanar Zenahiro
1976 Midway Rear Admiral Ryūnosuke Kusaka
1977–1987 Love Boat
1980 Hito Hata: Raise the Banner Yamada
1980 When Time Ran Out Sam
1981 Full Moon High The Silversmith
1982 Savannah Smiles Father OHara
1982 Jimmy the Kid Maurice
1982 Slapstick of Another Kind Ah Fong, the Chinese Ambassador
1983 The Daltons on the Loose Jolly Jumper English dub
1984 The Karate Kid Mr. Miyagi Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1984 Night Patrol Rape Victim
1985 Alice in Wonderland The Horse
1986 The Karate Kid Part II Mr. Miyagi
1986 Babes In Toyland The Toymaster
1987 Captive Hearts Fukushima
1987–1988 Ohara Lt. Ohara
1988 Big Bird in Japan "Bamboo Princess" Play Narrator Voice
1989 The Karate Kid Part III Mr. Miyagi Nominated – Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor
1989 The Karate Kid Mr. Miyagi Opening narration; 12 episodes
1989 Collision Course Investigator Fujitsuka Natsuo
1990 Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes Yoodo Toda
1991 Strawberry Road Old Man's brother
1991 Harry and the Hendersons Kenji Sahuara 1 episode
1991 Do or Die Masakana 'Kane' Kaneshiro
1991 Lena's Holiday Fred
1991 Goodbye Paradise Ben
1992 Honeymoon in Vegas Mahi Mahi
1992 Miracle Beach Gus
1992 Auntie Lee's Meat Pies Chief Koal
1992 Great Conquest: The Romance of 3 Kingdoms Narrator English version
1992 Genghis Khan Emperor Wang
1993 American Ninja V Master Tetsu
1993 Even Cowgirls Get the Blues The Chink
1993 Living and Working in Space Cap
1993 Space Rangers Nazzer
1994 The Next Karate Kid Mr. Kesuke Miyagi
1994 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Mr. Yoshi Episode: "Love Hurts"
1995 Timemaster Isaiah
1995 The Misery Brothers Judge
1996 Murder She Wrote Akira Hitaki Episode: "Kendo Killing"
1996 Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite David Leung
1996 Boy Meets World Wise Man Episode: "I Was a Teenage Spy"
1996 Spy Hard Brian, Waiter in Restaurant
1996 Reggie's Prayer Principal
1996 Bloodsport III David Leung
1996 Earth Minus Zero Dr. Mobius Jefferson
1996–1998 The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo Michael "Mike" Woo
1997 Captured Alive Sam Kashawahara
1997 Beyond Barbed Wire Narrator Documentary
1998 Family Matters Mr. Tanaka Episode: "Grill of My Dreams"
1998 The Outer Limits Dr. Michael Chen Episode: "In the Zone"
1996 Married... with Children Bank Owner Episode: "Turning Japanese"
1998 Diagnosis Murder Martin Gaylord Episode: “Food Fight” Season 5 Episode 23
1998 Mulan The Emperor of China Voice
1998–1999 Kanga Roddy Various characters Recurring
1999 King Cobra Nick Hashimoto
1999 Inferno Jubal Early
1999 Los Gringos The Samurai Short film
2000 Brother Guy at the poker table Uncredited
2000 Talk to Taka Taka Short film
2000 I'll Remember April Abe Tanaka
2000 Hammerlock Un Huong Lo
2000 Diamonds in the Rough:
The Legacy of Japanese American Baseball
Narrator NBRP Documentary
2001 Son of the Beach The King Episode: B.J Blue Hawaii
2001 Baywatch: Hawaii Hideki Tanaka Recurring role as the father of Kekoa Tanaka
2001 House of Luk Kwang Luk
2001 The Boys of Sunset Ridge Charlie Watanabe
2001 The Center of the World Taxi Driver
2001 Shadow Fury Dr. Oh
2001 Hwasango Vice Principal Jang Hak-Sa Dubbed version
2002 The Stone man Prof. Stevens
2002 The Biggest Fan Richard Limp
2003 High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story Mr. Leo
2003 Yes, Dear Karate Teacher Episode: "When Jimmy Met Greggy"
2004 Miss Cast Away Himself Cameo
2004 Elvis Has Left the Building Man in Turban
2004 Mulan II The Emperor of China Voice
2004 The Karate Dog Chin Li
2005 Robot Chicken Himself Voice;
Episode: "S&M Present"
2005 Down and Derby Ono Yakimoto
2005 American Fusion Lao Dong

