For over two decades he endeared himself to young moviegoers as the sage, kind mentor Mr. Miyagi; now, generations of fans must say ‘Sayonara’ to actor Pat Morita.
The beloved Japanese-American actor passed away from natural causes Thanksgiving Day in a Las Vegas hospital. At the time of his death, Morita had over 100 screen credits under his belt including "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (his film debut), TV’s "Ohara" (created, written by, and starring Morita), and of course, "The Karate Kid" series.
Widely known for his signature role in "Karate Kid" as Daniel-San’s soft-spoken, Japanese-accented martial arts teacher, Morita was actually born Noriyuki Morita in California, and was sent to live in an internment camp during World War II as a child. He entered show business as a stand-up comedian in the 1960s — self-stylized as the "Hip Nip" — and graduated to small roles in movies like "Millie," "The Shakiest Gun In The West," and "Cancel My Reservation." Morita’s bigger break came with a role on "Happy Days" as restaurant owner Arnold, followed by a run of television roles before his career-defining turn opposite Ralph Macchio in 1984’s "The Karate Kid."
Morita received an Academy Award nomination for his Mr. Miyagi role, becoming the first Asian-American to receive that honor. He went on to reprise the role in each of the three "Karate Kid" sequels, including the fourth installation, "The Next Karate Kid," starring a young Hilary Swank. Of late, Morita lent his voice to the animated films, "Mulan" and "Mulan II."