Pat Morita was a Japanese American actor best known for his roles as Arnold on “Happy Days” and Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid” franchise. Morita was born Noriyuki Morita in Sacramento County, California, in 1932, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. His parents, Tamaru and Momoe Morita, emigrated to the United States from the Japanese island of Kyushu, according to their Japanese American Internee Data Files from the National Archives and Records Administration.
Morita spent about seven years of his childhood in a full-body cast after being diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis at age 2, according to a biography on the website for the City of Fairfield, California. He spent the next nine years in the Weimar Sanitarium, according to the Los Angeles Times.
At the age of 11, an experimental spinal surgery granted him the ability to walk, the Los Angeles Times reported. Morita was discharged from the hospital and taken by the FBI to Arizona, where he was placed in the Gila River Relocation Center with his family, the outlet reported. He was later transferred to the Tule Lake Segregation Center, according to an interview with the Television Academy Foundation.
Morita died of kidney failure in 2005, leaving behind a wife and the three daughters he had had with two ex-wives.
Here’s what you need to know about Pat Morita’s kids and family:
1. Morita’s Daughters Did Not Agree to Be in the ‘More Than Miyagi’ Documentary
The 2021 documentary “More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story” looks closely at the actor’s childhood and his struggles with alcoholism. It became available to stream February 5 on Apple TV.
According to Pacific Citizen, “More Than Miyagi” director Kevin Derek said one of Morita’s daughters “asked to see its outline and structure.” When he shared it and asked to interview her, “she responded that she needed to be included as a writer and producer in order to participate,” the outlet wrote.
Derek told the outlet that he told her “there can only be one chef in the kitchen and that I would like an ongoing dialogue but do not want any side of the family influencing the direction of this doc.”
Aly Morita, Pat Morita’s daughter, told Pacific Citizen in an email:
My sisters and I are aware of a documentary being made right now about our father, but have declined to become involved.
As the current documentary being made stands now, we are not confident that it will be done with our father’s best interest in mind, but rather as a vehicle for my father’s third wife to tell her version of a very incomplete story.
My family has strong personal reasons for not supporting this project, and anyone else who has decided to follow suit has done so on their own accord. We want more than anything for our father’s story to be told, but we want it done right with the right people involved.
2. Morita Was Married 3 Times
According to a 2010 essay in Hyphen magazine by daughter Aly Morita, Pat Morita married his first wife, Kathleen Yamachi, in 1953, at the age of 21; his wife was 27. They had one daughter together, Erin Morita, in 1954.
At the time they married Morita worked at his parents’ Chinese restaurant, but he felt that he needed a better paying job to support his family, the Los Angeles Times reported. He worked for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, according to the outlet, and then went on to work night shifts at Aerojet General, a rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer.
Morita and Yamachi were married for 14 years until 1967, though People reported in 1986 that the actor “bristles now when his first family is mentioned.” He married his second wife, Yukiye Kitahara, in 1970, with a reception at the Playboy Club, their daughter Aly wrote in Hyphen magazine. Morita and Kitahara had two daughters, Aly and Tia, according to People. During his second marriage Morita grew in popularity from an unknown comedian into an Oscar-nominated movie star for his role in “The Karate Kid.” They eventually divorced in 1989.
Morita married his third wife, actress Evelyn Guerrero, five years later. He and Guerrero remained together until his death in 2005 and had no children together. In “More Than Miyagi,” Guerrero says they first met when she was 15 years old and her aunt, Sally Marr, was mentoring Morita as he attempted to get into show business.
Morita and Guerrero reconnected in 1992, married in 1994 and eventually settled in Las Vegas near her mother and numerous friends, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Morita’s daughter Aly Morita wrote in Hyphen magazine in 2010 that her father and Guerrero were separated at the time of his death.
3. Morita’s Father Died in a Car Accident
While Morita and his family were living in Sacramento, his father, Tamaru Morita, was killed in a hit-and-run accident, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Guerrero talks about the incident in “More Than Miyagi.” According to Guerrero, “He was hit by a pickup truck and the guy that was driving didn’t even know. He was dragging him for blocks and blocks and blocks. I think his pant leg or something got caught in the wheel,” she says. “He suffered a long, long slow death.”
Guerrero goes on to explain that this trauma, along with others from his childhood, contributed to Morita’s drinking problem. “So he had all these demons he had to deal with, so it’s no wonder he drank all his life,” she says. “He never recovered from those wounds.”
Morita and his mother, Momoe, kept the family Chinese restaurant running for several years following his father’s death, according to the Los Angeles Times, before he found more stable work to support his family.
4. Morita Was Actually Raised by His Aunt
According to Guerrero, the woman Morita thought was his mother for most of his life was actually his aunt.
“More than Miyagi” presents a clip of Guerrero on the talk show “Table for 5 with Felicia and Annette.” In it, she says:
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.
5. His Daughter Says the Fame of ‘The Karate Kid’ Destroyed Him
Morita’s daughter, Aly Morita, wrote a story for Hyphen magazine in 2010 titled “Papa-San: Pat Morita’s Daughter on the Waxing and Waning of Her Father’s Life.”
In the story, Aly Morita wrote about her father landing the role of Mr. Miyagi and how it impacted his life. She wrote:
The first Karate Kid film was both his most rewarding and most damning experience in show business: It gave him validation for his talent and catapulted him onto the map of celebrity, but also ruined his sense of self and purpose. He would forever be branded “Mr. Miyagi,” never allowed a chance to prove his mettle in Hollywood due to the lack of roles for ethnic actors. The weight and loneliness of fame ultimately destroyed him.
Like many other ethnic actors nominated for that ultimate testimony of their work, he ended up exactly where he began: at the bottom. 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.
Aly Morita said her father was never able to escape the role of Mr. Miyagi, and he was typecast into that mold for the rest of his career.
Morita had more than 100 acting credits following “The Karate Kid,” including two more “Karate Kid” movies and a spinoff TV series, Disney’s “Mulan” and “Mulan II,” the TV series “The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo” and “Adventures with Kanga Roddy” and “Baywatch,” according to his IMDb profile.