October 9, 1938|
|Died||July 10, 2008
New York, New York
Cause of death
|Other names||Rocky Aoki|
|Citizenship||United States, at time of death|
|Alma mater||New York City Community College A.A. in Management (1963)
Keio University (no degree)
|Spouse(s)||Chizuru Kobayashi Aoki (1964–1981)
Pamela Hilberger Aoki (1981–1991)
Keiko Ono Aoki (2002–2008)
|Children||Seven, including model Devon Aoki and Dim Mak Records CEO Steve Aoki|
Hiroaki Aoki (青木 廣彰 Aoki Hiroaki?, October 9, 1938 – July 10, 2008), known in the United States by the Anglicized name Rocky Aoki, was a Japanese-American wrestler, the founder of the Benihana chain of "Japanese Steakhouse" restaurants, entrepreneur, and thrillseeker.
Born in Tokyo, Aoki and some friends started a rock and roll band called Rowdy Sounds, though Aoki eventually abandoned music for athletics. He would later explain, "I play bass. But I tell you why I change to wrestling: No good on tempo." Aoki attended Keio University, where he competed in track and field, karate and wrestling before being expelled for fighting. He qualified for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, but did not compete. However, he later toured the United States and was undefeated in the wrestling 112-pound flyweight class.
Aoki was offered wrestling scholarships from several different American colleges. He attended Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts and later transferred to CW Post College on Long Island.
Move to the United States
In New York, Aoki worked seven days a week in an ice cream truck that he rented in Harlem while studying restaurant management at New York City Community College. After he received his Associates degree in management in 1963, he used the $10,000 he had saved from the ice cream business to convince his father to co-invest in the first Benihana, a four-table teppanyaki restaurant on West 56th Street. "Benihana", taken from the Japanese name for safflower, was suggested by Aoki's father. According to family legend, Aoki's father was walking through the bombed-out ruins of post-war Tokyo when he happened across a single red safflower growing in the rubble.
He was an offshore powerboat racer along with the 1986 APBA world champion Powerboat throttleman Errol Lanier, a former Fort Lauderdale fireman who saved his life in a near fatal powerboat crash in 1979 under the Golden Gate Bridge. After injuries suffered in a 1982 accident, the Tenafly, New Jersey resident told sportswriters that he was leaving the sport.
Rocky once said that he had 'three kids from three different women at exactly the same time'. He found out about the third child with the third woman when he was sued for paternity. In 2005, Rocky sued four of his children (Grace, Kevin, Kyle, and Echo) for an alleged attempt to take control of the companies he founded, which, at the time, had an estimated value between USD $60–100 million.
Before his death, he had become a United States citizen. Aoki was the recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. He died of pneumonia in New York. At the time of his death he had been suffering from diabetes, Hepatitis C, and cirrhosis of the liver. His Hepatitis C was reportedly the result of a blood transfusion after a 1979 speedboat crash under the Golden Gate Bridge.
- "Rocky's Family Horror Show" by Logan Hill, New York Magazine, October 29, 2006
- "History of Benihana" - Benihana Group corporate website.
- "Rocky Aoki; Flashy Founder of Benihana", The Washington Post, 12 July 2008
- CUNY Alumni - CUNY website
- via Associated Press. "Aoki Will Leave Powerboat Racing", The New York Times, February 7, 1983. Accessed December 18, 2013. "Aoki, of Tenafly, N.J., was on crutches today when he was honored here as the man of the year by the New Jersey Sports Writers Association."