1st Asian American sitcom on network TV: Pat Morita

2 10 2008

You know, we often talk about the success stories of our heroes without talking about their pitfalls, their struggles, their hurdles.

Pat Morita,  better known as Mr. Miyagi, from the movie The Karate Kid, taught a generation of young people how to block a punch with  “wax on, wax off” while coaching “Daniel-san” karate and catching flies with chopstick.

Moving on to what you did not know.

Doctors told Pat Morita that he would not be able to walk when he was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis at the age of two. He spent the next nine years, enduring long periods in full body casts, in various Californian hospitals.

It took fusing four vertebrae in Pat’s spine for him to finally learn how to walk again at the age of 11. By this time, in the middle of WWII, his family had been sent to a Japanese internment camp in Arizona.

After this painful time during the war, Pat and his family moved back to California where they owned a Sacramento restaurant called “Ariake Chop Suey.” As a teenager, Pat would entertain customers with jokes and serve as master of ceremonies for group dinners.

Pat went on to graduate from Armijo High School and worked at Aerojet-General, an aerospace company that designed and manufactured rocket engines. He promoted to head of computer operations, became a husband and father. Pretty middle-class American, no?

That is when he decided he had taken the wrong path in life. He quit and became a standup comedian using the name “the Hip Nip. ” He joined The Groundlings, a LA improvisational comedy troupe. His first movie role was as a stereotypical henchman in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). He later took a recurring role as South Korean Army Captain Sam Pak on the iconoclastic sitcom M*A*S*H.

He went on to star as the first Asian American sitcom on network TV as inventor Taro Takahashi. He shot to international fame playing wise karate teacher Keisuke Miyagi in “The Karate Kid.” He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as well as a Golden Globe and reprised his role as the sensei Mr. Miyagi in three sequels.

One of Morita’s last TV roles was as Master Udon on the SpongeBob SquarePants episode, “Karate Island.” His last movie was Royal Kill, a 2008 thriller about a guard who must protect a high school girl.

Now for the question everyone wanted to know. Pat Morita has an American accent but used a Japanese accent when playing Mr. Miyagi.

This prolific actor, appearing in Honeymoon in Vegas, Spy Hard, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, The Center of the World and nearly 100 other roles. He died of natural causes on November 24, 2005 at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada at the age of 73. He was cremated and laid to rest in Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery. During his funeral procession, his Karate Kid co-star, Ralph Macchio said, “Forever, my Sensei”

Image from: http://www.rubinville.com/dailydave/uploaded_images/miyagi-773738.jpg




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