The industry is mourning the loss of prolific Asian-American actor Pat Morita, who passed away from natural causes at his home in Las Vegas on Thursday, Nov. 24, at the age of 73. Morita first gained international fame in the mid-’70s as ‘Arnold’ on the sitcom Happy Days, but was best known as Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid films and the voice of The Emperor of China in Disney’s animated Mulan movies.
Born Noriyuki Morita, Pat graduated from Armijo High School in Fairfield, Calif. and went on to land a number of small film and TV roles throughout the 1960s and 1970s while working as a stand-up comedian. His stage act caught the attention of fellow comedian Redd Foxx, who gave him a number of guest spots on the hit sit-com Sanford and Son. The exposure lead to his first steady TV gig on Happy Days, which kept him employed during the 1975-’76 and 1982-’83 seasons.
In 1985, Morita received Best Supporting Actor nominations for both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes for his work in the first Karate Kid movie. He returned for three Karate Kid sequels and continued to work steadily in both film and television before being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995.
Morita lent his voice to Disney’s Mulan in 1998, and reprised his role for the successful 2004 direct-to-video sequel, Mulan II. He also recently played himself in an episode of the animated cult hit Robot Chicken on Cartoon Network’s [adult swim]. At the time of his death, he had two films in post-production and was shooting a film titled Princess with Eric Roberts.