Full Name: Noriyuki “Pat” Morita
Birthdate: June 28, 1932
Died: November 24, 2005
Birthplace: Islington, California, U.S.
Known for: American actor and comedian
The Emperor of China in Mulan and Mulan II, as well as Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi on Happy Days, Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid films, Captain Sam Pak on MAS*H, Ah Chew in Sanford and Son, and Mike Woo in The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, were some of Pat Morita’s well-known roles. He was the star of Mr T and Tina and of the police drama Ohara on television. The two shows set a record by featuring an Asian American series lead, which is a rarity on television.
Morita was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1984 for his performance of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, the first of a series of films in which he would play a prominent role.
Morita was located in the city of Isleton, California, in the year 1932. Tamaru Morita, Morita’s late father, was raised in Northern Japan on Kyushu Island in 1897 and emigrated to California in 1915. Momoe, Tamaru’s wife, was born in 1903 and moved to California in 1913. Pat’s name was Noriyuki, and he had a twelve-year-old brother called Hideo (Harry).
Sadly, Morita was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis at the age of two and spent the following nine years in and out of several hospitals, the most important of which was the Shriners Hospital in San Francisco. The doctor told him that he would never walk again after placing him in a full-body cast for months on end. Morita met a visiting chaplain in a sanatorium outside Sacramento, and the priest joked that if Morita someday switched to Catholicism, the priest would rename him “Patrick Aloysius Ignatius Xavier Noriyuki Morita” Morita was taken straight from the hospital to the Gila River camp in Arizona to reunite his imprisoned family when he was 11 years old, having had major spine surgical procedure and learning to walk. Approximately a year and a half later, he was sent to the Tule Lake War Relocation Site in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
After the Second World War, Morita returned to the Bay Area, where he attended Armijo High School before earning his high school diploma in 1949. After WWII, the family managed Ariake Chop Suey, a cuisine in Sacramento, California, which Morita would eventually depict as “a Japanese family running a Chinese restaurant in a black neighbourhood with customers of black folks, Hispanics and everyone else who simply doesn’t fit in some of the other neighbourhoods” Customers would be entertained by Morita’s humour, and he would also serve as the emcee for group meals. Morita and his mother maintained the restaurant was open for yet another 3 – 4 years after Morita’s father was murdered in a hit-and-run tragedy while heading home from an all-night film in 1956. To help his wife and newborn child, Morita worked as a data processor for the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies in the early 1960s, eventually progressing to a midnight shift job at Aerojet General. He eventually became department head at another aerospace company, Lockheed, where he was in charge of liaising with engineers and programmers planning lunar eclipses for the Polaris and Titan missile programmes.
Television and movie career
Morita’s first film appearances were as a thug in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and a similar character in Don Knott’s The Shakiest Gun In The West (1968). Morita also had frequent tv performances on Sanford and Son (1974–1976) as Ah Chew, Lamont Sanford’s good-natured friend, and on MAS*H as a South Korean Soldier Sam Pak (1973, 1974). In the battle film Midway, he played Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka.
The character of Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi, owner of Arnold’s Drive-In, played by Morita appeared on Happy Days several times during season three (1975–76). He explained that he got the nickname when he bought Arnold’s restaurant and people assumed it was called after him because it was too costly to acquire enough letter signage to rebrand it “Takahashi” When he wasn’t working, he was a kung fu trainer at a nearby drive-in theatre. As a guest star in seasons 4 and 6, Morita played “Arnold” before returning as a series regular in season 10 and the show’s primary protagonist in the season’s concluding eleventh episode. In 1977, he played Arnold in the television series Blansky’s Beauties.
While playing Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, Morita achieved notoriety for his portrayal of a clever karate teacher (1984). After appearing in three sequels to The Karate Kid: Parts II, III, and IV, he was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. Hilary Swank replaced Macchio in The Next Karate Kid: Part V, which was released in 1994. Despite never having studied karate, he was able to learn what he needed for the movies. Despite going by the name Pat for years, producer Jerry Weintraub proposed that he be given his given name in order to sound “more ethnic.” Morita followed this advice and was honoured at the 57th Academy Awards ceremony as Noriyuki “Pat” Morita. Initially, Weintraub was hesitant to hire Morita in the role of Mr Miyagi, preferring a dramatic actor for the role and dismissing Morita as a humorous performer. Morita was put through five rounds of testing before Weintraub personally handed him the part.
Morita starred in two television shows. Mr. T and Tina was the first network television sitcom to include an Asian-American lead actor, and he played inventor Taro Takahashi. ABC aired the show on Saturday night in the fall of 1976, but it was abruptly pulled from the air a month later. The ABC crime drama Ohara (1987–1988), in which he acted, was discontinued after just two seasons due to low ratings.
On November 24, 2005, Morita, 73, passed away from chronic kidney disease after contracting a urinary tract and gallbladder inflammation. He lived in Las Vegas, Nevada. Morita had struggled with drinking all of his life. He was cremated and buried in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery.