Pat Morita

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Pat Morita
Pat Morita 1971 publicity photo.jpg
Morita in 1971
Noriyuki Morita

(1932-06-28)June 28, 1932 [1]
DiedNovember 24, 2005(2005-11-24) (aged 73)
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1967–2005
  • 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 a Japanese-American actor and comedian. He was known for his roles as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi on Happy Days , Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid film series, Captain Sam Pak on the sitcom M*A*S*H , Ah Chew in Sanford and Son , Mike Woo in The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo , and The Emperor of China in Mulan and Mulan II . He 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.


Morita was nominated for the 1984 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid , [2] which would be the first of a media franchise in which Morita was the central player.

Early life

Morita was born in Isleton, California, in 1932. [3] Morita's father Tamaru, born in 1897, immigrated to California from Kumamoto Prefecture on the Japanese island of Kyushu in 1915. [4] Tamaru's wife, Momoe, born in 1903, immigrated 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 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. [8] 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". [9] 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. [10] After about a year and a half, he was transferred to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center. [11]

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, [12] 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". [13] Morita would entertain customers with jokes and serve as master of ceremonies for group dinners. [14] After Morita's father was killed in 1956 in a hit-and-run accident 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. [13]

However, Morita suffered from occupational burnout and decided to quit his job and try show business. [13] He began working as a stand-up comedian at small clubs in Sacramento and San Francisco, and took the stage name "Pat Morita", in part due to the presence of comedians including Pat Henry and Pat Cooper, and in part due to memories of the priest he had befriended as a boy. [9] Morita struggled for many years in comedy, until fellow performer—ventriloquist Hank Garcia—told him to try his luck in Los Angeles. [13] 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, [15] the comedian Redd Foxx.

Television and movie career

Early work

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. 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 a South Korean Army Captain Sam Pak on the sitcom M*A*S*H (1973, 1974). [16] He was also cast as Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka in the war film Midway (1976).

Happy Days

Morita (with Ron Howard, left) played Arnold Takahashi on the TV series Happy Days in the 1975-76 season. Ron Howard and Pat Morita in Happy Days 1975 promo.jpg
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 Pat Morita (handprints in cement).jpg
The handprints of Pat Morita in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park

Morita had a recurring role on Happy Days as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi (the owner of Arnold's Drive-In) during season three (1975–76). He stated that he obtained the moniker when he purchased Arnold's restaurant and people thought it was named after him, explaining that it was too costly to buy enough letter signs needed to rename it "Takahashi". 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

Morita gained particular fame playing wise karate teacher Mr. Miyagi, who taught young "Daniel-san" (Ralph Macchio) the art of Goju-ryu karate in The Karate Kid (1984). [17] He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a corresponding Golden Globe Award, reprising his role in three sequels: The Karate Kid Part II (1986), The Karate Kid Part III (1989) and The Next Karate Kid (1994), the last of which starred Hilary Swank instead of Macchio. Though he was 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." [18] Morita put this advice into practice and was recognized as Noriyuki "Pat" Morita at the 57th Academy Awards ceremony. [19] Weintraub initially did not want to cast Morita for the part of Mr. Miyagi, wanting a dramatic actor for the part and labeling Morita a comedic actor. Morita eventually tested five times before Weintraub himself offered him the role. [20]

Television series

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

Morita in 2002 Pat Morita.jpg
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.

He wrote and starred in the World War II romance film Captive Hearts (1987). Morita hosted the educational home video series Britannica's Tales Around the World (1990–1991). Later in his career Morita 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. Morita 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 . [21]

Morita 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".

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. In 2002, he made a guest appearance on an episode of Spy TV. In 2003, he had a cameo on an episode of 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.


Morita died of kidney failure, following a urinary tract and gallbladder infection, on November 24, 2005, at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the age of 73. Throughout his life, Morita had battled alcoholism. [22] [16] [23] He was cremated at Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery in Las Vegas, Nevada. [24]

Posthumous credits

Roles created prior to his passing 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). [25] He also had roles in Act Your Age (2011), Royal Kill (2009), and Remove All Obstacles (2010). [26]

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. [27] Mr. Miyagi is frequently referenced via archival footage during the series, having passed away on November 15, 2011 (6 years after Morita's death).


1964Jidôsha dorobô
1967 Thoroughly Modern Millie Asian #2
1968 The Shakiest Gun in the West Wong
1971 Green Acres Charlie LeeSeason 6, Episode 25, "Hawaiian Honeymoon"
1972 Evil Roy Slade Turhan
1972 Columbo HouseboyEpisode: "Etude in Black"
1972 Every Little Crook and Nanny Nonaka
1972 Where Does It Hurt? Nishimoto
1972 Cancel My Reservation Yamamoto
1972 The Odd Couple Mr. WingEpisode: "Partner's Investment"
1973–1974 M*A*S*H Captain Sam PakSeason 2, Episode 13, "Deal Me Out".

