Pat Morita is a Japanese-American actor best known for playing Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid film series. He died of kidney failure on November 24, 2005. He was 73. According to his wife Evelyn, the actor’s struggle with alcoholism escalated his health problems as he got older. “He said, ‘I tried. I can’t do it. I’m an addict,’” she told People.
Morita was first hospitalized in October 2005, when he developed a severe bladder and urinary tract infection. His health continued to deteriorate up to his death. “The night before his death, he said, ‘Evi, you have to let me go. I gotta go home now. I gotta be with Redd Foxx and all those funny guys up there in the sky,’” recalled Evelyn. “He had a huge heart, and he was the love of my life, and he will forever be missed.”
Morita Died of Kidney Failure on November 24, 2005
Morita, born Noriyuki Morita, started doing stand-up comedy in the 1960s. His success led to guest spots on variety shows like Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and sitcoms like M*A*S*H and Sanford and Son, before he landed a recurring role on Happy Days. When Morita first auditioned for the part of Mr. Miyagi in 1984, he was turned down. The film’s producer, Jerry Weintraub, felt that the actor was too well known as Arnold from Happy Days, and viewers wouldn’t be able to take him seriously.
Determined to get the part, however, Morita grew a beard and adopted an accent for later auditions, and was so effective that Weintraub didn’t even recognize him. “When Jerry saw it, he said, ‘That’s what I want—a goddamn actor,’ not realizing it was Pat,” Evelyn revealed. For his performance, Morita was nominated for the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1985. He returned as Mr. Miyagi in three sequels, each of which were successful at the box office.
Morita Was Nominated for an Oscar & a Golden Globe for Playing Mr. Miyagi
There are several references to Miyagi in Cobra Kai, the YouTube series that doubles as a sequel to the original franchise. Ralph Macchio told the Hollywood Reporter that it was very important to him that they honor the character’s memory. “It was important to me that Pat’s legacy was not lost, even though the whole concept was about the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny Lawrence,” he said. “We didn’t want the human element of the show to get lost, and that human element really stems from Mr. Miyagi.”
“We’re not here without Pat Morita’s performance in that film. The heart and soul of the Karate Kid universe are the teachings of Mr. Miyagi,” Macchio added. “We were able to find some interesting angles and interesting shots. If you’re really familiar with Karate Kid, you’re going to see things from 1984 that you’ve never seen before. You will see Pat onscreen.” Morita’s memorial service was held at the Palm Mortuary & Memorial Park in Las Vegas, Nevada. He’s survived by his wife Evelyn and his three daughters; Tia, Aly, and Erin.