Posthumous credits

Year Title Role Notes
2006 Spymate Kiro Filmed in 2003
2006 Only the Brave Seigo Takata
2006 The Number One Girl Mr. Sakata
2006 18 Fingers of Death! Freeman Lee
2006 SpongeBob SquarePants Master Udon Voice;
Episode: "Karate Island"
2006 Kingdom Hearts II The Emperor of China Voice
2009 Royal Kill Exhibition Manager Last acting role
2010 Remove All Obstacles The Guru Short film
2010 Interviews of Ninja's Creed Interviewee Documentary
2011 Act Your Age Tom
2013 Blunt Movie Mr. Miyami
2014 Rice Girl Peter Ong (final film role)
2015 The Real Miyagi Interviewee Documentary
2018 – Present Cobra Kai Mr. Miyagi Archival footage
2019[28] Pat Morita: Long Story Short Manuscript Writer & Interviewee Documentary
2021 More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story Archival footage & Interviewee Documentary


  1. ^ a b "Pat Morita, 73, Actor Known for 'Karate Kid' and 'Happy Days,' Dies", The New York Times, November 26, 2005
  2. ^ "Karate Kid actor Pat Morita dies". BBC. 2005-11-25. Retrieved 2010-04-21.
  3. ^ Costantinou, Marianne (2005-11-26). "PAT MORITA: 1932–2005 / S.F. comic became 'Karate Kid' mentor". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-05-21.
  4. ^ "Japanese American Internee Data File: Tamaru Morita". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  5. ^ "Japanese American Internee Data File: Momoe Morita". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  6. ^ Herman, Karen (13 October 2000). Pat Morita Interview. Archive of American Television. Academy of Television, Arts & Sciences Foundation. Event occurs at 5:28. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  7. ^ "Japanese American Internee Data File: Hideo Morita". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  8. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (2005-11-26). "Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita, 73; Played 'Karate Kid' Teacher". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-21.
  9. ^ a b FoundationINTERVIEWS (2011-08-29), Pat Morita discusses changing his name to Pat – EMMYTVLEGENDS, retrieved 2019-03-22
  10. ^ Thurber, Jon (November 26, 2005), "Pat Morita, 73; Actor Starred in 'Karate Kid' Movie Series", The Los Angeles Times
  11. ^ Herman, Karen (13 October 2000). Pat Morita Interview. Archive of American Television. Academy of Television, Arts & Sciences Foundation. Event occurs at 25:00. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  12. ^ "Featured Memorial – Pat Morita Obituary". 2005. Retrieved July 20, 2013.*a "After the war, Morita's family tried to repair their finances by operating a Sacramento restaurant. It was there that Morita first tried his comedy on patrons." — ¶ 11.
  13. ^ a b c d Champlin, Charles (1986-06-22). "Morita's Long Road to Miyagi". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
  14. ^ "Archive of American Television". Emmy Legends. Retrieved 2010-04-21.
  15. ^ FoundationINTERVIEWS (2011-08-29), Pat Morita discusses his mentor Redd Foxx - EMMYTVLEGENDS.ORG, retrieved 2019-03-22
  16. ^ a b "'Karate Kid' star Pat Morita dies at 73". Retrieved 2018-06-05.
  17. ^ Champlin, Charles (1986-06-22). "Morita's Long Road To Miyagi". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  18. ^ Schuler, Dave (25 November 2005). "Pat Morita, 1932–2005". Retrieved 2011-11-21.
  19. ^ Haing S. Ngor winning Best Supporting Actor. 13 July 2008 – via YouTube.
  20. ^ Parker, Ryan (June 22, 2017). "Pat Morita Had to Test 5 Times for Mr. Miyagi in 'The Karate Kid'". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  21. ^ "Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita, 73; Played 'Karate Kid' Teacher". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-05-21.[dead link]
  22. ^ "Meet Yuji Okumoto". Retrieved 2021-01-06.
  23. ^ "Order Your Free Copy of HCR's new movie – "Remove All Obstacles"". Archived from the original on July 8, 2012. Retrieved 2013-06-21.
  24. ^ Egedegbe, Gracious (5 June 2019). "'Happy Days' Star Pat Morita Had Been Battling Alcohol Addiction for Years but Lost It". Amo Mama.
  25. ^ Lipton, Mike (2005-12-12). "Pat Morita: 1932–2005". Retrieved 2011-11-21.
  26. ^ "Pat and Evelyn Morita Marriage Profile – The Marriage of Evelyn and Pat Morita". Retrieved 2011-11-21.
  27. ^ Rothman, Michael (May 2, 2018). "How 'Cobra Kai' paid tribute to 'Karate Kid' icon Pat Morita aka Mr. Miyagi". ABC News. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
  28. ^!patmorita/efk85

External links

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