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Pat Morita Was a Father of 3 Kids Yet 'The Karate Kid' Fame Destroyed Him & He Ended Up Back 'At the Bottom'

Gaone Pule
Jun 04, 2022
11:30 P.M.
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Film star Pat Morita was most famous for his role in the classic action movie "The Karate Kid," yet he died a forgotten Hollywood star. The film only buried his acting career when he believed it would turn his life around for the better.

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Before gaining prominence, Asian-American actor Pat Morita was a stand-up comedian known as "Hip Nip" in nightclubs and bars. In a written piece for Hyphen Magazine, Morita's daughter Aly revealed that her dad spent his childhood in a body cast after contracting spinal tuberculosis.

His family lived in a charitable infirmary for poor immigrant children at San Franciso's Shriners Hospital. Morita learned how to walk at age nine.

Pat Morita as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi in the television sitcom, "Happy Days" on October 19, 1982. / Source: Getty Images

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His first on-screen role was in the 1967 movie "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Soon after, he made quite an impression on casting directors and began appearing in a comedy film, "The Shakiest Gun in the West," and the popular series "M*A*S*H" and "Sanford and Son."

Morita got his big break when he played restaurant owner Matsho "Arnold" Takahashi in 26 episodes of the most loved sitcom "Happy Days" between 1975 and 1976 and 1982 -1983.

Between those years, he took a break to film his first lead role in "Mr. T. & Tina," but sadly, the show failed, airing only four episodes. Hence he made a return to "Happy Days" later.

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Pat Morita as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi alongside Henry Winkler as Fonzie in "Happy Days" on October 10, 1975. / Source: Getty Images

After "Mr. T & Tina" failed, Morita experienced hardships personally and publicly. He retreated to Hawaii, where he found refuge when he was homeless. The Hollywood star and his family lost their home in 1980 in a mudslide.

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At age 46, the comedian was again out of work and spent several years taking odd jobs, including nightclub gigs and car commercials, anything that could pay the bills. His friend Redd Foxx stepped in and helped him and his family to find a home, showing gratitude to his pal, Morita said:

"I wouldn't have my house if it hadn't been for Redd."

Pat Morita and fellow comedian Redd Foxx appearing in a sketch on the ABC TV series "The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour," in 1977. / Source: Getty Images

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Luckily for him, the stars aligned in 1984 when he landed his notable role of Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid," a film that earned over a staggering $100 million.

The action hero said if the movie's sequel also did just as well, he would be able to pay all his bills and set money aside for his children's college tuition. "The Karate Kid: Part II" raked in $12 million in its first weekend of release.

MORITA'S THREE MARRIAGES

Actress Evelyn Guerrero speaking at a memorial service for her late husband Pat Morita at the Palm Mortuary & Memorial Park November 30, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada. / Source: Getty Images

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In his lifetime, Morita had been married three times. At age 21, he married a then-27-year-old woman named Kathleen Yamachi in 1953.

The couple welcomed their first and only child together, daughter Erin, in 1954. He was struggling financially and had more than one job.

A photo of Pat Morita and his wife, Evelyn Guerrero, displayed during a memorial service for him at the Palm Mortuary & Memorial Park November 30, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada. / Source: Getty Images

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At the time, he worked for his parents' Chinese restaurant but felt he needed a better-paying job and found one at a rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer. He and Yamachi divorced in 1967 after 14 years of marriage.

Morita remarried in 1970 to Yukiye Kitahara and had their wedding reception at the Playboy Club. Shortly after, they welcomed their two daughters, Aly and her sister Tia.

Pat Morita and actor Ralph Macchio in a scene from the film "The Karate Kid," in 1984. / Source: Getty Images

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During his second marriage, the "Collision Course" star gained popularity after going from an unknown comedian to an Oscar-nominated actor for his unforgettable role as the much-loved Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid." Morita and Kitahara divorced in 1989.

His third marriage was to Evelyn Guerrero, whom he had met when she was 15 years old in 1964. Morita shared a manager with her mother when he started out as a host in nightclubs.

Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi and actress Hilary Swank as Julie Pierce in "The Next Karate Kid," in 1994. / Source: Getty Images

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It was not until years later that the Academy Award nominee and Guerrero reconnected and married in 1994 in Las Vegas. Guerrero is a television and film actress whose credits include roles in "Wild Wheels" and playing a serial killer's victim in the movie "The Toolbox Murders."

In 1980, Guerrero had a recurring role in the soap opera "Dallas." She and Morita had no kids together but became a stepmother to his three daughters.

MORITA TRAGICALLY DIED IN HIS SEVENTIES

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Morita sadly passed away in November 2005 at age 73. At the time, there were conflicting reports regarding his cause of death. His daughter Aly revealed that he died from heart failure at a Las Vegas hospital.

Meanwhile, his longtime manager Arnold Soloway disclosed the "Ohara" star died of kidney failure at a hospital while awaiting a transplant. Moreover, his wife of 12 years, Guerrero, said in a statement that her spouse "had dedicated his entire life to acting and comedy."

Apart from "The Karate Kid," success, which defined his career, Morita had many other roles in films such as "Spy Hard," "Honeymoon in Vegas, and "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," not forgetting "The Center of the World. He also lent his voice to the Disney 1998 movie "Mulan."

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Comedian Pat Morita posing while standing against a tapestry, 1988. / Source: Getty Images

His daughter Aly revealed that in the '90s, he gained accolades from peers and the media following his memorable stint in the film franchise, "The Karate Kid," and was treated like royalty. Morita was recognized everywhere because of his wise sensei role as Mr. Miyagi and made millions off the success of the movies.

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The royal treatment he received included being flown in jets, housed in five-star hotels, and chauffeured in limousines or town cars, thinking he had finally found what he had been chasing throughout his career.

Pat Morita during CineVegas Film Festival 2003 posing for "Stuey" portraits at Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. / Source: Getty Images

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"Yet, like many other ethnic actors nominated for that ultimate testimony of their work, he ended up exactly where he began, at the bottom," said Aly. She added that though the original film of "The Karate Kid" was rewarding, it ruined her father's sense of self and purpose because he was always branded, Mr. Miyagi.

She noted that Hollywood did not give the father of three a chance to showcase more of his talent after the movie franchise due to the lack of roles for ethnic actors.

At one point, Morita separated from his third wife Guerrero because of his uncontrollable alcohol consumption. Aly stated that "the weight and loneliness of fame ultimately destroyed him."

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