Happy Birthday Pat Morita: Remembering the ‘Happy Days’ Actor’s Best Moments

by Robert Davis
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Happy birthday, Pat Morita! The late ‘Happy Days’ actor would have turned 89 years old today.

Born on this day in 1932 in Isleton, California, Morita played several well-known roles throughout his career. He appeared on ‘Happy Days’ as Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi, the owner of Arnold’s Drive-In. Morita also appeared as Mr. Miyagi on the hit movie The Karate Kid, Captain Sam Pak on M*A*S*H, and Ah Chew on ‘Sanford and Sons’.

In 1984, Morita won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Mr. Miyagi.

He passed away on November 24, 2005, because of a gallbladder and urinary tract infection. Some suggest the diseases were wrought by his years of combatting alcoholism. Morita was 73-years-old when he passed.

Pat Morita Early Life and Career

During Morita’s early television days, he moonlighted at several businesses to help pay his rent. When he finally landed his first recurring role on television, Morita told the Archive of American Television that he started acting after having a “quarter-life crisis.”

Early in his career, Morita was working for an aerospace company called Aerojet General Corporation. He told AAT that he did well financially in this position, but it took a toll on his health. One day, Morita woke up at 27-years-old weighing 190 pounds. He said that was the moment he got his act together.

“I looked in the mirror and said, ‘You know, Morita, you can’t do this the rest of your life,’” the “Happy Days” star said. “‘There’s only one way to do this if you want to do it and that’s to go back to school.’”

So, Morita enrolled at The Groundlings Theatre & School and decided that show business was the only business he planned to be in for the rest of his life.

“If God gave you one wish in your lifetime to do for the rest of your life, what would it be?” he said. Morita said added that only one answer came to mind when he asked himself that question: go into show business.

Morita’s Best Moments

Throughout his career, Morita made several memorable moments on camera. Maybe his most memorable moment came from the Karate Kid trilogy where he taught Ralph Macchio to “wax-on, wax-off.” In Karate Kid III, Morita shares this lesson with Hillary Swank rather than Macchio.

Morita also went on to play Tommy Tanaka in the Kirk Douglas-starring television movie Amos. The role earned Morita his first Primetime Emmy Award nomination and second Golden Globe Award nomination.

Later in his career, Pat Morita wrote and starred in films such as Captive Hearts, a World War II romance film. He also appeared in several television and film roles as a voice actor. He also appeared in a short film called Talk to Taka where he offered advice to anyone willing to listen to him.

Morita also voiced the Emperor in Disney’s Mulan as well as the Nickelodeon television series “The Tales of Shelby Woo.” He also carried the “Mr. Miyagi” character into several commercials, most memorably in a fitness commercial.

Posthumously, Pat Morita received several film and television credits. He voices Master Udon in an episode of ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ in 2006, which was dedicated to his memory. In 2018, the show “Cobra Kai’ also memorialized Morita in one of its episodes.

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