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Pat Morita

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Pat Morita
Morita in 1971
Noriyuki Morita

(1932-06-28)June 28, 1932[1]
DiedNovember 24, 2005(2005-11-24) (aged 73)
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
  • Actor
  • comedian
Years active1962–2005
  • 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 an American actor and comedian. He began his career as a stand-up comedian, before becoming known to television audiences for his recurring role as diner owner Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi on the sitcom series Happy Days (1975-83). He was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of martial arts mentor Mr. Miyagi in the The Karate Kid (1984),[2] which would be the first of a media franchise in which Morita was the central player.

Morita was the series lead actor in the television program Mr. T and Tina and in Ohara, a police-themed drama. The two shows made history for being among the few TV shows with an Asian-American series lead. He also played recurring or featured roles as Captain Sam Pak on M*A*S*H, Ah Chew in Sanford and Son, and Mike Woo on The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. He was the voice of The Emperor of China in the Disney animated film Mulan (1998), and its sequel Mulan II (2004).

Aside from his 1985 Oscar nod, Pat Morita was twice nominated for Golden Globe Awards (Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for The Karate Kid and Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film for the made-for-television film Amos), and an Emmy Award. In 1994, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the motion picture industry.[3]

Early life[edit]

Morita was born on June 28, 1932, in Isleton, California, to Japanese immigrant parents.[4] Morita's father, Tamaru, born in 1897, immigrated to California from Kumamoto Prefecture on the Japanese island of Kyushu in 1915.[5] Tamaru's wife, Momoe, born in 1903, immigrated to California in 1913.[6] Noriyuki, as Pat was named, had a brother named Hideo (Harry) who was twelve years older.[7][8]

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 he was told that he would never walk.[9] 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".[10] 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.[11] After about a year and a half, he was transferred to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center.[12]

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,[13] 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".[14] Morita would entertain customers with jokes and serve as master of ceremonies for group dinners.[15] After Morita's father was killed in 1956 in a hit-and-run 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.[14]

However, Morita suffered from occupational burnout and decided to quit his job and try show business.[14] He began working as a stand-up comedian at small clubs in Sacramento as well as San Francisco, taking the stage name "Pat Morita", in part due to the presence of comedians including Pat Henry and Pat Cooper, in addition due to memories of the priest he had befriended as a boy.[10] Morita struggled for many years in comedy, until fellow performer—ventriloquist Hank Garcia—told him to try his luck in Los Angeles.[14] 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, the comedian Redd Foxx.[16] Morita used the nickname "The Hip Nip".[17][18]

Television and movie career[edit]

Arnold Takahashi with Richie (Ron Howard, left) on the TV series Happy Days in the 1975–76 season.
Photo of Arnold's wedding from Happy Days. Arnold asks Fonzie (Henry Winkler) to be his best man at his traditional Japanese wedding ceremony.

Early work[edit]

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. Rowan and Martin's Laugh In (1968 Season 1 Episode 8) Morita had appearances in different skits on the show. Morita had other notable recurring television roles on Sanford and Son (1974–1976) as Ah Chew, a good-natured friend of Lamont Sanford, and as South Korean Army Captain Sam Pak on the sitcom M*A*S*H (1973, 1974).[19] He was also cast as Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka in the war film Midway (1976).

Happy Days[edit]

Morita had a recurring role in the mid-1970's on Happy Days as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi (the new Japanese owner of Arnold's Drive-In) commencing in season three (1975–76). The story line was that Takahashi had purchased the Milwaukee eatery from the original Arnold but adopted the former's first name, explaining that it was too expensive for him to purchase the additional neon sign letters required to rename it "Takahashi's". As the new owner, he moonlighted as a martial arts instructor, teaching self-defense classes at the drive-in after hours. Morita also portrayed "Arnold" as a guest star during seasons four and six before returning as a recurring character for season ten and as a main character in the final eleventh season. He also portrayed the character of Arnold on Blansky's Beauties in 1977.

