Dark Matters remembers actor Pat Morita, born Noriyuki Morita in Isleton, CA, on June 28, 1932, and died November 24, 2005. It’s surprising to learn that Morita was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis at age 2, spent most of the nine following years in hospitals, at times wore a full bodycast, and was told he’d never walk again. At the age of 11, he had extensive spinal surgery and began the journey of learning how to walk. After his recovery he joined his family, who were being detained at a Japanese internment camp in Arizona during WWII.
After the war and their release, Morita’s family operated a restaurant, while he worked at various jobs, incuding a data clerk; he also began his career as a stand-up comedian, also performing in an improv comedy troupe called The Groundlings. His first film role was as a stereotypical “henchman” in the 1967 musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” with Julie Andrews. A recurring role as a South Korean army captain in the TV show “M.A.S.H.” helped advance his career.
One of his best-known roles was on the hit show “Happy Days” as Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi, owner of the diner Arnold’s for the show’s third season. He left “Happy Days” to star in the TV show “Mr. T. and Tina,” which although short-lived, was the first Asian-American sitcom on network TV. The other famous role is, of course, as Mr. Miyagi with Ralph Macchio in the three “Karate Kid” movies in the 1980s. For this performance, Morita was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1984.
Besides these famous roles, Morita accumulated a long list of performances in his career in shows like TV movie “Amos” for which he earned Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, TV shows “The Incredible Hulk,” “Love Boat,” “Blanksy’s Beauties,” “Baywatch,” “Sanford and Son,” “Love American Style,” and the lead role as Lieutenant Ohara in the crime drama “Ohara.” His film career includes performances in movies such as the sci fi flick “Shadow Fury,” horror movie, “Full Moon High,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” and “Mulan” (voice).
Pat Morita paved the way for Asian-American actors, and he continues to be missed.