Happy birthday to Mr. Pat Morita, who would have turned 90 today.
Most people know that he played one of the most iconic movie roles ever, Mr. Miyagi, in “The Karate Kid Series.” However, few know the story of his tragic childhood he was forced to overcome.
When he was two, Mr. Morita was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the spine, or “Pott’s Disease.” He spent the next decade in hospitals. Often, he would be placed in a full body cast from his neck to his legs.
When he was 10 years old, he was transferred to the Shriner’s Hospital in San Francisco to be given an experimental graft surgery. It miraculously worked. After a year in the hospital, his health dramatically improved and he was released.
Who greeted him at the hospital upon his release? An F.B.I. agent to take him to a Japanese-American internment camp, even though he was born in the United States and a full citizen.
For a year, he was in an internment camp where he knew no friends or family in Arizona. He cried and cried, missing the compassion and love he was shown by the hospital staffs, as he received the very opposite treatment in the internment camp.
After a year, he was taken to one in California to reunite with his family.
When the war was over, his family tried to open a restaurant. Unfortunately, his father was killed in a hit and run accident. For years, Morita worked a variety of odd jobs to help support his family.
As a child when he was in the full body cast, he would make up stories and jokes to pass the time. His goal was always to get the nurses to laugh.
He decided to make this skill set work for him and try his hand at stand up comedy. He wasn’t very successful, and struggled to make ends meet for years.
He began getting a few small roles here and there in television shows. He finally caught his big break when he was cast as Arnold on “Happy Days” and a recurring character named “Ah Chew” (really?) on “Sanford and Son.”
Then, in 1984 he became “Mr. Miyagi” in “The Karate Kid,” a role for which he received an Academy Award nomination and inspired multitudes of people to take up martial arts.
Happy birthday to Pat Morita, a testament to the power of determination and resilience.
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