The Karate Kid film series[edit]

Morita gained particular fame during the 1980s for his work as Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid films. The original preferred choice was Toshiro Mifune, who had appeared in the Akira Kurosawa films Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), and The Hidden Fortress (1958), but the actor did not speak English.[20] Morita later auditioned for the role, but was initially rejected for the part due to his close association with stand-up comedy, and with the character Arnold from Happy Days.[20] Producer Jerry Weintraub in particular did not want Morita, as he saw him as a comedic actor.[21] Morita eventually tested five times before Weintraub himself offered him the role,[21] ultimately winning it because he grew a beard and patterned his accent after his uncle.[22] After he was cast and although he had been using the name Pat for years, Weintraub suggested that he be billed with his given name to sound "more ethnic".[23]

President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan posing for photos with Pat Morita and Yuki Morita

In the first film, in The Karate Kid (1984), he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a corresponding Golden Globe Award, for his role as the wise karate teacher Mr. Miyagi who taught bullied teenager Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) the art of Goju-ryu karate.[24] He was recognized as Noriyuki "Pat" Morita at the 57th Academy Awards ceremony.[25] He reprised the role two more times with Macchio in The Karate Kid Part II (1986) and The Karate Kid Part III (1989). In 1994, he starred in The Next Karate Kid with Hilary Swank (as bullied teenager Julie Pierce) instead of Macchio.

Television series[edit]

Morita was the star of two television series. In 1976, he starred 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. He also starred in the ABC detective show Ohara (1987–1988); it was cancelled after two seasons due to poor ratings.

Later work[edit]

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.

The handprints of Pat Morita in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park

He wrote and starred in the World War II romance film Captive Hearts (1987). He hosted the educational home video series Britannica's Tales Around the World (1990–1991). He made an appearance on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the 1994 Season 5 episode “Love Hurts”. Later in his career he 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. He 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.[26]

He spoofed his role as "Mr. Miyagi" in a series of commercials for Colgate toothpaste; he portrayed the white-clad Wisdom Tooth, hailing Colgate as "The Wise Choice".

He had a cameo appearance in the 2001 Alien Ant Farm music video "Movies". His 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 the sitcom 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.


Pat Morita died of kidney failure, following a urinary tract and gallbladder bacterial infection, on November 24, 2005, at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the age of 73. Throughout his life, Morita had battled alcoholism.[27][19][28] He was cremated at Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery in Las Vegas, Nevada.[29]

Posthumous credits[edit]

Roles created prior to his death were included in a few posthumous works. He voiced Master Udon in the 2006 SpongeBob SquarePants Season 4 episode "Karate Island" (the episode was dedicated to his memory). He had a role 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).[30] He also had roles in Act Your Age (2011), Royal Kill (2009), and Remove All Obstacles (2010).[31]

The fifth episode of the 2018–present series Cobra Kai (a web-streaming follow up to the original Karate Kid films) was dedicated to his memory.[32] Mr. Miyagi is frequently referenced via archival footage from the original films during Cobra Kai, having died on November 15, 2011 (6 years after Morita's death).

Morita's contributions to cinema and his legacy have been the subject of two documentaries including Pat Morita: Long Story Short and More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story in which he appeared in archival footage.[33][34]


Year Title Role Notes
1964 Jidôsha dorobô / Car Thieves Komugi Credited as Noriyuki Morita
1967 Thoroughly Modern Millie Bun Foo / Oriental No. 2
1968 The Shakiest Gun in the West Wong
1971 Green Acres Charlie Lee Season 6, Episode 25, "Hawaiian Honeymoon"
1972 Evil Roy Slade Turhan
Columbo Houseboy Episode: "Etude in Black"
Every Little Crook and Nanny Nonaka
Where Does It Hurt? Nishimoto
Cancel My Reservation Yamamoto
The Odd Couple Mr. Wing Episode: "Partner's Investment"
1973 Hawaii Five-O Phoebe Season 6, Episode 7, “Tricks Are Not Treats”
1973–1974 M*A*S*H Captain Sam Pak Season 2, Episode 13, "Deal Me Out".

Season 2, Episode 19, "The Chosen People".