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

1974 Cannon Chuck YamagataEpisode: "The Avenger"
1974 Punch and Jody Takahasi
1974–1976 Sanford and Son Ah Chew7 episodes
1975 I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? Heshy Yamamoto
1975 Kung Fu ChanSeason Three Episode 58 Ambush
1975–1983 Happy Days Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi26 episodes
1976 Welcome Back, Kotter Mr. Takahashi
1976 Farewell to Manzanar Zenahiro
1976 Midway Rear Admiral Ryūnosuke Kusaka
1977 Blansky's Beauties Arnold13 episodes
1977–1987 Love Boat
1978 The Incredilble Hulk (1978 TV series) FredEpisode: "Stop the Presses"
1980Hito Hata: Raise the BannerYamada
1980 When Time Ran Out Sam
1981 Full Moon High The Silversmith
1982 Savannah Smiles Father OHara
1982 Jimmy the Kid Maurice
1982 Slapstick of Another Kind Ah Fong, the Chinese Ambassador
1983The Daltons on the LooseJolly JumperEnglish dub
1984 The Karate Kid Mr. Miyagi Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1984 Night Patrol Rape Victim
1985 Alice in Wonderland The Horse
1986 The Karate Kid Part II Mr. Miyagi
1986 Babes In Toyland The Toymaster
1987 Captive Hearts Fukushima
1987–1988 Ohara Lt. Ohara
1988 Big Bird in Japan "Bamboo Princess" Play NarratorVoice
1989 The Karate Kid Part III Mr. MiyagiNominated – Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor
1989 The Karate Kid (animated television series)Mr. MiyagiOpening narration; 12 episodes
1989 Collision Course Investigator Fujitsuka Natsuo
1990 Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes Yoodo Toda
1991Strawberry RoadOld Man's brother
1991 Harry and the Hendersons Kenji Sahuara1 episode
1991 Do or Die Masakana 'Kane' Kaneshiro
1991Lena's HolidayFred
1991Goodbye ParadiseBen
1992 Honeymoon in Vegas Mahi Mahi
1992 Miracle Beach Gus
1992Auntie Lee's Meat PiesChief Koal
1992Great Conquest: The Romance of 3 KingdomsNarratorEnglish version
1992 Genghis Khan Emperor Wang
1993 American Ninja V Master Tetsu
1993 Even Cowgirls Get the Blues The Chink
1993Living and Working in SpaceCap
1993 Space Rangers Nazzer
1994 The Next Karate Kid Keisuke Miyagi
1994 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Mr. YoshiEpisode: "Love Hurts"
1995 Timemaster Isaiah
1995The Misery BrothersJudge
1996 Murder She Wrote Akira HitakiEpisode: "Kendo Killing"
1996 Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite David Leung
1996 Boy Meets World Wise ManEpisode: "I Was a Teenage Spy"
1996 Spy Hard Brian, Waiter in Restaurant
1996Reggie's PrayerPrincipal
1996 Bloodsport III David Leung
1996Earth Minus ZeroDr. Mobius Jefferson
1996–1998 The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo Michael "Mike" Woo
1997Captured AliveSam Kashawahara
1997Beyond Barbed WireNarratorDocumentary
1998 Family Matters Mr. TanakaEpisode: "Grill of My Dreams"
1998 The Outer Limits Dr. Michael ChenEpisode: "In the Zone"
1996 Married... with Children Bank OwnerEpisode: "Turning Japanese"
1998 Diagnosis Murder Martin GaylordEpisode: “Food Fight” Season 5 Episode 23
1998 Mulan The Emperor of ChinaVoice
1998–1999 Adventures with Kanga Roddy Various charactersRecurring
1999 King Cobra Nick Hashimoto
1999 Inferno Jubal Early
1999Los GringosThe SamuraiShort film
2000 Brother Guy at the poker tableUncredited
2000Talk to TakaTakaShort film
2000 I'll Remember April Abe Tanaka
2000HammerlockUn Huong Lo
2000Diamonds in the Rough:
The Legacy of Japanese American Baseball
Narrator NBRP Documentary
2001 Son of the Beach The KingEpisode: B.J Blue Hawaii
2001 Baywatch: Hawaii Hideki TanakaRecurring role as the father of Kekoa Tanaka
2001House of LukKwang Luk
2001The Boys of Sunset RidgeCharlie Watanabe
2001 The Center of the World Taxi Driver
2001 Shadow Fury Dr. Oh
2001 Hwasango Vice Principal Jang Hak-SaDubbed version
2002The Stone manProf. Stevens
2002 The Biggest Fan Richard Limp
2003 High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story Mr. Leo
2003 Yes, Dear Karate TeacherEpisode: "When Jimmy Met Greggy"
2004 Miss Cast Away HimselfCameo
2004 Elvis Has Left the Building Man in Turban
2004 Mulan II The Emperor of ChinaVoice
2004 The Karate Dog Chin Li
2005 Robot Chicken HimselfVoice;
Episode: "S&M Present"
2005 Down and Derby Ono Yakimoto
2005American FusionLao Dong

Posthumous credits

2006 Spymate KiroFilmed in 2003
2006 Only the Brave Seigo Takata
2006The Number One GirlMr. Sakata
2006 18 Fingers of Death! Freeman Lee
2006 SpongeBob SquarePants Master UdonVoice;
Episode: "Karate Island"
2006 Kingdom Hearts II The Emperor of ChinaVoice
2009 Royal Kill Exhibition ManagerLast acting role
2010Remove All ObstaclesThe GuruShort film
2010Interviews of Ninja's CreedIntervieweeDocumentary
2011Act Your AgeTom
2013Blunt MovieMr. Miyami
2014Rice GirlPeter Ong(final film role)
2015The Real MiyagiIntervieweeDocumentary
2018–present Cobra Kai Mr. Miyagi Archival footage
2019 [28] Pat Morita: Long Story ShortManuscript Writer & IntervieweeDocumentary
2021More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita StoryArchival footage & IntervieweeDocumentary

Related Research Articles

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