Two well known individuals in their respective fields have died recently. One was Pat Morita, best known for his roles as Arnold on Happy Days and Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid movies. Norita died yesterday in Las Vegas of natural causes at the age of 73.
Morita was born in California to migrant fruit pickers. As a child he had spinal tuberculosis and as a result was in hospital for much of his early life. His life did not get any easier when he recovered. With World War II under way, Morita, like many Americans of Japanese descent, was sent to an internment camp in Arizona. Following World War II he opened a restaurant. There he discovered a gift for comedy. For a time he both worked as a comic and in computers at Aerojet General before taking up comedy full time.
Morita's big break came with appearances on The Hollywood Palace in 1964, 1965, and 1966. He would go on to make many guest appearances on such TV shows as Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. and The Courtship of Eddie's Father, as well as small parts in such movies as Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Shakiest Gun in the West. He also had a recurring on role on Sanford and Son. Racism against Asians being common in Hollywood at the time, many of the roles Morita played were demeaning at best.
It was in 1975 that Morita landed the role of Arnold, the owner of the local drive in restaurant, on Happy Days. The role brought Mortia to national attention for the first time and he was eventually rewarded with his own short lived series, Mr. T and Tina. Though the series did not last long, it is historic as one of the few American shows on which an Asian played a lead role. Following Happy Days and Mr. T and Tina, Morita worked regularly, appearing in many movies and TV shows. Besides The Karate Kid, Morita appeared in Midway, When Time Runs Out, Slapstick, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Spy Hard. He provided the voice for the Emperor in Mulan. On television he was a regular on Blansky's Beauties and played the lead on Ohara. Ohara is historic as it is one of the few times in which an Asian played a lead role on an American TV series (a police drama at that).
Morita never won any awards, although he was nominated for a few. He was nominated for the Best Oscar for an Actor in a Supporting Role for his part in The Karate Kid, a Golden Globe for the same, an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Special for his role in Amos, and a Golden Globe for that same part.
For many Pat Morita will always be Arnold, but arguably his legacy in television and movies goes farther than that. He was one of the first visible Asian actors and comedians in Hollywood. And while many of his early parts could be considered racist, many of his later roles broke the racial barriers that Hollywood had constructed long ago. As pointed out above, both Mr. T and Tina and Ohara are historic as being among the earliest shows to have an Asian in the lead. Although not often recognised as such, Morita was a pioneer.
The other well known person to die was George Best. Now I realise many Americans may be saying "Wasn't he the fifth Beatle? (no, that was Pete Best)" but Best was famous outside the States. He was a football (as in soccer) legend who played for Manchester United and Northern Ireland.
Best is considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time. Over a period of twelve yeas he scored 180 goals for Manchester United. He also played in the States, where he scored a phenomenal 54 goals in 139 goals for the Los Angeles Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and San Jose Earthquakes. He was only 17 when he began his career with Manchester.
In the Sixties Best''s fame was equal to rock stars of the era and, sadly, he chose to live the same lifestyle. He drank heavily and womanised. Reportedly he had slept with seven Miss Worlds, although Best claimed it was only four. Eventually his alcoholism would lead to liver disease and the need for a transplant in 2002. It was the years of drinking which killed him; he died from mulitple organ failure as a result of years of abuse.
While Best's lifestyle was nothing to admire (alcoholism and womanising not being traits desirable even in footballers), his achievements on the field were amazing. Few soccer players have matched him and even fewer have surpassed him. Sadly, it seems to me that he could have achieved even more greatness had he not made the choices he did. Regardless, many will mourn his passing.
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