1974 Cannon Chuck Yamagata Episode: "The Avenger"
Punch and Jody Takahasi
1974–1976 Sanford and Son Ah Chew 7 episodes
1975 I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? Heshy Yamamoto
Kung Fu Chan Season Three Episode 58 Ambush
1975–1983 Happy Days Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi 26 episodes
1976 Welcome Back, Kotter Mr. Takahashi
Mr. T and Tina Mr. Takahashi
Farewell to Manzanar Zenahiro
Midway Rear Admiral Ryūnosuke Kusaka
1977 Blansky's Beauties Arnold 13 episodes
1977–1987 Love Boat Unknown
1978 Man from Atlantis Moby Episode: "Imp"
The Incredible Hulk Fred Episode: "Stop the Presses"
1980 Hito Hata: Raise the Banner Yamada
When Time Ran Out Sam
1981 Full Moon High The Silversmith
1982 Savannah Smiles Father OHara
Jimmy the Kid Maurice
Slapstick of Another Kind Chinese Ambassador Ah Fong
1983 The Daltons on the Loose Jolly Jumper English dub
1984 The Karate Kid Mr. Miyagi Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Night Patrol Rape Victim
1985 Alice in Wonderland The Horse
1986 The Karate Kid Part II Mr. Miyagi
Babes In Toyland The Toymaster
1987 Captive Hearts Fukushima
1987–1988 Ohara Lieutenant 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
The Karate Kid (animated television series) Mr. Miyagi Opening narration; 12 episodes
Collision Course Inspector Fujitsuka Natsuo
1990 Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes Yoodo Toda
1991 Strawberry Road Old Man's Brother
Harry and the Hendersons Kenji Sahuara 1 episode
Do or Die Masakana "Kane" Kaneshiro
Lena's Holiday Fred
Goodbye Paradise Ben
1992 Choose Your Own Adventure: The Case of the Silk King (unknown) ABC Weekend Special (TV Series)
Honeymoon in Vegas Mahi Mahi
Miracle Beach Gus
Auntie Lee's Meat Pies Chief Koal
Genghis Khan Emperor Wang
1993 American Ninja V Master Tetsu
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues The Chink
Living and Working in Space Cap
Space Rangers Nazzer
1994 Great Conquest: The Romance of Three Kingdoms Narrator[35] English version
The Next Karate Kid Keisuke Miyagi
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Mr. Yoshi Episode: "Love Hurts"
1995 Timemaster Isaiah
The Misery Brothers Judge
Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah Himself
1996 Murder She Wrote Akira Hitaki Episode: "Kendo Killing"
Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite David Leung
Boy Meets World Wise Man Episode: "I Was a Teenage Spy"
Spy Hard Brian, Waiter In Restaurant
Reggie's Prayer Principal
Bloodsport III David Leung
Earth Minus Zero Dr. Mobius Jefferson
Married... with Children Mr. Shimakawa Episode: "Turning Japanese"
1996–1998 The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo Michael "Mike" Woo
1997 Captured Alive Sam Kashawahara
Beyond Barbed Wire Narrator Documentary
1998 Family Matters Mr. Tanaka Episode: "Grill of My Dreams"
The Outer Limits Dr. Michael Chen Episode: "In the Zone"
Diagnosis Murder Martin Gaylord Episode: “Food Fight” Season 5 Episode 23
Mulan The Emperor of China Voice
1998–1999 Adventures with Kanga Roddy Various Characters Recurring
1999 King Cobra Nick Hashimoto
Inferno Jubal Early
Los Gringos The Samurai Short film
2000 Brother Guy At The Poker Table Uncredited
Talk to Taka Taka Short film
I'll Remember April Abe Tanaka
Hammerlock Un Huong Lo
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
House of Luk Kwang Luk
The Boys of Sunset Ridge Charlie Watanabe
The Center of the World Taxi Driver
Shadow Fury Dr. Oh
Hwasango Vice Principal Jang Hak-Sa Dubbed version
2002 The Stone man Professor Stevens
The Biggest Fan Richard Limp
2003 High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story Mr. Leo
Yes, Dear Karate Teacher Episode: "When Jimmy Met Greggy"
2004 Miss Cast Away Himself Cameo
Elvis Has Left the Building Man In Turban
Mulan II The Emperor of China Voice
The Karate Dog Chin Li
2005 Robot Chicken Himself Voice;
Episode: "S&M Present"
Down and Derby Ono Yakimoto
American Fusion Lao Dong

Posthumous credits[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2006 Spymate Kiro Filmed in 2003
Only the Brave Seigo Takata
The Number One Girl Mr. Sakata
18 Fingers of Death! Freeman Lee
SpongeBob SquarePants Master Udon Voice;
Episode: "Karate Island;" Dedicated to his memory
Kingdom Hearts II The Emperor of China Voice
2009 Royal Kill Exhibition Manager Last acting role
2010 Remove All Obstacles The Guru Short film
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[36] Pat Morita: Long Story Short Manuscript Writer & Interviewee Documentary
2021 More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story Archival footage & Interviewee Documentary

See also[edit]


