Kesuke Miyagi, the mentor to Ralph
Macchio's "Daniel-san" in the 1984
movie, Mr. Morita taught karate and
such skills as how to catch flies
with chopsticks. He lost the Academy
Award for best supporting actor to
Haing S. Ngor, who appeared in "The
Killing Fields." But he won more
roles, including three "Karate Kid"
sequels, the last one in 1994 with
actress Hilary Swank.
experienced stand-up comic and comic
actor, Mr. Morita had previously
been best known for his recurring
role in the 1970s and 1980s as the
excitable malt shop owner Arnold on
the popular television series "Happy
Days." He also was a regular on
"Sanford and Son" as Lamont's buddy
Ah Chew. He was the first Japanese
American to star in a television
series with the leading role in "Mr.
T and Tina," which aired in 1976.
He had worked frequently in movies
since the 1980s and provided the
voice for a character in the Disney
movie "Mulan" in 1998. He had a star
on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Mr. Morita's success in Hollywood
was a long way from his start as the
son of migrant fruit pickers in the
fields and groves of Northern
California. He contracted spinal
tuberculosis at the age of 2, and
when he was finally able to walk
unassisted, he and his family were
forced into the World War II-era
internment camp at Manzanar, Calif.
"One day I was an invalid," he
recalled in a 1989 interview with
the Associated Press. "The next day
I was public enemy No. 1 being
escorted to an internment camp by an
FBI agent wearing a piece."
After being released, the family
opened a restaurant in Sacramento,
serving Chinese cuisine because of
lingering anti-Japanese prejudice.
"You get the picture?" he once said
to the Los Angeles Times. "A
Japanese family running a Chinese
restaurant in a black neighborhood
with a clientele of blacks,
Filipinos and everybody else who
didn't fit in any of the other
He eventually became a data
processor with the state Department
of Motor Vehicles, then secured a
graveyard-shift job at Aerojet-General
Corp. At age 30, he made the
make-or-break decision to go into
comedy full time.
His first appearances were in small
clubs, until he was asked to fill in
for entertainer Don Ho at a
2,000-seat hall in Hawaii. Mr.
Morita unexpectedly found himself
facing a huge crowd of World War II
veterans, many of them disabled.
They were there to observe the 25th
anniversary of the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor.
"If you're a comic, these are the
moments when you have to prove
you've really got it," he told the
San Jose Mercury News in 1998. "So,
I began by telling them I wanted to
apologize, on behalf of my people,
for screwing up their harbor."
The vets roared. He went on to build
a two-decade career in nightclubs,
but not until he began making movies
was he was able to develop a
believable Japanese accent. He won
the audition for the sensei in "The
Karate Kid" even though he had no
martial arts experience and the
producers wanted a Japanese rather
than a Japanese American actor. He
agreed to use his given name,
Noriyuki, rather than his stage name
of Pat, for the credits, to make him
sound more ethnic.
He is survived by his wife, Evelyn,
and three daughters from a previous
The Associated Press contributed
to this report.