The entertainment world lost another one of their own recently. Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, best known as Mr. Kesuke Miyagi in “The Karate Kid” movies, died Thursday, Nov. 24 at his Las Vegas home of natural causes. He was 73 years old. Morita was born on June 28, 1932 in Isleton, California and was the son of a fruit worker. He was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis at the age of two and spent the next nine years of his life in and out of Northern California hospitals. He was told that he would never walk again, but he eventually learned how to walk again at the age of 11 when a surgeon fused four vertebrae in his spine. Morita graduated from Armijo High School in Fairfield, Calif. and decided to take a job with Aerojet- General, an aerospace company who designs and manufactures rocket engines. After working there for a little bit, he realized that he made a wrong life choice, so he quit and became a standup comedian under the name “the Hip Nip.” He became a member of the Groundlings, a Los Angeles improvisational group.
From there, he received his first acting role as a stereotypical henchman in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in 1967. His first big break was playing the original owner of Arnold’s diner, Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi, during the first season of “Happy Days” in 1975. He left the show after the first season to star in his own TV show on ABC entitled “Mr. T and Tina” where he played an inventor, but the show was cancelled after just a month in 1976. He eventually went back to reprise his role as Arnold on “Happy Days” in the 1982-1983 season. Morita’s most memorable role came when he played the infamous karate teacher, Kesuke Miyagi, who taught Daniel “Daniel-san” LaRusso, played by hunky ’80s star Ralph Macchio, to “wax on/wax off” in the 1984 hit movie “The Karate Kid.” With that movie, he earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and also a Golden Globe nomination. He later reprised the role of Mr. Miyagi in the three sequels that followed.
Throughout the ’90s, Morita had small roles in movies such as “Honeymoon in Vegas” and “Spy Hard,” and starred in the 1996 Nickelodeon program “The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo” as Mike “Grandpa” Woo. He also had a cameo apperance in Alien Ant Farm’s 2001 music video “Movies,” where Morita spoofed his role from “The Karate Kid.” Morita gave such a memorable performance in “The Karate Kid” and will sadly be missed by fans all across America. He is survived by his second wife, Evelyn Gurrero, his first wife Yuki, and his three daughters from his first marriage. Yuki and three daughters were with him when he died on Thanksgiving day.
“It was both my honor and privilege to have worked with him and create a bit of cinema magic together,” Macchio said in a statement regarding his longtime friend. “My life is all the richer for having known him. I will miss his genuine friendship” (usatoday. com).