  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. November 25, 2005. Retrieved April 21, 2010.
  3. ^ Chad (October 25, 2019). "Pat Morita". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved June 12, 2024.
  4. ^ Costantinou, Marianne (November 26, 2005). "PAT MORITA: 1932–2005 / S.F. comic became 'Karate Kid' mentor". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  5. ^ "Japanese American Internee Data File: Tamaru Morita". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  6. ^ "Japanese American Internee Data File: Momoe Morita". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  7. ^ Herman, Karen (October 13, 2000). Pat Morita Interview. Archive of American Television. Academy of Television, Arts & Sciences Foundation. Event occurs at 5:28. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  8. ^ "Japanese American Internee Data File: Hideo Morita". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  9. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (November 26, 2005). "Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita, 73; Played 'Karate Kid' Teacher". Washington Post. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  10. ^ a b Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: FoundationINTERVIEWS (August 29, 2011), Pat Morita discusses changing his name to Pat – EMMYTVLEGENDS, retrieved March 22, 2019
  11. ^ Thurber, Jon (November 26, 2005), "Pat Morita, 73; Actor Starred in 'Karate Kid' Movie Series", The Los Angeles Times
  12. ^ Herman, Karen (October 13, 2000). Pat Morita Interview. Archive of American Television. Academy of Television, Arts & Sciences Foundation. Event occurs at 25:00. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  13. ^ "Featured Memorial – Pat Morita Obituary". Legacy.com. 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.
  14. ^ a b c d Champlin, Charles (June 22, 1986). "Morita's Long Road to Miyagi". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 16, 2020.
  15. ^ "Archive of American Television". Emmy Legends. Retrieved April 21, 2010.
  16. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: FoundationINTERVIEWS (August 29, 2011), Pat Morita discusses his mentor Redd Foxx - EMMYTVLEGENDS.ORG, retrieved March 22, 2019
  17. ^ "At County Fair: 'Hip Nip' To Perform Here" (Newspapers.com). The Napa Valley Register. Napa CA. June 6, 1967. p. 3.
  18. ^ Inman, Julia (August 24, 1976). "TV Scene: 'Hip Nip' Gave Up Hit Show For Uncertain New Series" (Newspapers.com). The Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis IN. p. 17.
  19. ^ a b "'Karate Kid' star Pat Morita dies at 73". Today.com. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  20. ^ a b Prewitt, Alex (May 1, 2018). "The Crane Kick Is Bogus: A Karate Kid Oral History". Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on May 11, 2019. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  21. ^ a b 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.
  22. ^ Lipton, Mike (December 12, 2004). "Pat Morita: 1932–2005". People Magazine. Archived from the original on May 13, 2019. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  23. ^ Schuler, Dave (November 25, 2005). "Pat Morita, 1932–2005". Theglitteringeye.com. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  24. ^ Champlin, Charles (June 22, 1986). "Morita's Long Road To Miyagi". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 25, 2010.
  25. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: Haing S. Ngor winning Best Supporting Actor. July 13, 2008 – via YouTube.
  26. ^ "Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita, 73; Played 'Karate Kid' Teacher". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 21, 2010. [dead link]
  27. ^ Egedegbe, Gracious (June 5, 2019). "'Happy Days' Star Pat Morita Had Been Battling Alcohol Addiction for Years but Lost It". Amo Mama.
  28. ^ Lipton, Mike (December 12, 2005). "Pat Morita: 1932–2005". People.com. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  29. ^ "Morita, Mr. Miyagi of 'Karate Kid' Dies". The Signal. November 26, 2005. Retrieved September 23, 2022.
  30. ^ "Meet Yuji Okumoto". konakitchen.com. Retrieved January 6, 2021.
  31. ^ "Order Your Free Copy of HCR's new movie – "Remove All Obstacles"". Archived from the original on July 8, 2012. Retrieved June 21, 2013.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ "PAT MORITA: LONG STORY SHORT – Asian Film Festival, Los Angeles". Retrieved March 10, 2023.
  34. ^ Dick, Jeremy (January 8, 2021). "More Than Miyagi Trailer Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Karate Kid Star Pat Morita". MovieWeb. Retrieved March 10, 2023.
  35. ^ Patten, Fred (May 10, 2015). "Streamline Pictures – Part 4". Cartoon Research. Retrieved February 24, 2024. ...since [Great Conquest] is such a condensation of 120 years of ancient Chinese history, Carl [Macek] spent more money than in Streamline Pictures' history on a single voice actor to hire actor Pat Morita to provide a voiceover narration to explain what an Oriental audience would have known.
  36. ^ "Scoplin Pictures". kevindereksbcglobaln.wix.com. Archived from the original on December 26, 2014.

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