Pat Morita

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Pat Morita
Pat Morita 1971 publicity photo.jpg
Morita in a 1971 publicity photo
Born Noriyuki "Pat" Morita
(1932-06-28)June 28, 1932[1]
Isleton, California, U.S.
Died November 24, 2005(2005-11-24) (aged 73)
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Cause of death Kidney failure
Occupation Actor
Years active 1960–2005 (his death)
Spouse(s) Kathleen Yamachi (m. 1953–67) (divorced),
Yukiye Kitahara (m. 1970–89) (divorced),
Evelyn Guerrero (m. 1994–2005) (his death)

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita (June 28, 1932 – November 24, 2005)[1] was an American stand-up comic, as well as a film and television actor who was well known for playing the roles of Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi on Happy Days and Mr. Kesuke Miyagi in the The Karate Kid movie series, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1985.[2] Additional notable roles include the Emperor of China in the Disney animated film Mulan (1998) and Ah Chew in Sanford and Son (1974–1976).

Morita was the series lead actor in the 1976 television program Mr. T and Tina, regarded as the first American sitcom centered on a person of Asian descent, and Ohara (1987–1988), a police-themed drama. Both made history for being some of the few TV shows to this day with an Asian American series lead. Both television shows were aired on ABC, but they were both short-lived.

Early life[edit]

Morita was born in Isleton, California.[3] Morita's father Tamaru, born in 1897, had emigrated to California from Kumamoto Prefecture on the Japanese island of Kyushu in 1915.[4] Tamaru's wife Momoe, born in 1903, had emigrated 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 Northern Californian hospitals, including the Shriners Hospital in San Francisco. For long periods he was wrapped in a full-body cast and was told he would never walk.[8] It was during his time at a sanitarium near Sacramento that he was given his stage name, "Pat". 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.[9] After about a year and a half, he was transferred to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center.[10]

For a time after the war, the family operated Ariake Chop Suey, a restaurant in Sacramento, California.[11] Morita would entertain customers with jokes and serve as master of ceremonies for group dinners.[12]

He struggled for many years as a stand-up comic. Sally Marr, Lenny Bruce's mother, acted as his agent and manager in his early days. Morita sometimes worked as the opening act for singers Vic Damone and Connie Stevens and comedian Redd Foxx. Foxx later gave him a role on his sitcom Sanford and Son in the early 1970s.

Television and movie career[edit]

Morita's first movie role was as a stereotypical henchman in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). Followed by The Shakiest Gun In The West starring Don Knotts in yet another stereotypical role in 1968. Later, a recurring role as South Korean Army Captain Sam Pak on the sitcom M*A*S*H helped advance the comedian's acting career.[13] He also was cast as Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka in the 1976 war film Midway.

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 again in the tenth season (1982-1983). 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 for the 1982–1983 season. Morita had another notable recurring television role on Sanford and Son as Ah Chew, a good-natured friend of Lamont Sanford, from 1974 to 1976.

Morita gained robust fame playing wise karate teacher Keisuke Miyagi, who taught young "Daniel-san" (Ralph Macchio) the art of karate in The Karate Kid.[14] He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a corresponding Golden Globe, reprising his role in three sequels: The Karate Kid Part II (1986), The Karate Kid Part III (1989) and The Next Karate Kid (1994, with Hilary Swank). Though 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."[15] Morita put this advice into practice and was recognized as Noriyuki "Pat" Morita at the 57th Academy Awards ceremony.[16]

Morita went on to play Tommy Tanaka in the Kirk Douglas-starring television movie Amos, receiving his first Emmy nomination and second Golden Globe nomination for the role. He then starred in the ABC detective show Ohara that aired in 1987; it ended a year later due to poor ratings. He then wrote and starred in the World War II romance film Captive Hearts (1987). From 1990 to 1991, Morita has hosted the educational home video series, Britannica's Tales Around the World. Later in his career Morita starred on the Nickelodeon television series The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, and had a recurring role on the sitcom The Hughleys. He also made a guest appearance on an episode of Married... with Children. He went on to star in Talk To Taka as a sushi chef who doles out advice to anyone who will hear him. In 1998 Morita voiced the Emperor of China in Disney's 36th animated feature Mulan and reprised the role in Kingdom Hearts II and Mulan II, a direct-to-video sequel.[17]

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. He would also reprise his role (to an extent) in the stop-motion animated series Robot Chicken.

