How Pat Morita Lived in a Prison Camp

Black and white photo of Pat Morita

LOVE PROJECT FILMS Pat Morita waves to the camera.

Noriyuki “PatMorita, who portrayed Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid film franchise, had a turbulent childhood. According to the new documentary More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story, the late actor, who passed away in 2005, was hospitalized for nine years recovering from spinal tuberculosis.

The film shared a clip wherein Morita explained that he had been diagnosed with the disease when he was a toddler and “for the most part [he] was immobilized for seven years… with a cast from shoulder to knee.” 

Eventually, he underwent surgeries at the San Francisco Shriners’ Hospital, which enable him to walk, as previously reported by Heavy. At the age of eleven, he was healthy enough to no longer be hospitalized. However, he soon had to live in a Japanese-American internment camp.


Morita Described His Experience in a 2005 Interview

Pat Morita

GettyPat Morita strikes a pose at the Democratic National Convention in 2000.

In 2000, Morita detailed going to the Gila River War Relocation Center to the  Television Academy.

“The war was on, and so I was escorted from the hospital by an FBI guy to join my parents at an internment camp in the middle of Arizona and I, you know, what did kids know about wars, you know? I was happy to be walking,” said the actor. 

He went on to say that his family lived in Gila River for less than two years.

“I stayed about a year and a half, and we moved from Gila to [the Tule Lake War Relocation Center that] was right on the border of California and Oregon… And the reason for that was my grandfather on my mother’s side, he, at the time at this time of separation when the war broke out, he ended up in Tule Lake with my uncle. My mother had this strong feeling that perhaps he may not live through the war, and she wanted to be with him,” explained Morita. 

He revealed that his family eventually reunited with both his grandfather and his uncle.


Morita’s Third Wife Revealed That He Visited the Relocation Centers as an Adult

Pat Morita and Evelyn Guerrero

GettyA picture of  Pat Morita and his wife Evelyn Guerrero was shown at his funeral.

Morita’s third wife, Evelyn Guerrero, spoke about Morita returning to Gila River and Tule Lake later in his life while on the talk show Table for 5 with Felicia and Annette. The interview clip was shown in More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story. 

She noted that Morita appeared in the 1976 television movie Farewell to Manzanar, which was filmed in Tule Lake. Guerrero also shared that she and her husband when to Gila River together.

“[It was] very, very hard for him… it was rough. We were walking the grounds you could still see some of the remains of the china and some of the dishes… he just broke down,” revealed the actress. 

She went on to say that Morita would share horrific details from his time at the relocation centers.

“He said, ‘you know, a day didn’t go by that you didn’t’ hear about a suicide or a stillborn or somebody dying from an illness they couldn’t treat or malnutrition.’ I mean the conditions were just horrible. They were just horrendous,” stated Guerrero.

Later in the interview, the 71-year-old stated that Morita, who suffered from substance abuse throughout his life, began drinking when he was 12, while living in the relocation center.

“His grandfather was making bootleg sake in the internment camp and keeping everybody wasted. And of course, the children, they had nothing better to do,” said Guerrero.

READ NEXT: Who Is the Actor Who Almost Played Mr. Miyagi?


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