Nobu McCarthy was the Japanese Canadian actress known in part for her role as Yukie, Mr. Miyagi’s long-lost love from Okinawa, in The Karate Kid Part II. McCarthy died in 2002 of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 67, according to an obituary published by The Associated Press.
In the film, Mr. Miyagi returns to Okinawa to help support his dying father, who Yukie had been taking care of. Miyagi and Yukie finally reconnect and eventually fall in love again. Yukie is also the aunt of Kumiko, Daniel LaRusso’s primary love interest in the film, played by Tamyln Tomita.
Born in Ottawa, Canada, in November 1934, McCarthy was discovered by a talent agent while shopping in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles in 1958, according to The Associated Press, and her film and television career took off. She appeared in the 1958 Jerry Lewis comedy The Geisha Boy and starred in Director James Clavell’s Walk Like a Dragon in 1960. Over the next nearly five decades, she made appearances on television shows like Perry Mason, The Bing Crosby Show, Mister Ed, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Batman, Happy Days, Barney Miller, The Love Boat and Hawaii Five-O. She had 59 acting credits between 1958 and 2006, according to her IMDb page, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead in 1988’s The Wash.
Here’s what you need to know about Nobu McCarthy’s death:
McCarthy Died in 2002 From a Ruptured Aortic Aneurysm
On April 6, 2002, McCarthy suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm in Brazil while on location for an upcoming movie, Gaijin – Ama-me Como Sou. According to Backstage, she had just returned to work after suffering from pneumonia before the rupture.
Tomita, her co-star from The Karate Kid Part II, was also a cast member in Gaijin – Ama-me Como Sou, the story of Japanese immigrants working on a coffee plantation in Brazil in 1908. She told Backstage the movie “suspended production” after McCarthy’s death. The movie was eventually released in 2005.
McCarthy Was the Artistic Director for the East West Players
McCarthy was originally born Nobu Atsumi in Ottawa, Ontario. Her father, Masaji Atsumi, was a Japanese fashion designer, according to Film Reference, and private secretary to the Japanese ambassador who had been stationed in Canada at the time.
Her family eventually moved back to Japan, where she spent much of her childhood. She studied ballet throughout her childhood and eventually got into modeling, ultimately being crowned Miss Tokyo ahead of the Miss Universe competition, The Associated Press reported at the time of her death.
In 1955, to the objection of her parents, The AP reported, she married United States Army Sergeant David McCarthy. With McCarthy she moved to the United States, where her acting career would eventually take off.
She stopped acting in the late 1960s, according to The AP, but after divorcing her husband in 1970, she began acting with the East West Players, the nation’s first professional Asian American theater organization. Another notable alumnus of the organization is her Karate Kid co-star, Pat Morita.
McCarthy was named artistic director of the group in 1989 and served in the role until 1993, retaining the title of artistic director emeritus until her death, The AP wrote.
George Takei, who also worked with the East West Players, told Backstage, “She brought her calming influence to the group, broadened the outreach, and brought a sense of balance and stability.” Takei is best known for his role as Sulu on Star Trek.
In addition to her 1989 Independent Spirit Award for her starring role in the indie feature film The Wash, she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the East West Players in 1996, The AP reported, and a Visionary Award in 1999, according to Playbill.
She also taught at UCLA, the Los Angeles Times reported. According to the outlet’s announcement, after her death McCarthy was honored with an event at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in downtown L.A. in April 2002, and endowments were established in her name with both the East West Players and UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center. She was survived by two children and three brothers, The AP reported.