One of Morita's last television roles was as Master Udon on the SpongeBob SquarePants 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 2005 independent feature film, Only the Brave, about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, where he plays the father of lead actor (and director) Lane Nishikawa. About this time he also starred in a Michael Sajbel movie called Remove All Obstacles as a cold storage guru. This was a 9-minute industrial short advertising doors used for cold storage warehouses.[18] Pat also took a small role in the independent film, Act Your Age, filmed in central Illinois and released in April 2011.[19] His last movie was Royal Kill, that also stars Eric Roberts, Gail Kim, and Lalaine, and is directed by Babar Ahmed.


Morita died on November 24, 2005, at his home in Las Vegas of kidney failure[20] at the age of 73.[21] He was survived by his wife of 11 years, Evelyn, his children from previous marriages, Erin, Aly and Tia, two grandchildren, siblings Gloria Imagire, Clarence Saika, Teddy Saika, Peggy Saika and his then-92-year-old mother, Dorothy Sueko Saika (1913–2009), of Milpitas, California.[13][21]

He was cremated at Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery in Las Vegas, Nevada.[22]

The SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Karate Island" (original air date May 12, 2006), for which he voiced Udon, was dedicated to his memory.


Title Year Roles Notes
Jidôsha dorobô 1964
Thoroughly Modern Millie 1967 Oriental #2
The Shakiest Gun in the West 1968 Wong
Evil Roy Slade 1972 Turhan
Every Little Crook and Nanny 1972 Nonaka
Where Does It Hurt? 1972 Nishimoto
Cancel My Reservation 1972 Yamamoto
Punch and Jody 1974 Takahasi
I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? 1975 Heshy Yamamoto
Happy Days 1975-1976, 1982-1983 Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi
Farewell to Manzanar 1976 Zenahiro
Midway 1976 Rear Admiral Ryūnosuke Kusaka
Hito Hata: Raise the Banner 1980 Yamada
When Time Ran Out 1980 Sam
Full Moon High 1981 The Silversmith
Savannah Smiles 1982 Father OHara
Jimmy the Kid 1982 Maurice
Slapstick of Another Kind 1982 Ah Fong, the Chinese Ambassador
The Karate Kid 1984 Mr. Kesuke Miyagi
Night Patrol 1984 Rape Victim
Alice in Wonderland 1985 The Horse
The Karate Kid Part II 1986 Mr. Kesuke Miyagi
Babes In Toyland 1986 The Toymaster
Captive Hearts 1987 Fukushima
The Karate Kid Part III 1989 Mr. Kesuke Miyagi
Collision Course 1989 Investigator Fujitsuka Natsuo
Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes 1990 Yoodo Toda
Strawberry Road 1991 Old Man's brother
Do or Die 1991 Masakana 'Kane' Kaneshiro
Lena's Holiday 1991 Fred
Goodbye Paradise 1991 Ben
Honeymoon in Vegas 1992 Mahi Mahi
Miracle Beach 1992 Gus
Auntie Lee's Meat Pies 1992 Chief Koal
Great Conquest: The Romance of 3 Kingdoms 1992 Narrator English version
Genghis Khan 1992 Emperor Wang
American Ninja V 1993 Master Tetsu
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues 1993 The Chink
Living and Working in Space 1993 Cap
The Next Karate Kid 1994 Mr. Kesuke Miyagi
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air 1994 Mr. Yoshi Episode: "Love Hurts"
Timemaster 1995 Isaiah
The Misery Brothers 1995 Judge
Murder She Wrote 1996 Akira Hitaki Episode: Kendo Killing
Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite 1996 David Leung
Boy Meets World 1996 Wise Man episode: "I Was a Teenage Spy"
Spy Hard 1996 Brian, Waiter in Restaurant
Reggie's Prayer 1996 Principal
Bloodsport III 1996 David Leung
Earth Minus Zero 1996 Dr. Mobius Jefferson
The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo 1996 - 1998 Mike 'Grandpa' Woo
Captured Alive 1997 Sam Kashawahara
Beyond Barbed Wire 1997 Narrator Documentary
Family Matters 1998 Mr. Tanaka Episode: Grill of my dreams
Mulan 1998 The Emperor of China Voice
Kanga Roddy 1998 - 1999 Recurring Character
King Cobra 1999 Nick Hashimoto
Inferno 1999 Jubal Early
Los Gringos 1999 The Samurai Short Movie
Brother 2000 Guy at the poker table Uncredited
Talk to Taka 2000 Taka Short Movie
I'll Remember April 2000 Abe Tanaka
Hammerlock 2000 Un Huong Lo
Diamonds in the Rough:
The Legacy of Japanese American Baseball
2000 Narrator NBRP Documentary
House of Luk 2001 Kwang Luk
The Boys of Sunset Ridge 2001 Charlie Watanabe
The Center of the World 2001 Taxi Driver
Shadow Fury 2001 Dr. Oh
Hwasango 2001 Vice Principal Jang Hak-Sa Dubbed version
The Stone man 2002 Prof. Stevens
The Biggest Fan 2002 Richard Limp
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story 2003 Mr. Leo
Miss Cast Away 2004
Elvis Has Left the Building 2004 Man in Turban
Mulan II 2004 The Emperor of China Voice
The Karate Dog 2004 Chin Li
Robot Chicken 2005
Down and Derby 2005 Ono Yakimoto
American Fusion 2005 Lao Dong

