Noriyuki "Pat" Morita (June 28, 1932 â" November 24, 2005) was an American film and television actor who was well known for playing the roles of Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi on Happy Days and Kesuke Miyagi in the The Karate Kid movie series, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1984.
Morita was the lead actor in the television program Mr. T and Tina, regarded as the first American sitcom centered on a person of Asian descent, and Ohara, a police-themed drama. Both television shows were aired on ABC, but they were both short-lived.
Pat Morita was born in Isleton, California. He developed spinal tuberculosis at the age of two and spent the bulk of the next nine years in Northern Californian hospitals, including the Shriners Hospital in San Francisco. For long periods he was wrapped in a full-body cast and was told he would never walk. It was during his time at a sanitarium near Sacramento that he was given his stage name, "Pat". 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.
For a time after the war, the family operated Ariake Chop Suey, a restaurant in Sacramento, California. Teenage "Nori" would entertain customers with jokes and serve as master of ceremonies for group dinners. Later, he worked as a data entry clerk for the State of California and at Aerojet-General Corporation near Sacramento. In the early 1960s, he started his career as a stand-up comedian known as The Hip Nip, performing in local nightclubs and bars. He also spent time as a member of the improvisational comedy troupe The Groundlings.
Television and movie career
His first movie role was as a stereotypical henchman in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). He also was cast as Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka, in the film Midway in 1976. Later, a recurring role as South Korean Army Captain Sam Pak on the sitcom M*A*S*H helped advance the comedian's acting career.
He had a recurring role on the show Happy Days as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi, owner of the diner Arnold's for the show's third season. After the third season (1975â"1976), he left the show to star 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. Morita starred in the short-lived Blansky's Beauties in 1977 as Arnold. Morita eventually returned to Happy Days, reprising his role in the 1982â"1983 season. He appeared in an episode of The Odd Couple and had a recurring role on Sanford and Son in the mid-1970s.
Morita gained robust fame playing wise karate teacher Keisuke Miyagi, who taught young "Daniel-san" (Ralph Macchio) in The Karate Kid. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and for a Golden Globe and reprised his role as the sensei Mr. Miyagi in three sequels: The Karate Kid, Part II (1986), The Karate Kid, Part III (1989) and The Next Karate Kid (1994, with Hilary Swank). Noriyuki actually never studied karate, and learned enough for the moves required in the film, The Karate Kid. Although he had been using the name "Pat Morita" for years, producer Jerry Weintraub suggested that Pat be billed with his given name to sound "more ethnic."
Morita went on to play Tommy Tanaka in the television movie Amos (for which he received Golden Globe Award and Emmy Award nominations), starring Kirk Douglas. He then starred as the title character in the ABC detective show Ohara which aired in 1987; it ended a year later due to poor ratings. He then wrote and starred in the World War II romance film Captive Hearts (1987). Later in his career Morita starred on the Nickelodeon television series The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, and had a recurring role on the sitcom The Hughleys. He also made a guest appearance on an episode of Married... with Children. He went on to star in Talk To Taka as a sushi chef who doles out advice to anyone who will hear him. In 1998 Morita voiced the Emperor of China in Disney's 36th animated feature Mulan and reprised the role in Kingdom Hearts II and Mulan II, a direct-to-video sequel.
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. He would also reprise his role (to an extent) in the stop-motion animated series Robot Chicken.
One of Morita's last television roles was as Master Udon on the SpongeBob SquarePants episode, "Karate Island". The episode was dedicated to him after he died about six months after its first run. One of his last film roles was in the 2005 independent feature film, Only the Brave, about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, where he plays the father of lead actor (and director) Lane Nishikawa. About this time he also starred in a Michael Sajbel movie called Remove All Obstacles as a cold storage guru. This was a 9 minute industrial short advertising doors used for cold storage warehouses. Pat also took a small role in the independent film, Act Your Age, filmed in central Illinois and released in April 2011. His last movie was Royal Kill, which also stars Eric Roberts, Gail Kim, and Lalaine, and is directed by Babar Ahmed.
Morita died on November 24, 2005, at his home in Las Vegas of kidney failure at the age of 73. He was survived by his wife of 11 years, Evelyn, his children from previous marriages, Erin, Aly and Tia, two grandchildren, siblings Gloria Imagire, Clarence Saika, Teddy Saika, Peggy Saika and his then-92-year-old mother, Dorothy Sueko Saika (1913â"2009), of Milpitas, California.
He was cremated at Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery in Las Vegas, Nevada.
- Pat Morita at the Internet Movie Database
- Pat Morita at the TCM Movie Database
- Pat Morita at AllMovie
- Pat Morita at Find a Grave
- "Pat Morita, 73, Actor Known for 'Karate Kid' and 'Happy Days,' Dies", The New York Times, November 26, 2005Â
- Pat Morita on People.com
- 1967 Stars & Stripes Article on Morita at the Wayback Machine (archived August 8, 2009)
- Archive of American Television oral history interview with Pat Morita