November 26, 2005 in Nation/World

Noriyuki Morita, a star in ‘Karate Kid,’ dies at 73

Jon Thurber Los Angeles Times
The Spokesman-Review photo

(Full-size photo)

Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, the comedian and actor who received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the wise martial arts instructor, Mr. Miyagi, in the popular “Karate Kid” movies, has died. He was 73.

Morita, who rose to fame on the hit television series “Happy Days” after years as a stand-up comic, died Thursday in Las Vegas, family members said. He had been in declining health for several months.

The younger of two children of migrant fruit pickers, Noriyuki Morita was born in Iselton, Calif., in 1932. He contracted spinal tuberculosis when he was 2 and spent the next nine years in a sanitarium near Sacramento.

Released from the facility after undergoing extensive spinal surgery, the 11-year-old Morita found himself in the relocation camp at Gila River, Ariz., joining his family and thousands of other Japanese-Americans rounded up after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

After the war, Morita graduated from high school in Fairfield, Calif. With a wife and a baby, Morita needed a steady check and worked as a data processor.

Feeling out of place, Morita decided to try his hand at show business. He found gigs as a comedian in San Francisco and soon packed up his family and moved to Los Angeles.

He opened for top name acts like Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis and Diana Ross and the Supremes and eventually became a headliner in Las Vegas showrooms and at Playboy clubs. In 1967, he made his film debut in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

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