Posthumous releases[edit]

Title Year Roles Notes
Spymate 2006 Kiro
The Number One Girl 2006 Mr. Sakata
Only the Brave 2006 Seigo Takata
18 Fingers of Death! 2006 Freeman Lee
SpongeBob SquarePants 2006 Master Udon Voice, Episode: Karate Island
Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix 2007 The Emperor of China Voice
Royal Kill 2009 Exhibition Manager Last Filmed Role
Remove All Obstacles 2010 The Guru Short Movie
Interviews of Ninja's Creed 2010 Interviewee Documentary
Act Your Age 2011 Tom
Blunt Movie 2013 Mr. Miyami
Mulan: 15th Anniversary 2013 Interviewee Documentary
("Voices of Mulan" Segment)
Rice Girl 2014 Peter Ong (final film role)
The Real Miyagi 2015 Interviewee Documentary
Pat Morita: Long Story Short 2017[23] Manuscript Writer & 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. ^ "National Archives: Tamaru Morita". The National Archives. Retrieved November 2, 2016. 
  5. ^ "National Archives: Momoe Morita". The National Archives. Retrieved November 2, 2016. 
  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. ^ "National Archives: Hideo Morita". The National Archives. Retrieved November 2, 2016. 
  8. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (2005-11-26). "Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita, 73; Played 'Karate Kid' Teacher". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-21. 
  9. ^ Thurber, Jon (November 26, 2005), "Pat Morita, 73; Actor Starred in 'Karate Kid' Movie Series", The Los Angeles Times 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ "Archive of American Television". Emmy Legends. Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  13. ^ a b "'Karate Kid' star Pat Morita dies at 73". MSNBC. Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  14. ^ Champlin, Charles (1986-06-22). "Morita's Long Road To Miyagi". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-08-25. 
  15. ^ Schuler, Dave (25 November 2005). "Pat Morita, 1932–2005". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  16. ^ Haing S. Ngor winning Best Supporting Actor. 13 July 2008 – via YouTube. 
  17. ^ "Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita, 73; Played 'Karate Kid' Teacher". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-05-21. [dead link]
  18. ^ "Order Your Free Copy of HCR's new movie – "Remove All Obstacles"". Archived from the original on July 8, 2012. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  19. ^ "Act Your Age (2011)". IMDb. 1 April 2011. 
  20. ^ "Pat Morita (1932–2005)". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2011-11-21. [unreliable source?]
  21. ^ a b Lipton, Mike (2005-12-12). "Pat Morita: 1932–2005". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  22. ^ "Pat and Evelyn Morita Marriage Profile – The Marriage of Evelyn and Pat Morita". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  23. ^!patmorita/efk85

External links[edit]