October 9, 1938|
|Died||July 10, 2008
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Pneumonia|
|Other names||Rocky Aoki|
|Citizenship||United States at time of death|
|Children||Seven, including model Devon Aoki and DJ/producer 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-born American wrestler and restaurateur who founded popular Japanese cuisine restaurant chain Benihana.
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 associate 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.
Rocky once said that he had "three kids from three different women at exactly the same time." He found out about the seventh 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.
He was an offshore powerboat racer along with the 1986 APBA world champion Powerboat throttleman Errol Lanier, a former Fort Lauderdale, Florida 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.
In 1973, Aoki launched Genesis, a softcore men's magazine. The title changed hands several times, eventually becoming an explicit publication long after Aoki's period of ownership. Despite not enjoying the mainstream popularity of rivals Playboy and Penthouse, the magazine remained in activity for nearly 40 years.
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". New York. 25 October 2007. ISSN 0028-7369.
- "Rocky Aoki Biography". Rocky H Aoki. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
- Schudel, Matt (12 July 2008). "Rocky Aoki; Flashy Founder of Benihana". The Washington Post.
- "Aoki Will Leave Powerboat Racing". The New York Times. Associated Press. February 7, 1983.