Following the success of the first Karate Kid film, Pat Morita received recognition for his performance of Mr. Miyagi. However, when he died, 21 years after The Karate Kid premiered, he was without career opportunities. In 2010, his daughter Aly published an essay in Hyphen magazine, which detailed her father’s final years. She wrote:
At the time of his passing in 2005 at age 73, my father was a forgotten star. He lived in Las Vegas, separated from his third wife, unable to land any jobs because he was too old and still riding on the coattails of his Karate Kid heyday.
The decline in his career and personal life was largely due to Morita’s alcoholism, as noted in the new documentary More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story.
Morita’s Third Wife Spoke About His Struggle With Alcoholism
The film, which was released on February 5, showed a clip of Morita’s third wife, Evelyn Guerrero, on the talk show Table for 5 with Felicia and Annette. During the interview, the actress revealed that her late husband started drinking when he was 12, and alcoholism ran in his family. She also implied that Morita used alcohol as a way to mask his childhood trauma.
As previously reported by Heavy, the actor was hospitalized as a child for nine years until he was 11, while he was recovering from spinal tuberculosis. In 1943, he was healthy enough to leave the hospital but soon was forced to live in a Japanese-American internment camp. According to Guerrero, Morita also “was an abandoned child.”
“He had a lot of abandonment issues. He was an unwanted child the mother he thought raised him was really his aunt. It was his aunt’s sister that was really his biological mother, and how convenient was it he happened to get sick at the age of two. Now they just sent him away, let’s get rid of the problem, so he had to deal with that,” explained the actress.
Morita’s long-time assistant, Karen Klostermann, also commented on his drinking issues in the documentary.
“He drank every day, he drank every day, he put it in his coffee– vodka,” said Klostermann.
She noted that his drinking did not initially hinder his career, stating,
I never had to go over any lines. He knew his lines perfectly.
Morita’s Drinking Later Affected His Professional Life
In the documentary, Guerrero asserted that later in his career, Morita’s alcoholism became a problem in his professional life.
“When the drinking started getting really bad, it started showing in his performance the few jobs that he did get he was showing up late. He clearly looked intoxicated,” stated the 71-year-old.
She described a particularly low point for the actor, in which he was too inebriated to participate in the first day of shooting the Happy Days: 30th Anniversary Reunion. Morita played Arnold on the sitcom and was set to perform in a skit for the special, which aired eight months before his death.
“This is when he realized he had a big problem,” said Guerrero.
While Morita’s battle with substance abuse caused issues in their marriage, the actress stated that she “never stopped loving him.”
In 2005, People magazine reported that Morita died as a result of “complications from alcoholism.” While speaking to the publication, Guerrero stated that he went to a rehabilitation center in 2004, but “he relapsed big time.”
“[The doctors] warned him if he continued to drink, he would die,” disclosed the actress.